Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Problem with Monitoring

Jennifer explains.

My own terror of it comes from my previous experiences of the monitoring of my children by state officials. I haven't used statutory services much, but on practically every occasion, it has created a terrible fear in me that some misunderstanding would occur and that my children would be snatched away from us on some fictitious basis.

The first memorable incident: sheep-like, I took my year-old son to his first year check with the health visitor. He had been walking for about three months and in answer to her questions about his mobility, I informed the HV of this fact. Would my son move during the inspection? He lay flat on his back as if he had never even twitched an abdominal muscle in his life, looking for all the world like a wet towel. I could see the HV thought I was delusional and at the time I was thinking that perhaps I should actually have lied and told her that he couldn't walk! I am still not quite sure how we got away with that one.

On another occasion, I took my then 4 year old son to a local minor injuries unit as a bright red weal had mysteriously appeared across his face. On the way there, having checked that he wasn't aware of having banged into anything or of having been hit, I told him that the doctor might ask him if he had been smacked. Actually, the doctor didn't ask him this and just diagnosed a cow parsley reaction, and all was seemingly well, but as she turned to draw the curtains around us, my clearly rather confused son asked "So you won't need to hit me then, mum?"

Good grief, I was simply terrified. The moment will be forever etched in my memory. I honestly don't know how that doctor knew that my son was merely confused on this point. I am not sure that I would have done had I been in her position, but mercifully she just laughed and then smiled at me knowingly, for which - thank goodness, since for a terrible second, I honestly thought that was it - that we were heading down that terrible road which would mean endless trouble and heartache for the whole family.

And only recently, we had to take our son to A&E after we had failed to extract a shard of plastic from under his fingernail. We were repeatedly quizzed on how the shard had got there and on whether anyone outside of the family had seen it happen. I just couldn't believe it. My son was a strapping 11 year old at the time, perfectly capable of preventing anyone from deliberately shoving bits of plastic under his fingernail unless the most extreme form of torture was going on, and yet we were under suspicion for having done this. It felt so insulting, as well as terrifying.

Also recently, I took my usually extremely confident, highly verbal, usually-quite-happy-to-talk-to adults daughter to see the GP about something - (I actually can't remember what, just now). The GP started talking to her in a tone with which my daughter is not particularly familiar, ie: she was talking down to her, and then proceeded to try to test her on whether she could read the scales or not. I could see that my daughter was aware that there was a strange dynamic going on and that she was frightened by this. Would she open her mouth? Not a bit of it. I blustered frantically, which must have made the whole situation seem much worse.

Thankfully, we again appear to have got away with it, but really, should all our encounters with the authorities be as fraught as this? Is it right that every time we have to use services, we do so with the appreciation that this really might be the last time we actually see our children - for this is honestly how it can feel?

And the fact is that none of these professionals were aware that we home educate. Had they known, I am quite sure that the bar of suspicion would have been lowered, and we would have been subjected to much more rigorous investigation.

Indeed we know of many home educating families in the UK who have been intensively investigated for no reason whatsoever. There is one HE group we go to where we are the only family who has not at some time or other been investigated by social services.

Sadly, this is not the worst of it. We also know of HE families who have even had their children taken away from them, only to eventually have had them returned after protracted machinations involving the court system, MPs and sundry others.

Social workers nowadays want to cover their backs. They are worried that home educated children may not be regularly seen by services. In this current climate post Baby P, if you HE, you would be right to worry.

And of course, with the proposed enforced LA monitoring of something as subjective as a successful education, all this looks set to get far, far worse. Even if you are lucky enough to have heard that your LA bod favors autonomous home education and that they are as nice as pie, it should still be lurking at the back of your mind - "What if, what if I say something wrong, or they don't understand the child's sense of humor, or I accidentally antagonise them in some way"- (as I did with another HV when I said I was very happy breast feeding a toddler)?

Realistically, if previous experience is anything to go by, I should fully expect to be subjected to social work intervention in my family life, and this for NO good reason that I can think of.


me said...

Hi - I'm a bit late with doing this but am just letting people know that I have added their blogs to the Blog For Victory!! blogroll :) If for any reason you would like your blog remoed from this roll please let me know and I will take it off
Thanks, Mandy :)

Alison Sauer said...

Thanks for this - it is a good thing to put under the noses of all those who say "why would you object to an LA person coming to your house if you've done nothing wrong...?"

Nick Fraser said...

Alternatively, the examples you give might lead one to conclude that your panic is a bit paranoid, and needs a solution not at a policy but a psychological level. I hear cognitive-behavioural interventions are quite good with delusional thinking.

Respect, Nick

Jennifer said...

@ Nick - You don't sound as if you've had experience of similar fears. Would I be right in guessing that you're white, straight, and have never been wrongfully arrested? And might you by any chance be from a middle or upper class family?

Carlotta said...

Hi Nick,

I do see what you mean but let me explain the reasoning underpinning my fears.

The problem is not so much that I believe that there is a high risk of us losing the children. It is much more that I am well aware that accidents do happen and that children are removed from families for no good reason. I know of three families (only one of these HE) who have had their children taken away from them wrongfully and who later had them returned to them. These families were distraught and terribly damaged along the way.

So the problem is not so much that it is likely to happen, but that it can happen, and can happen for no good reason, or for no reason that I am able to control, AND that there are such terrible consequences for these families.

These are the main reasons why I am always so scared. Small risk but terrible, terrible consequences and sometimes so little that you can do about it.

However, I am also aware that I personally do up my own risk since I know that I seem to have an unfortunate habit of unintentionally alienating people in authority in that I do believe it is right to challenge authority if I think I have good reason to think that it is wrong.

One of the problems of doing this is that many authority figures have a habit of quelling threats to their authority in vicious sorts of ways.

I have in the past been viciously dealt with for doing this. Actually this happened to me only last week, in a meeting of psychiatrists, CPNs and GPs, where I was dealt with very contemptuously for attempting to take the patient seriously and for attempting to act as an advocate for the patient. I was sneered at, laughed at and people refused to talk to me after that. I am not sure that they wouldn't canvas against me to the point where I could lose my job.

The patient has, as I would have predicted, become very unwell subsequently and I am 99% certain that it wasn't because of me!

I honestly believe it is the authoritarian and potentially coercive people in this situation who need CBT and that whilst I could potentially sort out the extent of my anxiety, I do not believe that I am wrong for seeking to get rid of the problem in the first place.

Of course the other fear that we will have to provide an education to suit the LA officer rather than the child is just simple common sense and will happen, and no amount of CBT will make me think otherwise!