Friday, 24 September 2010

Where do you fit in the child abuse matrix?

Go on then, birthday fantasies over, I have to turn and face life's uncompromising edges and hard brick walls.

Maybe it's one of a thousand reasons I welcomed a break from England. Because there, my three children are victims. I'm a suspect. And my household is potentially characterised by deceit and manipulation.

How do I measure on the Child Risk Assessment Matrix? Look here then scroll down. See how you're doing. You'll find a convenient list. Got a Pre-Mobile Baby? Maybe they're a victim. Your partner been collared by the old bill for a caution on cannabis? Oh dear. You're a suspect. But I trust you're not in a household that's Co-Sleeping? Oops. According to this child abuse investigation document from the Metropolitan Police, you're stuffed.

I certainly am, as a home educator. Home education, in this document, makes me instantly suspicious. I'm even banded in red. Extra Marked Danger Suspect? Who knows?

Not surprisingly, I have several reactions, seeing myself so dramatically included here. Not least the fear that as we walk down an English high street in some future day, someone might use a document just like this against me. Maybe I'd better admit now to manipulating my children. I ration the chocolate and use it as a rewards-based confection. And sometimes I feel violent towards paper tick sheets.

After the usual shock, outrage, mockery, that sort of thing, I start to look at this item. And I have these observations. First, for Community Care who put this document out for everyone to see, everywhere in the world to know, what awaits you to home educate in England.

I'd say to them that I'm a simple reader. I think text should reach publication with all parts explained and text positioned clearly, including captions, information about source, supporting commentary clearly marked, plus references checked and intact. Then people can check links, navigate their way through copy easily, and be able to respond in a considered manner.

For this matrixed document, there's a caption missing. A caption needs to be there to clarify its status. It is referred to only within small-point boxed text. Without a separate caption, at first glance it is not immediately apparent how the Met Police matrix relates to the article at all. Maybe Community Care is suggesting this matrix is one everyone should use?

This document is also reproduced with highlighted areas in red. What does the colour banding signify? I don't know. I can't see an explanation. Is the audience to make up their own rationale? So I would ask Community Care, with your responsibilities towards publication, that you offer a caption to explain the colour banding. Tell us if you think it's someone else's responsibility. Because in my day job, I couldn't let that through. I'd have to send it back to you for clarification.

Second, the Met. You're all getting younger. I still like the uniforms though. But I'm puzzled. Is this tick sheet used internally? It's filled with acronyms which make it look like it's a document not intended for wider scrutiny. Is it really intended for external publication? How did it find its way into Community Care? Did a Met staff member pass it on? Or was this tick list used within a context where Molly was able to pick it up and assume it could be printed, red bits and all, without problem? Was the reproduction by open invitation? Who else has that invitation?

You can see I have lots of questions here. If only they would stop! How did this document come about? Who made this list? It's unauthored, yet carries authority with the Met logo. Was it created for a training session? A workshop? Was it made by someone whose job it is to provide easy answers and boxes to tick? What does that say about the culture of police services? Did the Met buy in this, or is it the output of internal work?

I could go on. About a tick-box society. The way that all our deep life complexity and delicate nuance is reduced to a list in a matrix with identifiable targets and tickable boxes, Yes/No/Unsure. About the way our family tries to live sensitively, thoughtfully, yet judgement on us is made readily and easily. The culture of England that creates easy answers from experts via quick-fix short-answer training sessions.

Sigh with relief, because I won't.

In fact I wondered whether to bother focusing a blog post around a submerged document that didn't even sit comfortably on a web page or make much sense. Apart from the fact that it screams my status, home educator, caught in bloody red hand, it's probably not relevant. Indeed, to draw your attention to this document is to give it legitimacy, which I don't think it has. I think it's just a small bit part of an internal document made for another audience, thoughtlessly passed about, and given undue significance by casual presentation from Community Care.

But to not draw attention to it, is wrong. It is to not make clear what home educators face. What they face all the time, everyday.

I don't just mean inclusion on a list of suspects. Home educators live with your suspicion. It's a feeling you have that we might be up to something: you just haven't found us out.*

What home educators face, more than this, everyday, is a process I'm calling slippage. We had this already. Someone doesn't have the evidence they need to bring about change or legislation, so they create information, add a document taken from over there, shuffle the information about, apply a document to the area they want, claim they have authorities, significances: here is the evidence.

This document? A child is a victim. Parents are suspect. The context is home. Then don't documents like this take on a strange life of their own? It's easy. It's available. It provides answers. Now it has the legitimacy, credence, and status of a published document in Community Care. Someone will use it. Someone else will pass it on.

Then this document drawn from one world is applied elsewhere. It's elevated from internal tickery-sheetery into discussion for community workers, doctors, managers. Easy to copy and forward, it can pass between trainers, consultants and 'experts' who need a quick image to reproduce for their Child Abuse Awareness session. Then the document is changed in discreet ways by health staff for their own workshops, distributed to educational welfare officers, stuck at the bottom of an article which finds its way into a national newspaper and into the hands of a non-critical journalist. Here is the evidence. The Met police said so. Everyone knows this is true. This is how the world works. Home educators are suspect. Home education is a form of child abuse.

And what if we'll then find this document - which started life as an internal paper - placed as supporting reading for an agenda in a closed committee meeting? The one attended by law-makers, policy-creators, civil servants, politicians, Capita, government communications staff? Then someone round the table who needs legislation against home educators seizes on this easy, authoritative tick sheet. Because the red banding shows we need urgent legislation. The Met needs that. Here are statistics. Graham Badman made them. Hey Presto! This proves the need for action! Now suddenly this dodgy doc is driving public policy.

I'd call this slippage. Where a document intended for one audience, over time becomes a coherence, gives reason, is the coalescence point for particular prejudices, vested interests and commercial alliances.

I'm not saying it will happen to this document. After all, in itself, it's not much. And let's face it, many of us can find a route through that damns us. We can scorn it. It's not relevant. Someone will say, 'You're making a fuss about nothing. It's just a document in Community Care. The red banding? It doesn't mean anything at all'.

But to me it shows what the world is and how people work. I wish I could trust otherwise.

There probably isn't a conclusion to this post. Except that I want organisations of people who have a sense of responsibility to their communities. I want to see articles that do not rely for their impact on cut and paste. I want to see continued intelligent use of Freedom of Information. And I want ordinary people to use their voices, shape what happens, look at the world with a critical eye, and never accept what is given as a simple answer, or how things must be, because look, here is a tick, on a list.

* Psss. Don't tell. We are up to something. It's called living.


sharon said...

We nearly share a birthdate Grit!

Once stuff finds its way onto some printed official document it quite often bites someone on the bum. Do not tick those boxes . . . Although, if you ticked every single box would the computer programme malfunction?

OrganisedPauper said...

It's well worth looking here as this may be the start of the misinformation. It appears to be deliberate misinformation and a smear campaign by a publicly funded body. It seems they have time on their hand doesn't it.

kellyi said...

My friend has a baby with a disability and she plans to home educate.

Obviously needs locking up.

Frog in the Field said...

I think you're just fine Grit!
The world would be a boring place if we all went with the flow

Iota said...

Loved your comment on the "Is good writing enough?" discussion.

I sometimes feel I'm in a small rowing boat, bobbing about as I watch the great cruise liner Mummy-Blogger pass by. I have no desire to get on board. I don't mind at all that other people are on board. But I have to acknowledge that it makes the water round about a bit choppy, and it spoils the view a little. I agree with you, though, that if you look hard, there are lots of little bobbing rowing boats around still.

Moohaa said...

Dang, so that's where I went wrong, huh? Home educating my kiddos. No wonder they complain so much! :)

Toni said...

Grit, I agree with you that the Met's document should not have been reproduced in this context, and that the baldly expressed views that home educators are suspect (IN RED!!!) are offensive to those who have made an often agonising choice, are putting in the hard yards and are far more committed to their children's welfare than many other parents.

But at no time have you or your readers acknowledged the difficult job police and social welfare have in determining which child is being abused, and how. Nor have you admitted that SOME child abusers may hide behind home schooling so their crimes aren't detected. Instead of whining about how you're all so misunderstood, why not get angry enough about it so there's a bit (just a bit, mind you) of regulation over what you do. Perhaps a GP or social work visit mandated every school "term"? On a random date? I am neither a home educator nor a teacher but if there is a way to REMOVE this tag from the Met's checklist isn't that better than moaning about being on it in the first place?

I appreciate what you do. Don't stuff it up by being weak where you can be strong.

Grit said...

hello people, and thank you for your comments.

hi toni, your thoughts and dialogue are welcomed. i guess the proper place to address the issues you raise is in a blog post, so i'll do that in time. thanks again.