Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It comes down to trust

Because so far, it's worked like this.

1) A child is beaten up/assaulted/killed by their parents. It matters not whether that child is educated from home, privately, at state school or in flexischool, but let's say the child is first withdrawn from school.

2) The national media pick up the story. They need to sell newspapers. If they can use an idea that sells, they do so, regardless of whether people think it's fair treatment. Mothers who kill. That sells. Lost children. That sells.

3) There is a 'public outrage' where 'something must be done'. Voices shout for government to take action. Large businesses, including charitable and private organisations, see an opportunity to lobby parliament or advance their agenda.

4) Government responds. We had a Labour government which was only too happy to oblige with another database that would extend state involvement in all our lives and simultaneously demonstrate to the public how seriously this matter is considered.

That was then. What will happen next, under a new regime? We have a 'bonfire of the quangos' right now, begun under the banner of an economic recession. The idea that 'we're all in it together' provides a start point from which to sweep away those Labour institutions, reduce local authority control, and bring in some Tory policies.

That process will result in guidance shift, administrative overhaul, legislative change. But we will still have cases come to court where a child has been beaten up/assaulted/killed by a parent. There are some mad, bad and unstable parents in this world, and it will happen, regardless of government change, social policy, and how or where the child is educated.

The newspapers will behave the same. They will select the ideas that sell. If the child is not in school, sure we risk headlines of lost child, home educated, death. Home educators will shout about the agendas. People who are trained to respond to the idea that the authorities will act will shout 'something must be done'.

But how will you want the government to respond?

My feeling is that it's time for you, people in the public, to trust home educators as parents. You should trust us the same as you would trust any parent. You have placed too much trust in the authorities. You've been trained to look to those authorities as if they have the right answers and any answers you come up with need to be authenticated by their safeguarding system.

I don't think public trust in authorities has been rewarded, personally. We have a recent history related to safeguarding children in which some of those authorities have behaved appallingly. They've squirmed, lied, backtracked, sought to remove blame from themselves, loaded it onto others, exploited legal anomalies and blamed their own system.

Meanwhile, the Labour government responded to the cries that 'something must be done' by turning every adult into a villain, every children's author into a predator, every parent into a potential abuser. They showed you 'how seriously they took matters' by seeking to vet and bar every adult who went near a child, subjecting parents to continuous scrutiny and judgment, defaming home educators, and issuing red flags to identify abuse in children which included stuff like messy hair and dirty clothing. (Into which categories I'd say every parent should fit, if they are doing a proper parenting job. Add categories: grazes on both knees, mud to the eyeballs, and look of determination while holding a stick.)

We'll see what happens next, under this government, and no doubt soon.

I assume there are some children, living close to us all, attending school or not, however they are educated, who suffer crap parents and who need the support of other agencies. Those agencies are there for all kids and any responsible person can use their eyes and judgement and call them. But you cannot assume guilt on any group of people; you cannot single out for special examination home educating parents, any more than you can demand special examination of parents of religious or philosophical viewpoints. The fact that bad things happen does not equate to a compulsory register for all home educating parents with safeguarding inspections, automatic monitoring and home visits. We had that clamour, and that proposed response, and we need to think how it impacts on everyone.

Really, I think it's time to look at the home educating parent who lives next door and stop demanding action on all home educators. Use your own common sense. Take responsibility for your own judgments. Trust in your own thinking. You don't need to have a local authority inspector come round and show you they ticked a box for your neighbour simply on the basis that they home educate.

And if you don't trust any parent, that can't be my responsibility to resolve.


sharon said...

Hear, hear. Virtually all abused children have contact with teachers, social service personnel from various agencies, neighbours and/or extended family members who could and should DO something to help that child. Registering home educators with a local authority and sending someone round to check up on them once or twice a year solely because the child is educated at home is unlikely to save any child from harm. In fact, wasting the precious time of Social Workers on 'ticking the boxes' for perfectly good, well functioning families is taking them away from those who desperately do need help.

kellyi said...

I agree with this post completely and utterly.

I am quite happy for people to think us weird and unusual for what we do, but will not accept suspicion that our reason to home ed is to abuse my children.

Big mamma frog said...

If a parent REALLY wants to harm their child and hide that that harm then the chances are there is only so much we can do about it. We cannot eliminate every possible chance of harm to children, and victimising hundreds of families in the belief that we can is not a solution.

What will help, however, is making sure that there are grass roots support systems accessible to ALL parents. We need to involve the community in sharing the responsibility for parenting children and supporting parents. Reinstating voluntary groups, such as playgroups, run by volunteer members of the community - not the government - instead of offering funding to schools to create preschools for toddlers where parents have little involvement or say in the organisation - would be a good start.

For many years communities were the lookouts for vulnerable families, e.g. the granny at the toddler group who had years of wisdom and was willing to listen to tired mums, or the babysitting circle who would pull together when one of their group was struggling etc. But now, with nursery funding, the pressure on both parents to work full time, and the insistence on children being effectively removed from families and the streets from the age of 2 or 3, it feels very much like the natural support systems have vanished and been replaced by inpersonal and unapproachable government organisations that leave alot of families to fall through the net.

MadameSmokinGun said...

Good old Family Values. Governments do love to bang on about this sort of stuff - and then, as Big Mamma says, they put the pressure on for mothers to 'be given the opportunity to go back to work' (ie get a job you lazy sluts) thereby reducing the whole 'family' thing to Get Up, Get Out, See You Later, Get Back In The Car/House, Homework/Kids Telly, Dinner, Bath, Bed Yeah.... quality family time. Not even enough time for a really good argument.

Now MY delightful kids today have spent most of their time naked despite the freezing temps, punching each other (sharing out the boxing gloves/goalie gloves), spitting out left-over Halloween sweets and covering themselves in biro tattoos. They do such a good job of abusing themsleves I hardly get a look in. Any EWO knocking on the door would probably get called a wanker thro' the letter box (child no 3's favourite new word) and undoubtably tread on a freshly poisoned mouse on the way out. I can only hope my blunt-bladed home-made haircut would look good on the mugshots.