Safer in the Hands of the State?

What’s been said?

The Newcastle Safeguarding Board recently published a Serious Case Review report into child sexual exploitation in the city. It contains a section on the role of schools, stating that teachers are best placed to spot potential abuse as they are the professionals who spend the most time with children.

Pages 78—80, in particular, focus on Children Missing School Education and home education is, of course, thrown in alongside erratic attendance, truancy and dropping out of school, as though they are all one and the same. In response, oversight of EHE was taken in-house by Newcastle City Council and combined with CME. The report makes further calls for the recommendations of the Badman report to be implemented.

Why does it matter?

Following the recent introduction of the Integrated Communities Strategy, which the Department for Education stated “categorically does not include compulsory registration”, one might think that this particular argument has been won. However, there are still questions for local councils to answer, because councils and politicians are keen to perpetuate the myth that children are safe in the hands of the state – hence the continuance of the Soley Bill to committee stage.

The Newcastle Serious Case Review (SCR), together with the many others from around the country – Rochdale, Rotherham, Somerset, Oxfordshire, Telford, Torbay, Liverpool, Thurrock, Hampshire, Bristol – all reveal similar issues pointing to a shocking and almost unbelievable failing of the authorities. Even though girls were repeatedly requesting the morning-after pill and presenting for abortions (in one case at the age of 13) no questions were asked by the very people who should have been safeguarding them.

In many cases, parents pleaded with the police to rescue their daughters, only to be told that the relationships were consensual, even though some of the girls involved were just children, years below the age of consent. One mother was even judged to be unable to accept her young daughter’s emerging sexuality.

And yet the state has the audacity to try and brand home educating parents as potential child abusers and sexual exploiters. This is a point picked up by Graham Stuart when he was Chair of the Education Select Committee. In writing to Thurrock Council he noted that, “the conflation of home education with a child safeguarding risk amounts to a serious stigma against parents. I have never seen any credible evidence that home education is a risk factor nor, in cases where children have been harmed, evidence that home education effectively hid abuse from the authorities”.

What can I do?

These SCRs demonstrate that state safeguarding isn’t fit for purpose. If these local councils are unable to protect the thousands of exploited children and young teenage girls, why on earth would any home educating parent entrust them with their child’s safety? And after it has looked the other way as thousands of girls are traumatised, what moral authority can the state presume to possess?