Safeguarding – Not just a Welsh Consultation Issue

What’s been said?

This post considers the issue of “safeguarding” raised by the Welsh consultation on new EHE guidelines. We do stress, however, that these issues also apply to HE families across the UK.

The Welsh Assembly Government is not alone in appealing to safeguarding as the justification for changes to its guidelines. The DfE has already done this in England, and the Scottish government will almost certainly follow suit now its Named Person Scheme has failed.

Perhaps the biggest question for HE families to consider in response to this tsunami of concern is ask on what foundations are these new guidelines being built? To be more precise, what are the lawful safeguarding duties of LAs and, importantly, what are their limits?

As stated in our previous Byte unpicking the fine details of the law is not for most parents, but there are a number of non sequiturs which provide food for thought in the section on safeguarding, §7. For instance in referring to Part 7 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, §7.6 quotes from Section 130 of the Act:

(4) In this section, “a child at risk” is a child who-

(a) is experiencing or is at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm, and
(b) has needs for care and support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs).

This leaves one wondering if the ambiguity in this section was intentional or a serious case of neglect on the part of the politicians responsible for scrutinising its approval. In a) the phrase “or is at risk of… other kinds of harm” brings every child into its scope, for every child is always at risk of some type of harm, be that trapping its finger or being inadvertently poked in the eye by a younger sibling. Similarly with b), every child has a need for care and support.

It is no wonder then that Directors of Children’s Services now believe that they are directly responsible for every child in their LA’s area. Whether they were intended to bring every child into the scope of state supervision or not, such Acts have now brought this about in the minds of professionals.

This confusion leads to the proposed guidelines misquoting the 2014 Act. In §7.5 we find this statement:

Relevant partners involved with the child have a duty to report children at risk (section 130) under Part 7 of the 2014 Act.

Section 130.1 of the Act is more precise in its requirements:

If a relevant partner of a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a child at risk and appears to be within the authority’s area, it must inform the local authority of that fact.

When read in context, the Act first defines the term “a child at risk”. Secondly it states that “relevant partners” must have “reasonable cause to suspect” that a child meets the criteria of being “a child at risk.” Home education per se is not a reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a child at risk.

The guidelines recognise this in §7.14, “There is no evidence to suggest that home educated children are at greater risk of neglect or abuse than children who are educated at school” and in §7.15 “A parent’s decision to home educate is not in itself a ground for concern about the safety and well-being of the child.” In both instances though, these affirmations are followed by a negating “however.” Such reversals can only sow suspicion in the minds of LA staff, who are under increasing pressure to protect their own reputations, and those of their employers, from accusations of neglect.

A further example of inaccurate and therefore misleading citation is found in §7:17. This is explained on p11 of the sample response we published recently. The author points out that LA staff do not have an automatic right to access a child without either the consent of a parent, or through a court application.

Why does it matter?

The main reason why it is important to question the frequent appeals to LA’s safeguarding responsibilities towards every child is because there is a growing desire for the state to usurp parental responsibilities. This move is alarming because parents are the natural and historic safeguarders of their children. The shift is illustrated by the way these draft guidelines wrongly assume that the state has a right to “see and speak with the child” (§2.14 & 7.14), to assess a child’s work and much more (§4.21-30).

There is an increasing trend amongst children’s services professionals which gives expression to the notion that parents cannot be trusted to care for their own children. Most worryingly, this attitude is increasingly portraying parents as guilty of endangering their children until they can prove otherwise. This mindset lies behind both the guidelines under consideration and the ongoing propaganda campaign against parental responsibility. This mentality is especially pronounced against home educating families, who are seeking to provide their children with an efficient and truly suitable education.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of Graham Badman’s review of home education in England. Between that and Lord Soley’s 2017 Bill there was a steady flow of lobbying against home education by senior state employees, aided and abetted by unbalanced media reports. One of today’s champions of this undermining of parents is Amanda Spielman, who in June made clear that she believes in “the need for a true civic education.” She continued “School is how and where we make sure that every young British citizen ends up with the same level of understanding.”

It must be asked if the objective of these revised guidelines is intended, in time, to completely discredit HE as a valid option – unless parents agree to only teach according to the state’s agenda.

What can I do?

Don’t let the ongoing pressure wear you out, especially if you value your freedom to provide a good education for your children.

If you have the time, no matter where you live, make some sort of response to this consultation. Don’t feel you have to address every point. It is better to discuss one or two matters well than all of them poorly.

Help other HE families to understand the philosophy which is behind education policy around the world (see our previous Byte) and how it seeks to weaken parental responsibility in favour of state-prescribed education.