ID cards for babies. Preposterous? Read on.
Scotland’s national home education support organisation Schoolhouse began to research the amount of information which was being gathered about children purely from a self-preservation point of view when it appeared that proposed changes to the education and social work systems might directly threaten fundamental freedoms for home educators.
It soon became clear, however, that the issues uncovered should be of concern not just to home educators but to all families.
The Getting It Right For Every Child Highland pathfinder website has published details * of what information will be gathered about all children, their families and other associated individuals. This is not a cosy old-fashioned health record. It travels with the child and is constantly, being added to from health through education and on to adult services. This vast electronic document contains everything, from details of family pets and associated adults’ employment to whether the client is in an at risk group for hepatitis B or has any “prejudices or tensions” (whatever that may mean).
The following extract from Getting it right for every child, Electronic Information Sharing Model and Process,Version 0.1, August 2008 confirms the universal nature of the personal data collection:
It is important that this Model is designed to take account of all children and their needs. The Model can be applied to children who require no additional support to children with complex needs. It is relevant for all children, since information recorded in universal agency systems could become critical in understanding a child’s journey may help to aid decision making when they require inter agency support. This information may be important when viewed alongside another agencies’ information when decisions need to be made on what support a child needs within a single agency. (i.e. the recording of day to day information about any child around indicators of well-being, e.g. Healthy – Immunisations, Achieving – Academic attainment etc. This information may appear to have little value when initially recorded but may be of immense value later when pooled together to aid in decision making or where additional support is required and other elements of the Model come into play). [their use of bold]
Collecting information about all children, pressure to maintain and update this, and the sheer amount of data to be processed will cause a massive and unjustifiable drain on already stretched resources and divert attention from the small minority who are at risk of serious harm. Child protection expert Eileen Munro (LSE) has perhaps drawn the best analogy when she asks what sense it makes, when looking for a needle in a haystack, to make that haystack even bigger. Her point is all the more powerful in the context of the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis in child protection services across the UK.
Such a system will be so skewed towards the simply measured (e.g. forms filled in or meetings held) that it sends out the wrong message to workers about what is important and may prevent professionals from using their own judgement, reason and intuition. While these may not always be perfect, and there must be checks and balances in place, this is surely preferable to this arbitrary information gathering system. As Eileen Munro recently put it, when commenting on the recent high-profile Baby P case, the “important” work is achieving a high score in the audit system; comforting frightened children comes second.
Most professionals working with families recognise that trust is an essential component of their relationship with service users. The invasion of privacy inherent in this system, and the arbitrary allocation of suspicion based on boxes ticked on a form, means there is a real risk that parents will be reluctant to access services that their children may need.
Even the “core record” is an unacceptable and grossly disproportionate invasion of privacy, and almost every client will have much of the even more invasive supplementary information gathered too. There is also the question of consent. The legal issues surrounding consent are too complex to expand on here in any detail. It is worth noting, however, that, on these proformas, consent is requested to share the information but not to gather it in the first place; also, that a refusal to provide the information requested may, in itself, be considered a cause for concern, as is beginning to happen in England.
Furthermore, in the light of recent high profile data loss scandals, there is no guarantee that any information held would be held securely. The consequences of such sensitive information falling into the wrong hands (which may include insurance companies, advertising agencies, paedophiles, fraudsters, abusive ex-partners or anybody holding a grudge against a particular individual) range from irritating at best to absolutely devastating. Any such data loss, even if the data were not used to malicious ends, would constitute an even greater invasion of privacy than had already been inflicted by the state.
As these data are to be used to identify clients at risk of “poor outcomes”, as defined by the government (which could be becoming an offender, missing from education, homeless, not in employment, education or training, mentally ill or indeed anything else) it must be noted that while the issues raised in the questions (eg. parents’ marital and economic status) may show a statistical correlation to “poor outcomes”, there is no established causal link. This is poor science and should not be forming the basis for policy.
Clearly, filling in a myriad of forms will present a massive drain on resources. While expense should not necessarily be the main consideration in forming policy, it must be shown that the benefits of any given policy justify the costs. Adherence to this principle ensures the proper allocation of resources to those who are most in need. The GIRFEC agenda is already eating up resources and time out of all proportion to the alleged benefits.
It is patently obvious that the adoption of a universal approach to imposing unjustifiably intrusive “services” may not only be ethically dubious and useless in practice, but it may also lead to truly tragic consequences which are diametrically opposed to its alleged aims.
GIRFEC must be seen as only a small part of a much wider system of gathering, recording, sharing and evaluating information about citizens and communities. For example, the CHI number cited in these forms * is the citizen’s ecare identifier. Ecare is linked to the citizen’s account and a project to ensure interoperability between all UK systems is underway. This is too complex to allow detailed analysis here but this presentation (frame 17 in particular) gives an overview of the ecare system.
Although the infringement of children’s rights should be alarming enough in itself, it is not only children who are adversely affected. The personal information of all significant adults involved with every child will also be gathered, and as the children themselves reach adulthood, the information will travel with them. This effectively creates a National ID register (currently the source of much heated debate) by the back door. Furthermore, the safeguarding of the information cannot be guaranteed since future governments may choose to use it for entirely unsuitable or malign purposes, as pointed out by No2ID campaigners.
In Scotland, the creeping surveillance agenda is already evident but is not yet unstoppable. While it is difficult to challenge policies which have been presented (even to professionals) as the means of saving children from horrific abuse, it is would be disappointing if the Scottish Government were to foist onto the people of Scotland policies that stem from the UK Government via the EU without proper scrutiny and careful analysis of the implications. The Scottish Government surely owes it to Scotland’s children and families to think very carefully about what this agenda really means for all our futures.
The Getting It Right For Every Child agenda, along with raft of other associated initiatives, has been publicly presented as a response to the inquiry following the death of Danielle Reid, released to the public by Highland Child Protection Committee on 7 March 2006.
Dr Jean Herbison, the author of this report, refers to similarities to Lord Laming’s report into the death of Victoria Climbie:
In England, Lord Laming has published his report into the death of Victoria Climbié, who died on 25th February 2000. His recommendations were the most detailed in relation to system change and professional practice throughout the United Kingdom. The reader of this report in relation to Danielle Reid will be struck by similarities in all these reports. The findings reveal serious gaps in service provision to the vulnerable and at risk child. There has been an identification of lack of robust systems in place early enough to protect Scotland’s children.
Lord Laming’s report following the Victoria Climbie inquiry, which is cited as the catalyst for children’s services reform in England in a similar way to the Danielle Reid report in Scotland, was published on 28 January 2003.
Policies and legislation do differ north and south of the border, but the similarities far outnumber the differences. Getting It Right For Every Child is the Scottish equivalent to Every Child Matters in England, just as the Integrated Assessment Framework in Scotland corresponds with the Common Assessment Framework.
Privacy and data-sharing: the way forward for public services – a performance and innovation report dated 2002 – was published by the UK Government and set out (among other intended reforms) changes to children’s services which the public and professionals were led to believe were being instigated as a result of the Laming or Herbison reports.
Helping children in need
Objective: To reduce the number of children missing substantial periods of school and ensure children do not miss out on core public services.
Need for better data use: Information sharing between local agencies to advise local education authorities of the whereabouts of children for whom they have a duty to provide education, and to develop an overview of individual needs to enable a more targeted response.
Issues: Every year a substantial number of children are lost from the school rolls and become ‘invisible’ to the local education authorities which have responsibility for providing their education.
However, the majority of these children will be known to other local agencies – GPs, social services, housing authorities, the Benefits Agency, voluntary sector organisations, immigration authorities and others. At local level, protocols often do not exist for agencies to share information, and where channels of communication are in place, data protection issues can be a barrier to providing effective interventions for children. Good practice on joint working does exist in many areas but it is not replicated throughout the country. There is no co-ordinated approach to the spread of good practice. Better use of the full range of information held by government on this key customer group would enable all services to be tailored to meet their specific needs, ensuring that children are able to make the most of their potential. Information from all key service providers – education, health, social services and so on – would need to be brought together securely in order to enable services to target responses.
When the Getting It Right For Every Child (including the Integrated Assessment Framework) proposals were published for consultation in 2005, they were presented to the press, public and professionals as a reform of the Children’s Hearing System as opposed to an agenda which would affect all children in Scotland.
Misleading media coverage at the time – as exemplified in this BBC news piece – was of concern to Schoolhouse, whose serious misgivings were shared by Sense Scotland in its response to the consultation:
IAF linked with Children’s Hearings system
Because of the way the IAF has been presented, as a part of a consultation on changes to the children’s hearing system, a number of people for whom it would have been relevant will miss it. This was not helpful and will limit the range of responses made to the IAF. It could also lead to a skewed set of responses. In particular the consultation could potentially alienate education respondents.
Many working in education who commented on the piloting of the IAF regarded it as a document with its roots in, and most applicable to, social work services. Publishing the document within the context of children’s hearings only reinforces that assumption. While it is fair to say that children’s hearings are a social justice responsibility and not limited to social services this is not what most will perceive.
Embedding the framework in a children’s hearing consultation led many to think that the it is inextricably linked to the children’s hearings system. If they do not work directly within that system they are likely to consider the IAF is ‘not for them’.
The least helpful time to encourage consultation with those working in education is to hold that consultation over the summer holidays. The IAF consultation period was 21 June to 30 September making it much less likely that teachers and others in education will respond. The implication for readers is that the document does not apply within education or that relevant departments in the Scottish Executive did not co-ordinate on dissemination.
The IAF proposals have far-reaching implications for those working in education and yet it appears that engagement with the education community has throughout the process been limited. It is vital that education is fully involved in developing the framework following the outcome of the consultation process. Only through full involvement will education practitioners be likely to become willing partners and have a sense of ownership of the eventual framework.
Whether by accident or design, the consultation was not made available to important stakeholders at this early stage. Many professionals assumed, quite reasonably given the media slant, that it was of concern only to those working with the small minority of children who come in to contact with the Children’s Hearing System.
Many teachers are still completely unaware of how the Curriculum for Excellence fits with the GIRFEC agenda and the implications for their profession. The PHNR forms meanwhile bear an uncanny resemblance to the original proposed content of the Integrated Assessment Framework.
While Alan Johnson may have just promised to scrap ID cards, and Fergus Ewing will no doubt be jumping for joy at the prospect, once they’ve got your babies – tomorrow’s citizens – on their universal database*, there will be no stopping them.
Do they really think our heads button up the back?
UPDATE (October 2010): Some of the links above (marked *) no longer work as the information has been moved or deleted. This forum thread contains some of the missing details with screen shots. This forum thread links to a series of articles on GIRFEC by Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.