Child abuse in the name of Safeguarding

It has been a theme of this web site that Safeguarding is insincere. Its primary purpose is to protect officials from liabilities that arise from being linked to child abuse. Underlying attitudes towards young people, put simply, a tendency to turn young people into objects, have not changed at all.

A real change in attitudes would mean a change towards valuing young people as subjects. This hasn’t happened yet.

The world of schooling is filled with examples of abuse of young people – or at least extreme objectification – which pass unnoticed. The same schools where these abuses happen no doubt hold many ‘Safeguarding’ training courses and events and believe they are havens of… something. This is an example – a school makes young people wear ‘lanyards’ around their necks if their uniform is out of shape. This is an example of isolation, internal exile, par excellance. From the school’s point of view it is a development of the (horrible) practice of internal isolation – when a student is sent to study at a desk alone in a corridor or room. In this example the student continues to mingle with their peers but are marked out by the sign they are forced to wear. Shaming and humiliation are the emotional effects. But really this is about an extreme ‘docilisation’ in Foucault’s sense – a training of the subjects.

However; the main theme of this post concerns an even more disturbing trend. It is now considered normal to discuss child sexual abuse even with quite young young people – primary school age. These discussions are not proposed as something delicate and serious a parent might have with their child – to warn them about possible dangers, but in a way that doesn’t alarm them. These discussions are proposed as explicit and routine and delivered by ‘professionals’. All this amounts to the sexualisation of young people. We have commented before – there are two groups of people who see school-aged children as sexual objects; paedophiles and Safeguarding advocates. Like any other disciplinary system the first move of Safeguarding is to normalise the behaviour it claims to be opposed to. It does this so it can manage it. In reality this probably increases the behaviours.

The following takes this to a new level. This is an advert for someone to manage a team of ‘youth ambassadors’ – themselves young people – who will talk to other young people about child sexual abuse:

This is an exciting new opportunity at Step Out, we are seeking to recruit an innovative and passionate practitioner to develop our Youth Ambassadors Programme. Youth Ambassadors are young leaders and your role will be to support them to deliver early intervention and preventative work within primary education settings to other young people, focusing on raising awareness around CSE prevention and protective behaviours. [from a youth project job advert in Oxford]

This is the exact analogy of how paedophiles sometimes like to use an already groomed and compliant young person to help them groom and manipulate even younger victims.

This is in effect the mirror image of paedophilia. It passes as normal.

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Another death, another cover-up.

In 2009 we reported on a report by an ex Social Services inspector Graham Badman into Home Education. The report was designed to make recommendations concerning the Home Education sector.

The Badman report made a series of recommendations to introduce a high-level of surveillance into the home education sector. In particular the report made a recommendation that all home educating parents be recorded on a register and that there by annual inspections and examinations of the parents and young person by the local authority. The report made much of the tragic death of a young girl in Birmingham who was being home educated. However; as we pointed out in our critique of the Badman report, there was ample evidence in that case that social services had failed to intervene effectively, not because they lacked certain powers, but because they failed to effectively use the powers that they already possessed. Specifically; social services departments have a power under Section 47 of the 1989 Children Act to launch an investigation if they have concerns about a young person. In the tragic case of  Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham social services had been advised of serious welfare concerns by the girl’s head-teacher (who made 3 separate phone calls to social services) but they failed to launch an investigation. The Badman report came out just before the 2010 election which saw New Labour lose power. The incoming government did not implement the recommendations.

A new and similar case has now emerged in Wales. In this case a young boy who was being home educated died. The parents were initially arrested for neglect but the charges were later dropped. (This happened 3 years ago. The ‘child practice’ [1] report has just come out). The ‘independent’ (as described by the Guardian) report into this case  by Gladys Rhodes White, who is, in fact, an employee of (or consultant for) the South Wales Regional Safeguarding Board which is a local government agency in Wales, recommends, that:

The child practice review, published on Friday, recommends a change in the law so that the details of all home-educated children are kept on a register and that they are seen and spoken to and their wishes recorded on an annual basis. [summary of report from the Guardian]

These are the Badman recommendations all over again.

Once again; social services are covering up their failure to act effectively using the already ample legislation by recommending they be given new (and more intrusive powers). In this case too it turns out that:

By the time of Dylan’s death, he and his sibling were known to the authorities but professionals believed they had no right to insist on seeing the youngsters [Guardian]

A belief which is not correct. This is Section 47 of the 1989 Children Act:

Local authority’s duty to investigate.

(1)Where a local authority—

(a)are informed that a child who lives, or is found, in their area—

(i)is the subject of an emergency protection order; or

(ii)is in police protection;

(b)have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm,

the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. [2]

The full text of this existing law is well worth reading. This is a powerful law. For example if during the course of a Section 47 investigation the authorities are refused access to a young person they have the power to take the young person immediately into care. Provision is also made to make referrals to the Education Department when there are concerns about education.

In the case of Dylan Seabridge the authorities had concerns. In the Guardian report these concerns are reported as being to do with the mother’s mental health and the father’s physical state. These are surely quite serious concerns? Two officials from the local authority went to the home and were denied access. The matter was then filed. These are precisely the kind of conditions envisaged in Section 47 of the 1989 Children Act. What are local authority childrens’ services departments being paid for if not to be aware of the 1989 Children Act and act on it?

The pattern is, tragically, so often the same in these cases. Rather than admit the failings of local authority staff under the current legislation, reports exploit the tragedy to call for yet more powers for social services. But – any reasonable person can see that if local authorities cannot use their existing powers effectively they are unlikely to do any better if they have yet more powers. The most likely reason for making these calls is to cover-up the failures to act. They are trying to create a story-line that they failed because they didn’t have sufficient powers and thus bury the fact that they failed because they failed to use their existing powers.

What also appears to be happening is that social services are silently admitting their incompetence. They seem to be saying ‘make it a statutory duty to gain access to the home once a year and we will do that; but don’t rely on us to use our initiative’. However; this shows that they haven’t even begun to grasp the matter assigned to them. In cases where parents are deliberately abusing their home educated children a planned visit once a year is something that can be planned for and prepared for. (The young person can be schooled to say the right things. Evidence of abuse can be hidden). It would precisely be the unexpected visit that arises because concerns have been raised that would identify abuse. Social services seem to be in the grip of a fatal paralysis. There are no signs in these reports (which endlessly repeat a professed concern for ‘Safeguarding’) that they have even begun to grasp the problem.

Notes

1.  These ‘child practice’ reports carried out by local authority Safeguarding Boards are standard practice when a young person dies and there are concerns.

2. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/47