The NO2NP roadshow visited Dingwall on 4 March 2015, where a capacity audience (bigger than the Beatles!) heard from Michael Veitch of the CI, Lesley Scott of Tymes Trust and our Forum co-ordinator Alison Preuss, whose presentation is transcribed below.
Some challenging questions and interesting comments were raised from the floor, perhaps the most surprising among them being that many parents had had no idea about the Named Person, or the fact that GIRFEC had been piloted in the Highlands – making a mockery of the universal benefits claimed for what was a small, selective project that was deliberately limited in scope to address the needs of children already known to have additional support needs and whose parents were desperate to access services.
Dingwall NO2NP Roadshow presentation – Alison Preuss
Thanks for inviting me to speak tonight. For anyone who is interested, my presentations from previous roadshows (Inverness and Montrose) can be found on our forum website with hyperlinks to references so that people can do their own research. Much of the background information can also be found on our online petition, which has attracted nearly 6000 signatures and many hundreds of comments from parents and professionals opposed to the Named Person and surveillance aspects of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act.
Although I’m speaking from the perspective of the home educating community, we have a lot in common with other groups who don’t necessarily fit the state approved mould and whose differences are more likely to be censured rather than celebrated, sometimes to the point of overt hostility. From a purely self-preservation point of view, we have been following and opposing the universal data mining behind what was to become the Named Person scheme for more than 12 years. We saw this one coming for everyone, not just us, and really wish we had been wrong. GIRFEC is not about Getting It Right For Every Child, but about Getting Information Recorded for Every Citizen. The ‘It’ they are so determined to get right is essentially I.T., as in Information Technology, to facilitate the processing of the personal data of every child and associated adult, mostly without their knowledge or consent.
You may have seen the media coverage of the backlash against government proposals to create a super database of citizens’ health records and the Assistant Information Commissioner’s dire warning that it would create a National Identity scheme in breach of existing legislation. So where, pray, was this paragon of data protection when it was our children’s data being plundered and shared by state-appointed Named Persons? Well actually, there wasn’t even a whimper of dissent from the ICO during the passage of the CHYP Act. Presumably, children’s rights just don’t matter?
For the record, we are all the lab rats for Tony Blair’s New Labour social engineering project known as ‘early intervention’, which was allegedly designed to identify the delinquents of tomorrow and ‘remediate’ them, but in reality consigns most of us to the ‘criminals in waiting’ class for ease of management. Described by one commentator as “human husbandry” and famously condemned by Tony Benn as “eugenics, the sort of thing Hitler talked about” early intervention is the policy that underpins GIRFEC, which is just the kilted cousin of England’s Every Child Matters (Every Citizen Monitored). The CHYP Act is essentially a tartan Trojan horse that may at first sight seem to be a cuddly sort of cuddy, but before you know it, you will be taken for a ride in a direction you may not want to travel, to a state dictated destination you may not want to reach.
When GIRFEC was first mooted, there was an overwhelming sense of déjà vu for many of us as the Scottish Government simply adopted New Labour’s rhetoric to misrepresent it to the masses as a child protection policy. Let me briefly take you back in time to the Children Over Surveilled, Under Protected conference, held at the LSE in 2006, which brought together a range of highly respected experts in child protection, data security, civil liberties and children’s rights, all of whom sounded loud alarm bells about the radical changes being proposed for children’s services which were said to be aimed at “improving early identification and intervention with children thought to be at risk of failing to reach their potential”. The conference placed particular emphasis on the databases being set up to hold extensive personal information about children and their families, ostensibly to help professionals share information amongst themselves and judge whether or not a child was showing any cause for concern, but in reality amounting to universal citizen surveillance and an invasion of every family’s privacy. It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?
Nine years on and the Scottish government, aided and abetted by state-sponsored charity cheerleaders with vested interests, are boldly claiming GIRFEC to be the final solution for every social ill afflicting Scotland, but it’s a bit of a stretch for most of us to imagine how an army of state snoopers covertly recording every child’s pet bereavements, lunch box contents, pocket money rates and mum and dad’s failure to buy the latest trainers is going to help the children who are already known to be at risk of something far worse than missing out on their five a day.
As we’ve heard previously from paediatrician Dr Jenny Cunningham, there is no hard evidence to support the premise that early intervention makes a positive difference and can in fact be damaging to children and families. It does, however, allow service providers new and exciting publicly funded opportunities to perform ‘parental capacity to provide wellbeing’ assessments at every stage of every child’s life from the womb onwards. It’s also an open invitation for IT companies to flog ever more sophisticated surveillance software to database and ‘eprofile’ the population. Big data is worth big bucks to the economy.
Since the system relies on universal data collection, there can be no permitted opt out (although, as with ContactPoint, there will probably be exemptions for those whose information is deemed too ‘important’ to lose, such as politicians, celebrities, the wealthy and powerful). In a dangerous move designed to further facilitate the acquisition of children’s data, the government lowered the established child protection threshold from “at risk of significant harm” to “at risk of not meeting the state’s dictated wellbeing outcomes”, a distinction which would be lost on most parents unfamiliar with the child protection system but one which is vitally important for ensuring the safety the most vulnerable children.
SHANARRI, as we have heard, is the handy set of state-defined ‘wellbeing’ indicators which has spawned an all-encompassing risk assessment framework to redefine ‘vulnerability’, which now includes being under 5, an only child, having a disabled parent or one who is ‘non engaging’. You should all take a look and see how many risk boxes you might tick. Too many ticks and you’ll find yourself at the sharp end of an intervention to improve your parenting performance and subject to sanctions if you don’t comply. It’s the GIRFEC equivalent of Supernanny’s naughty step. [See Ian Dent’s Beyond Broadband and associated commentary for more on eprofiling as a means of determining rewards and sanctions based on a citizen’s ‘worth to the economy’ credit score].
You’d think it would be difficult to get sensible people to believe that building bigger haystacks would make it easier to find smaller needles – and you’d also think that lessons might have been learned from the Isle of Man which abandoned a similar scheme after children’s services melted down due to over-referrals – but apparently every single MSP was fooled (or more likely told how to vote), despite a significant number of clued-up parents alerting them to the implications for every single family in the land.
They should have heeded the advice of Lyndon B. Johnson who said:
“You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.”
I happened to be watching ‘Call the Midwife’ the other night, set in East London in the early 1960s, when one nurse reminded a well-meaning but pushy colleague: “Sometimes we have to wait for help to be asked for”. A bedrock principle of our universal health care system is (or was) consent, unless exceptional circumstances apply, including the child protection threshold being triggered – a scenario that featured in a previous episode when well-meaning professionals got it wrong by reporting an infant’s injuries as non-accidental after failing to diagnose brittle bone disease.
Fast forward 50 years and professionals are still getting things wrong with sometimes tragic results. They are only human, after all, often working under tremendous pressure in front line services which are under-resourced and massively overstretched. When there aren’t enough social workers to protect the children already known to be at serious risk, it is scandalous that the government should be diverting resources into a universal surveillance scheme which requires professionals to observe children’s every movement, record their every ‘life event’, gather and share information about their families without consent and, increasingly, interrogate their private thoughts and feelings about sex, drugs and suicide via intrusive wellbeing ‘surveys’.
A visit to a paediatric clinic at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee the other week confirmed a friend’s worst fears when her attention was drawn to notices informing parents that their children’s information would be shared with other agencies, the subtext being that if you want to access medical or clinical assessment and treatment for your child, you have to surrender your right to family privacy. My friend, whose child has a rare health condition, feels that she is “over a barrel” and that if she insists on compliance with the Data Protection Act, she will attract attention, suspicion and ill-will from the very people she is depending on to help her child. While presumed or coerced consent does not constitute informed consent, the most worrying aspect of my friend’s hospital encounter was that consent wasn’t even mentioned in passing. So it seems that conditionality now permeates all public services, including the NHS, and that access is only available to those who submit to terms and conditions which compromise their children’s and their own rights to control the processing of their sensitive personal information. Meanwhile watch out for your NHS CHI number conveniently appearing ” (as it did on the early versions of the entitlement card ) on some of your other records, just ripe for sharing. Take a close look at this image which appeared in Scotland’s Future – Your guide to an independent Scotland.
A presentation on GIRFEC information sharing, delivered at Stirling University last year by Alan Small on behalf of the Scottish Government, leaves us in no doubt that parents are being deliberately sidelined. As he reminds his audience, the CHYP Act’s information-sharing provisions override the duty of confidentiality. The Act also empowers a Named Person to make statutory requests for help to ‘relevant authorities’, including health boards and local authorities. So that last bastion of personal privacy has been officially sacrificed on the altar of SHANARRI and your child’s teacher will be able to access your family’s medical, social work and police records without your knowledge or consent by using the excuse of “promoting, supporting and safeguarding” your child’s wellbeing.
The presenter goes on to confirm that information must be shared when it is considered likely to be relevant to the functions of the Named Person, and while it is apparently considered good practice to obtain and have regard to the views of the child (that’s your child), taking account of age and maturity, the views of the parent (that’s you) are categorically not required, and there is no need to consider the effect of the information sharing on you or anyone else.
Turning to the duty to help a Named Person, he notes that the impact is “far reaching” (don’t we know it) and among the services obliged to assist the Named Person in data collection and sharing are:
Health Services – GPs, dentists, community pharmacists, mental health, addiction, long term conditions, A&E, minor injuries, out of hours, family planning, sexual health, maternity services, ambulance service, health visiting, school nursing, CAMHS, Paediatrics, Neonatology, Community Child Health, Health Promotion, Allied Health Care Professionals……
Local Authorities – Education and Learning (inc early childhood education) Housing, Social Services, Leisure Services…… Police, Fire Service, Sports Council .
Plus any organisation performing a function on behalf of a Health Board or Local Authority
The presentation concludes with reminders to practitioners (a) that they can share information if and when they decide, subjectively, that your child’s wellbeing is, or is likely to be, at risk, and may require to be addressed; (b) that state defined wellbeing indicators have replaced the former welfare (i.e. child protection) threshold; (c) that a ‘concern’ may not even directly relate to their own specific service or treatment (a wide-open invitation for cross-disciplinary interference); and perhaps most worryingly, (d) that the once sacrosanct duty of confidentiality is not to be considered a ‘blockage’ to sharing information.
So all these assurances from government that there is no requirement to engage with a Named Person, who is allegedly only a point of contact for those seeking assistance, begin to look more than a bit disingenuous when viewed alongside the data sharing free for all outlined by Alan Small. No wonder parents are angry!
Since the CHYP Act was passed last February, more and more families are experiencing unwanted interference by Named Persons, including harassment by heath visitors who don’t appreciate their services being declined and referrals to the children’s reporter on spurious grounds. Well before the provision is scheduled to come into force in August 2016, families are already having their personal data stolen and assessed by multi-agency box tickers who may not personally approve of particular parenting choices and have had a couple of hours’ training on how to circumvent the law. Think chronic illness and disability, vaccination, travelling lifestyles, home birthing, attachment parenting, home education. And when families’ choices are limited by circumstances they have no power to change, like low income, disability or poor housing, they will find it impossible to pass their parental capacity to provide wellbeing tests and can look forward to especially close scrutiny of their parenting by Named Persons whose wellbeing advice they dare not refuse.
There are of course some familiar old chestnuts that are repeatedly trotted out by those who have swallowed the state spin, so let’s just take a minute to dispose of them:
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”, but how many of you would be irresponsible enough to willingly hand over your online banking passwords, abandon privacy settings on your social media accounts and post your children’s details on the internet just to prove you have nothing to hide? Ashya King’s parents had nothing to hide and look where seeking a second opinion for their child got them – at the sharp end of a European Arrest Warrant! We would all do well to remember that “privacy is a necessary condition of mental health and wellbeing”, which is one of the reasons it is specifically protected in human rights legislation.
“If it saves just one child…” is another cliché used by people who have no understanding of the realities of child protection, which is a deadly serious business, and in no way comparable to a bunch of woolly ‘wellbeing’ indicators which are designed to gather as much data as possible – on everyone. GIRFEC didn’t save Mikaeel Kular who was killed by his mother, despite being known to be vulnerable by children’s services in Edinburgh and Fife, where the Named Person is already operational and already causing problems for families we know who have been the subject of serial malicious referrals. When implemented universally, GIRFEC puts the most vulnerable children at greater risk by diverting resources from child protection social work.
“We need to know everything about your family so we can plan the services you’ll need.” For that read “the services we decide you’ll need” as the enabling state is primed to disable dissenters who may stray from the “right” set of outcomes as determined by the government. Why not actually address the needs of parents and children who are already queuing up to ask for support they have identified as necessary but are being turned away through lack of resources or disagreement on the part of ‘professionals who know best’ across all disciplines?
The fact is that no family is now safe from routine state intervention. The bar has been set so low that parents are all deemed a risk to their children’s wellbeing.
We’re obviously disappointed, but not surprised, that the first stage of the legal challenge didn’t go our way, but as we’ve heard, a date has now been set for the appeal hearing. On a positive note, the level of media interest has led to a realisation among many more parents and professionals that they were both deliberately misled by the government and betrayed by their parliamentary representatives. Who would have thought that law-abiding citizens would need to go to court to protect their children from the government’s assault on their human rights? For the sake of every child, we hope the legal challenge will ultimately succeed, but in the meantime, we will continue to rely on our overarching rights under Article 8 of the ECHR, the EU Data Protection Directive and the UK-wide Data Protection Act, none of which the Scots Parliament has the legislative competence to override.
We also have some tried and tested tactics for frustrating the data collectors which I’m happy to share with you:
Formally withhold or withdraw consent from every ‘service provider’ for any data processing without your written authority and obtain confirmation that they have complied with your instructions. It might make you a non-engaging parent in the risk assessment stakes, but Aileen Campbell has stated on public record that there is no requirement to engage with a Named Person. There is a template for the purpose on our website citing this ministerial assurance.
Avoid giving personal information to service providers wherever possible, including third sector organisations whose remit is now to mine data from you and your children. Try not to get guilt-tripped into providing ‘feedback’ which they claim they need to prove they have met their outcomes, to get their next grant and provide future services (you get the drift).
Opt out of any school surveys and don’t allow your child to be coerced into taking part. Have an opt-out note attached to your child’s records and remind teachers that there is a law against grooming children to disclose personal sensitive data.
Submit subject access requests under the Data Protection Act to obtain your own and your children’s records and do so on a regular basis. They must produce them within 40 days and you may be surprised at what has been recorded and shared about you with every Tom, Dick and Harry, playground tittle-tattle included. (One parent was surprised to learn she was emigrating to Egypt, not just moving two streets away!) Do you really want your child’s teacher to have access to your family’s medical and social work records at the click of a mouse so that they can go on fishing expeditions (something that is specifically prohibited by EU Data Protection Directives)?
Consider interviewing your child’s Named Person so that you can assess their suitability to have unsupervised contact with your child. If they do not meet your expectations, ask for a different Named Person and repeat the process until you are satisfied as to their suitability. Don’t hesitate to ‘over-engage’ and pursue formal complaints about any inappropriate actions on the part of the Named Person. [See also A Named Parent for every professional?]
Just yesterday we heard the Prime Minister describe organised child abuse and exploitation as being “on an industrial scale”, so it makes sense to be cautious about who has access to your child’s personal details. On the Home Ed Forums website, there is a 50-page thread and associated map listing professionals convicted of abusing children as disclosure checks obviously only find those who have been caught, while the ‘care’ system is routinely failing the most vulnerable children. Scotland has its own shameful share of embarrassing skeletons rattling their way out of the closet and it’s hardly surprising that GIRFEC is becoming known in data security circles as the “new paedophile information exchange”. [Note: Its English equivalent had previously been dubbed the “paedophiles’ address book” as far back as 2004, and a Westminster Early Day Motion highlighted the dangers of “data rape” in 2006].
I’ll end with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence, which was said to have been informed by our own Declaration of Arbroath:
“Governments (derive) their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that Named Persons, as state-appointed data collectors and sharers, are going to be distrusted, deeply resented and resisted by a significant number of parents and children. No amount of ‘guidance’ can make the unacceptable acceptable. Regardless of the outcome of the Judicial Review, the government is on notice that parents make difficult and dangerous prey when it comes to protecting their children. We categorically do not consent to this invasion of our families’ privacy.