Prof David Anderson shares the results of his almost wholly redacted subject access request with the NO2NP audience in Aberdeen
The NO2NP roadshow revisited Aberdeen on Monday 29 February and packed out the venue at Skene House with audience members ranging from one month of age to retirees. Chaired by roadshow co-ordinator Nigel Kenny, the evening’s keynote speaker was Professor David Anderson, who recounted his own experience at the hands of prematurely trigger-happy Named Person zealots. He was followed by Lesley Scott of the Tymes Trust and Alison Preuss from our own Scottish Home Ed Forum, whose presentation is reproduced below. There will be an action day in Aberdeen city centre on Saturday 5 March when volunteers will distribute NO2NP leaflets to raise awareness of the dangers of the scheme in advance of the Supreme Court hearing to challenge the legislation which takes place in London on 8 and 9 March.
NO2NP, Aberdeen, 29/02/16 – presentation by Alison Preuss, Scottish Home Ed Forum
Good evening Aiberdeen! Fit like? It’s affy fine to be here in the north east, from where my own family hails. In fact if you were to turn my gory history into a GIRFEC genogram you might set a few SHANARRI wellbeing wheels spinning out of control as I’m a direct descendant of the cannibal laird David Barclay (who famously boiled up a local sheriff in the Mearns back in the 15th century). My brother and I used to brag about it at school! Who knows how that might now be deemed to affect our present day wellbeing (or capacity to provide it)? Then again, who’s going to mess with my family when they see the size of my cauldron?
By way of a more 21st century introduction, my background is in elective home education and children’s rights, mainly in relation to privacy issues. Boring by comparison!
Well, yesterday was certainly a bad press day for the Government.
I admit to getting quite excited when I saw the Scotland on Sunday headline about a ‘watchdog’ criticising the Named Person scheme, thinking that maybe the ICO for Scotland had finally decided to Get It Right. But no it was the SPSO sounding off rather belatedly about the complaints procedure which is, by design, unfit for purpose. As we have pointed out, all it offers complainants is a choice between taking the road to nowhere or the scenic circular route back to where they started.
Meanwhile, the data protection ‘watchdog’ for Scotland is still comfortably installed in the government’s pocket, along with his chum the children’s rights commissioner. Maybe one day both ‘watchdogs’ will wake up and start snarling over the blatant breaches of the Data Protection Act and UNCRC.
Since my own specialist subject is data protection, it’s hard to know where to begin with the clip we have just seen of Maureen Falconer from the ICO encouraging practitioners to ignore the very legislation that her office is supposed to be upholding. Putting sharing before caring is her byline.
In the rest of the UK, her ‘advice’ would not stack up legally, and the sort of practice she is encouraging was in fact tested in the landmark Haringey case where parents won compensation via judicial review after being subject to arbitrary interference by state agencies acting below the threshold for non-consensual information sharing.
So what’s she on about? Well, the Scottish Government pulled what they thought was a clever stunt and passed ‘enabling’ legislation to make it legal to bypass the reserved, UK wide Data Protection Act – i.e. they legalised data theft, but only north of the border, where children are apparently at disproportionate risk from their parents. And in order to fool the public, they proceeded to conflate ‘wellbeing’ risks (which can mean anything and everything in their all encompassing SHANARRI risk framework) with ‘welfare’ risks (which are about significant harm as defined in the Children Act). By turning trivial pursuits into risks (or potential risks) and simultaneously lowering the threshold for state interference, every child and family member will be compulsorily databased and profiled so that dissenters can be easily identified and suitably ‘remediated’.
As Maureen tells her indoctrinees, there’s no point in letting ‘Joe Public’ know about the sometimes highly sensitive personal data they’re recording and sharing as “they might think they have a choice”. Oh, and it might damage trust in ‘services’. Actually, it already has, despite the legislation not yet being in force.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone in their right mind would argue for the de facto abolition of the right to privacy, especially the same folk who so vehemently oppose ID cards and the Westminster Snoopers Charter, but they are hypocrites and vested interests just following orders, like the children’s charities who have recently scooped millions on the grab-a-grant lottery to help implement the GIRFEC data theft agenda (also known as ‘data rape’ because there is no informed consent to the unwanted interference). One vocal cheerleader (do read the comments on that link!) has today been chairing an ‘Implementing the Named Person and GIRFEC’ conference for members of the Snooperati-in-waiting, who can expect to face extreme challenges given the growing public hostility.
‘Implementing the Named Person & GIRFEC’ conference, chaired by the rock steady Crewe, well known cheerleader for the Snooperati
The fact is that GIRFEC leaves Scots citizens with less legal protection than their counterparts in the rest of the UK when it comes to the use of their personal information. It also falls foul of the EU Data Protection Directive, but our government and MSPs, with very few exceptions, have no shame and no brain.
They knew there may be trouble ahead. GIRFEC board minutes from February 2013 reveal that our supposedly independent data protection “watchdog” agreed, at the behest of government, to reinterpret the current law to order and rubber stamp the lowering of the compulsory engagement and intervention threshold under the GIRFEC regime. But it was to be sneaked in quietly to avoid a stooshie until the legislation was rushed through, disguised in child protection clothing, without adequate scrutiny (and limiting the evidence to that of ‘preferred’ vested interests).
We should remember, however, that the ICO’s statement itself, now repeated ad nauseam by an army of GIRFEC cheerleaders, including the infamous Borders Taxi-gate trainer, is actually just one guy’s opinion. Moreover, it is an opinion not shared by former UK ICO Richard Thomas, who said of ContactPoint in England:
“There are reasons why we need to promote better information sharing where children are at risk of harm, but whether the answer is to database every child in the country should be seriously questioned.”
He went on:
“We live in a free society. We value our freedoms. Sometimes it is a step too far if people err on the side of the collection of data for the sake of collecting data, rather than on the ones we need to watch.”
The Joint Committee on Human Rights was even more scathing, pointing out that, while it may be justifiable for children at risk of harm, a system designed to include every child (like GIRFEC):
“constitutes a serious interference with children’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
They went as far as to say of the UK Government’s proposals which were the blueprint for GIRFEC in Scotland:
“Parliament is being asked to authorise in advance a major interference with Article 8 rights without the evidence demonstrating its necessity being available.”
“We are concerned that, if the justification for information-sharing about children is that it is always proportionate where the purpose is to identify children who need welfare services, there is no meaningful content left to a child’s Article 8 right to privacy and confidentiality in their personal information.”
That’s a complete trashing of the Scottish Government’s equivalent copy cat plans for all our children, in which parents are effectively demoted to the status of prime suspects in their game of GIRFEC Cluedo. Only Scotland has the brass neck to override human rights and pretend it’s getting it right.
Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday carried a major story in both its UK and Scottish editions about the covert psychological profiling of pupils in our schools and even nurseries. When I last looked, it had been shared 4300 times and there has been wall to wall outrage on social media. The ‘What I Think’ tool has long been in use, along with other equally disturbing material that can be found on the GIRFEC in Lanarkshire website, and for some years teachers have been instructed to administer ‘surveys’ to pupils without their parents’ knowledge or consent in various guises, including E2S and ChildrenCount. This scandal was extensively reported by Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review, who also exposed the Young Scot card’s propensity for data stealing, but the ICO sat on his hands then too, and complaints were ignored.
You should be aware that your children’s most personal thoughts and feelings are being interrogated in classrooms in the guise of ‘resilience testing’ without your knowledge, let alone consent. Messing with young minds should not be the remit of school teachers, but has become routine with the introduction of the CfE which, not very coincidentally, shares the same well-behaving outcomes as GIRFEC. Children are being moulded into compliant citizens who can be more easily micro managed through life. Any dissent will be quickly identified and quashed by a series of interventions to get them back on to their state approved path of ‘getting it righteousness’.
On one of my last visits to Aberdeen I attended a GIRFEC (mis)information session organised by the local parent forum. It didn’t go quite as planned as the two civil servants sent north to reassure the restless natives were heckled by the audience, many of whom were not in a forgiving mood as they described encounters with brick walls and unwanted interventions from ‘services’. We were told we all had the wrong end of the SHANARRI stick (indeed some of the audience had already felt its sharp pointy end) and nobody would be obliged to take up the ‘services’ of a Named Person. In a shameless denial of parents’ actual experiences, they said nothing negative could possibly be attributed to the scheme as the legislation was not yet in force. Cue gasps of incredulity and scornful laughter from the audience; indeed we have just heard from David about his own experience of abuse of power by professionals acting beyond their authority.
Meanwhile, our MSPs keep issuing the same old embarrassingly ignorant template responses and have the gall to call us scaremongers. Well, frankly, we should all be very scared!
It is disingenuous to claim that the legislation was passed to formalise what is already in place. Did they seriously expect us to believe the duty of confidentiality had been quietly abolished without us noticing? I certainly wasn’t aware that a random stranger like a primary school teacher could demand access to my medical, social work and police records just because I happen to be related to a child whose wellbeing indicators don’t fit the state approved model (as interpreted by that stranger’s personal prejudices).
If we don’t pass our SHANARRI tick box test, which has been designed by the wellbeing police to catch out unsuspecting parents (who may not even realise they are a risk to their own children unless they have studied the framework in which being under five, having a disability or having been a victim of crime makes them so), we may find ourselves banished to the naughty step or dispatched to obedience classes like Triple P training to learn how to behave ‘right’ in the eyes of the government.
If this has a familiar ring, so it should, as welfare reform is carved from the same early interference policy stone which Tony Blair adopted so enthusiastically to identify delinquents in the womb and Tony Benn famously described as “eugenics, the sort of thing Hitler talked about”. David Cameron has meanwhile been heaping blame for the ills of society on poor parenting, all the while doing nothing to address the structural problems over which families have no control, like poverty, inadequate housing and lack of jobs.
Ticking boxes and wagging fingers won’t feed weans, buy them shoes or put affordable roofs over families’ heads, and the only jobs created by GIRFEC are those for clipboard carrying clypes from the early intervention industry, bought and sold for GIRFEC gold.
As the Named Person scheme steamrollers its way though family life, I have been meeting many more parents considering home education as they have lost all trust in schools which are failing to provide for their children’s needs, then shifting the blame for any school related problems on to ‘home life’. The case of the autistic child being handcuffed in a Borders school that was reported the other week is pretty extreme example of getting it wrong, but is not an isolated example.
I have told this story before, but it well illustrates the wrongness of the GIRFEC approach. It is the case of a young mum who found herself being bullied by a multi-agency SHANARRI gang because she decided, quite legitimately, to home educate her child. Unknown to her, the ‘pretender’ Named Person (who, remember, has no statutory powers until August) had amassed huge amounts of hitherto confidential information on every family member and associated adult in a bid to trump up a whole raft of “concerns” about potential (not actual) risks to wellbeing in order to deny her choice. This included records, including health information, on an estranged former partner, siblings and even a deceased relative, all presented at a hastily convened multi-agency meeting of complete strangers in the form of a report full of inaccuracies, hearsay and deeply personal information which she said left her feeling “humiliated”. It became a bitter power struggle, with the education tail wagging the social work dog and insisting on assessment without grounds (essentially wasting a social worker’s valuable time). All because a Named Person happened not to approve of a parent’s lawful educational choice. Does that sound like a helpful point of contact whose services you can decline? To me it sounds more like state sponsored prejudice, interference and victimisation.
While the Named Person data gathering monster is greedily gobbling up scant resources, despite parents’ protests and the shoogly legal nail on which the entire policy hangs, public services across the land are struggling to sustain vital services, including vital child protection social work. Aberdeen is going to struggle more than most with the downturn in the oil industry and increasing pressure on services.
The Scotsman has reported on the recruitment crisis in the health visiting profession, which is expected to police the wellbeing all children up to the age of five and carry out a whole new raft of assessments. The P&J has also just reported on the struggle to recruit teachers in the north east with Aberdeen City Council’s leader Jenny Laing claiming that would-be head teachers are being deterred by the state guardian role which entails legal responsibility for every child in a school. Nobody wants these state snooper jobs, and posts look likely to remain unfilled, leaving the Named Person scheme and GIRFEC in tatters.
Then there is the thorny issue of Getting I.T. Right. The security of personal data can never be guaranteed and it is an accident waiting to happen when every child’s profile (including information about associated adults) will be on inter-operable databases ripe for hacking or otherwise obtainable via social engineering (including blackmail, bribery, scamming and general carelessness).
The infrastructure is very shaky and the SEEMiS system, which is apparently going to be expanded to store everyone’s wellbeing profiles, is already known to be a leaky bucket. There appears to have been no data security assessment undertaken, but it may well have been suppressed if it had reached the same sort of damning conclusions as the Deloitte report commissioned on ContactPoint.
Aberdeen’s track record in protecting citizens’ data is certainly nothing to write home after a council employee published vulnerable children’s welfare details online, landing the council with a monetary penalty of £100,000. Sensitive case files were also found in a Dundee skip and numerous other data breaches have been reported in the press.
GIRFEC is already having the opposite effect to that which was allegedly intended in that it is deterring people from accessing services, since their information is no longer confidential or secure. Having spoken to many parents who have had their personal information gathered, shared, twisted and later used as evidence against them, I know that many are now sensibly exercising their right to remain silent, or providing minimal information about themselves and none at all about third parties (including partners and other family members) who have not consented to their data being disclosed. Some of those who have been bullied into what the minister would have us believe is ‘voluntary’ engagement with the named person ‘service’ have resorted to recording every communication with every professional and submitting subject access requests on a regular basis to obtain their records, some of which have contained nasty surprises.
From a sensible parent’s perspective, “getting it right” must now mean always “getting it in writing” and/or recording it all on a smart phone. Trust in professionals, from GPs to childminders, is being systematically destroyed as they are all expected to report any wellbeing (as opposed to welfare) concerns – or just mere suspicions – to the named person without you or your child even knowing about it. Parents are now all guilty until they prove their innocence, turning natural justice on its head.
As Lyndon B. Johnson counselled:
“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.”
No such examination has ever been undertaken by the Scottish Government or Parliament. The critical issues of consent, compulsion and thresholds should have been addressed long ago, but they decided to carry on regardless, ignoring all the inconvenient evidence and the growing antipathy of parents towards their intrusive surveillance scheme, all the while telling whoppers so big they put Pinocchio to shame.
The BBC’s Gordon Brewer suggested to Aileen Campbell that there was something “slightly East German” about her state guardian scheme. Well, exactly the same point was made to me recently by a friend who escaped from East Berlin in the early 80s, with the bullet wounds to prove it. He suggested, in all seriousness, that we should be keeping a close eye on any new building works in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall. He may well have had a point, but in the meantime I am keeping my own large cauldron at the ready!