Published in TES Scotland, 29 June 2019
Home-educating families are being unfairly treated through Scotland’s health-visiting service, writes Alison Preuss
It was prompted by an increase in members’ complaints about the quality and accuracy of information and advice offered by health visitors in relation to childcare, nursery and schooling options, and a lack of transparency regarding the voluntary nature of the service.
As designated “named persons” for all under-fives under the Getting It Right For Every Child (Girfec) regime, health visitors are now being expected to collect and share a vast amount of personal information on children and families, but problems have arisen – and have escalated – when parents exercise their right to say no.
Several case studies and commentary from parents and one home-educating health visitor that appear in the report are frankly damning. Many families shared their concerns about health visitors’ use of crude “wellbeing” tools and demands for disclosure of sensitive personal data for uncontrolled “joining-up”, which is seen as unacceptable intrusion into family life.
Lack of respect for parenting choices has also dented confidence in the service and it is clear that a main plank of Girfec policy is not working for a significant number of home-educating families. As one parent put it, “the rot runs through services like a stick of rock, with minority groups invariably targeted for ‘remediation’”.
Home educators ‘stigmatised’
Home educators understandably feel stigmatised by references to “unseen children” and “non-engaging parents”, which are used by health visitors to “other” them. They believe that “baked-in bias” has contributed to an overtly hostile environment that is “at least partly responsible for reported incidences of ‘home-eduphobia’ (hateful conduct towards home-educating families)”.
Of course, these problems are not of health visitors’ own making and lie firmly at the door of government, nearly three years after the Supreme Court ruled against the information-sharing provisions in the 2014 Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, which had encouraged professionals to flout overarching legislation. While the health visitors’ own professional code strikes the right balance in relation to consent, confidentiality and respect, it has been badly compromised by Girfec, and health visitors have been swept along with the policy tide that has sent them perilously close to the rocks of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and human rights.
The survey findings also reveal a glaring mismatch between government claims and grassroots experiences with regard to the “innovative” Girfec-driven health-visiting “pathway”. Despite being hailed as a runaway success in a 2017 evaluation, the inconsistencies in practice and exclusionary approach to home educators’ needs tell a different story.
The forum, which is currently co-petitioning the Scottish Parliament for a public inquiry into the human rights impact of Girfec, will be submitting its findings for consideration by the Education and Skills Committee, and will also be pressing the government to take forward its report’s recommendations.
In particular, home educators want to see the previously promised mandatory training put in place for health visitors, who are expected to assess “wellbeing” in the absence of a statutory definition or clear, inclusive guidance that properly recognises the equal status and validity of home education.