Memorandum submitted by Hilary Searing
• This submission considers the 'safeguarding' agenda in this Review.
• It concludes that proposed legislative changes are both unnecessary and unworkable.
Many local authorities do not have the resources to safeguard vulnerable children as effectively as they would like and priority should be given to children who are definitely at risk rather than those who might possibly be at risk, such as home educated children.
1. I have worked for thirty years as a local authority social worker and have much experience of front-line child protection work and care proceedings. I am now retired.
The social work perspective
2. The Badman Review reflects the confusion which exists in many local authorities about their safeguarding duties. The term 'safeguarding' is widely misunderstood and many problems have arisen in child protection work because of confusion about what the term actually means.
3. Graham Badman is not an expert in child protection. His review contains too many platitudes about 'safeguarding' children that are actually meaningless. He conflates objections to non-state education with safeguarding issues and uses vague concerns about child abuse as a way of undermining the concept of home education. It is totally inappropriate to suggest that registration of home educated children is necessary to 'safeguard' them.
4. There is a well established principle that local authority intervention with home educators should be minimal. Support services are provided where appropriate and formal interventions may be necessary over school attendance or due to child protection concerns. Legal proceedings to protect a vulnerable child are only used in situations where the child may be 'at risk of significant harm' - and relevant case law shows that evidence of abuse or neglect must be substantiated.
5. In many ways social work interventions with the families of home educated children are similar to those with state educated children. The Children Act 1989 provides the legal framework but anecdotal evidence suggests that some professionals are making judgements about 'safeguarding' without a proper understanding of the law. Any professional judgement must be based on fact, not opinion, which would stand up to scrutiny in court. If concerns arise only from the fact that the education provided by parents has been assessed as 'unsuitable' it would be wrong to use this Act.
6. One way of establishing greater controls with a family where there are child protection concerns is to obtain a Supervision Order under the Children Act 1989. I have found this to be an effective way of working when it is felt the child should remain in the family despite ongoing risks. In other situations, it is sufficient to draw up a child protection plan and work with the family in a structured, supportive way, without the need for legal proceedings.
7. The notion of using registration of home educators to improve safeguarding arrangements does not come from the practice experience of social workers. These draconian powers are completely unnecessary and represent a step too far in the direction of greater state intervention in family life. They would make parents even more fearful of social workers and cause confusion about the child protection role. The proposed changes would effectively create a more adversarial relationship between the local authority and home educating parents, which would be counter-productive.
8. Finally, the review exaggerates what is really quite a small problem. If the difficulties presented by the most challenging home educating families are difficult to resolve through existing legislation it is unlikely that the introduction of compulsory registration and monitoring would make any difference. It would create a lot of extra work and it is uncertain whether it would lead to a significant improvement in the safety of these children.