Big Brother is still watching!

Channel 4 may have pulled the plug on their infamous “reality” programme Big Brother, but an army of child protectors are still at large in council offices across the land!

Isabelle McCullough

Mark McCullough of Glentham and his seven year-old daughter Isabelle Photo: RAYMONDS (Daiy Telegraph)

Yesterday and today the media have been reporting on the case of Mark McCullough who received a letter from Lincolnshire County Council threatening him for allowing his seven-year-old daughter to walk unaccompanied 20 metres to their home from a bus stop. The letter said that it was a “child protection issue” and that they would take action if the family did not make other arrangements. The matter was brought to their attention by a concerned bus driver.

The BBC reports:

Denise Carr, the county council’s head of transport services group, said: “As a responsible authority, we have expressed our concern that a seven-year-old is standing on a busy road alone each morning, and then crossing the road unaccompanied after school.

“The bus driver should not be expected to leave a bus full of young children alone to escort the pupil safely across the road.

“As the pupil was also left standing by the roadside on a cold morning without warm clothing, we have raised our concerns with the girl’s parents, following discussion with the school.

“Safeguarding is the responsibility of everyone, and where we become aware of anything that compromises the safety of a vulnerable child or adult, we will take steps to address it.”

Home educating families are all too familiar with with the sentiments of that last paragraph; it is the mind-set of Directors of Children’s Services across the land.

Today, the Council has backed off and admitted that its letter may have been heavy handed. Here is a further quote from the BBC:

Debbie Barnes, assistant director of Lincolnshire County Council’s Children’s Services, said: “The safety of children is the responsibility of everyone and where a member of staff brings a situation to our attention where the safety of a child or adult is compromised, we must react.

“NSPCC guidance states that children under eight should not be out alone; in this instance, a seven-year-old girl has been standing unaccompanied on a roadside and left to cross the road by herself.”

She added that “with hindsight we accept the letter could have been phrased better and we have no intention of going down the child protection route or court action” and that the council would like to sit down with Mr McCullough to discuss the issues.

Different attitude, same mind-set: parents cannot be trusted, it needs Big Brother from the Council to keep children safe. It also seems that the NSPCC is now regarded as the defining authority on child safety.

You can find further reading on these pages: BBC 14 Sep., Daily Telegraph 14 Sep., BBC 15th Sep. & This is Lincolnshire 15t Sep.

Now the reason I started this post was not because I had read the story, but because this morning’s edition of Today on BBC Radio 4, followed up its report on this story with a discussion between Anastasia de Waal, from the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, and Julia Margo, of the think-tank Demos, on the responsibilities of parents and the state over children’s welfare. At the moment it is available on iPlayer here.

This discussion should be compulsory listening for every family and especially any home educating families who think that the election put Badman and Balls’ ideas in the grave. It needs listening to more than once because hidden in there is some criticism of the approach of social service departments, but on the whole all those involved in the interview had no problem with the idea that local authorities can be trusted far more than parents. The interviewer gets the ball rolling with the question:

Who should be in charge of children when they are not in school?

Anastasia de Waal is perhaps more cautious than Julia Margo, but for both it is not really about if but how the State should watch over parents. Margo quotes Finland, Norway and Germany as good examples of  State oversight, but this is tempered by criticism of how Social Services in the UK often fail to relate constructively with parents. However, as is said in the discussion, “the bottom line is the welfare of the child”, and it is assumed without question that the State knows best!

Ed Balls may never again be Education Secretary, Graham Badman may never be employed by the present Government, but the ongoing vision of making children safe by enfolding them firmly in the arms of the State is deeply embedded in the mentality of most LA staff and it will not go away without a fight!

It seems that Michael Gove has not yet decided his policy on home education (see here), so there is still a need for the HE community to keep their MPs (and peers in general) aware that we are not child abusers.

Debbie Barnes, assistant director of Lincolnshire County Council’s Children’s Services, said: “The safety of children is the responsibility of everyone and where a member of staff brings a situation to our attention where the safety of a child or adult is compromised, we must react.

“NSPCC guidance states that children under eight should not be out alone; in this instance, a seven-year-old girl has been standing unaccompanied on a roadside and left to cross the road by herself.”

“Start Quote

It’s only a quiet, little country road – you could sit there all day and maybe see 20 or 30 cars…”

End Quote Natasha Fegan Father’s partner

She added that “with hindsight we accept the letter could have been phrased better and we have no intention of going down the child protection route or court action” and that the council would like to sit down with Mr McCullough to discuss the issues.

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