Archive for the ‘State Safeguarding UK’ category

A Bad Week for State Safeguarding

08/03/2015

I write this at the end of the week in which two child safeguarding stories have featured in the news in England. If anyone had told me when I started this blog that I would end up writing about the failure of the State to take care of children, I would not have believed them. What caused me to change course was when the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, invoked the tragic death of 7 year old Khyra Ishaq as evidence of what he perceived to be the dangers of home education. In the wake of that statement, I reviewed both the Care Proceedings for her siblings (March 2009) and the Serious Case Review by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board (July 2010). The latter has become the most read item on this blog, with several page views most days. In the light of this I now comment here on instances where the State’s safeguarding hands have proved to be less than safe. In 2013 I highlighted the sad death of Daniel Pelka, who (though well known to Social Services) was murdered by his mother and her partner. Last year my only post was to report on the abuse of an estimated 1400 young girls which continued for over a decade in Rotherham.

Now in 2015 two more cases of the State failing young people have been in the headlines within a week. The one which involved most young people is the abuse of up to 370 girls across the Oxfordshire area who may have been the victims of child sexual exploitation over the past 15 years. The Serious Case Review was published on 3 March and you can find comments on it by the BBC, Guardian, Huffington Post and of course elsewhere. Much of this abuse took place whilst Ed Balls was the Minister for Children, Schools and Families. The BBC summarises some of the Report’s findings as follows:

The report found no evidence of wilful professional neglect or misconduct by police or social services but said there a “worrying lack of curiosity” about what was happening to the girls. It said the issue of child sexual exploitation was not widely understood and officials failed to notice the signs of the abuse over a number of years. Some of the girls were abused using objects such as knives and baseball bats while others were bitten, scratched, beaten or burnt. The report said much of the extreme abuse was not escalated to senior managers but should have been. In response to the question, “Could CSE have been identified or prevented earlier?” report author, Dr Alan Bedford, said: “The simple answer is yes.” Professional work was not good enough and the failure to recognise the signs of CSE, and the fact that cases were seen in isolation, meant it continued for longer than could have been the case.

And…

The report revealed that a view had developed among staff that victims, who were often seen to be from difficult families, were bringing problems on themselves. They were described as “precocious” and “very difficult girls making bad choices”, who had decided to adopt a certain lifestyle and were exaggerating their claims. As a result, the girls were dismissive and hostile to staff because they felt like they were being criticised. Staff in turn allegedly treated victims without common courtesies and subjected them to “snide remarks”.

The Guardian report states:

Police and social services in Oxfordshire will be heavily criticised for not doing enough to stop years of violent abuse and enslavement of six young girls, aged 11-15, by a gang of men. Such was the nature of the abuse, suffered for more than eight years by the girls, it was likened to torture. All of the victims had a background in care.

Is it any wonder that home educating parents were outraged in 2009 when Ed Balls was arguing that children could only be protected if they were “known” to the State. All the victims of this abuse in Oxfordshire were known to the State, but its officers (Social Workers and Police) not only ignored these victims but treated them with contempt! It seems that the State’s hands are suffering from a very serious case of butter-fingers!

The second case in the news this week has been the conviction of two people for the manslaughter of eight year old Ayesha Ali, in August 2013. This little girl was found dead in her bedroom in Broomfield Road, Chadwell Heath, London with more than 50 injuries including bite-marks. Today (6 March) her mother Polly Chowdhury, 35, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for manslaughter, whilst her female lover and co-defendant, Kiki Muddar, 43, received 18-years for the same crime. The events of this crime are so sad and sordid that I have no intention to focussing on them here. If you want to know more here are a selection of news reports: BBC, BBC, Independent, Huffington Post. There are many similarities between the deaths of Ayesha Ali and Khyra Ishaq: a broken family and heavy religious language being used by a non-parent to pressurise a mother to be cruel to her child[ren] being two. However, there are also two areas where these tragic deaths are very different.

Ed Balls cited Khyra because the mother withdrew her and some of her siblings from the school claiming that she was going to home educate them when the staff at her school began to question her about her family’s well-being. Balls’ argument was that if Khyra had remained in school the authorities would have been able to intervene.  The reality however was that her school had on more than one occasion contacted both Social Services and the police asking them to check on Khyra’s and her siblings’ welfare. Neither had acted decisively in response to the school’s referrals. In contrast to Khyra, Ayesha was in school. Her parents split in December 2012, seemingly in part as a result  of Kiki Muddar’s influence on Polly Chowdhury,  and this seems to have afforded Muddar increased opportunity to put herself between mother and child. One BBC report states that the court was told that “The physical abuse began in the school summer holidays.” However the emotional abuse was well established whilst Ayesha was attending school. The court has released images of two “letters” to herself written by Ayesha, one of which is dated 19/4/13 – which was of course well before the start of the summer holidays!

A report in Barking and Dagenham Post says a Serious Case Review has been launched into Ayesha’s death. It quotes a spokesman for Barking and Dagenham Council as stating that Ayesha was not known to its safeguarding service. The same article also includes part of a statement from the Council which said it was “deeply saddened by this tragic event, which could not have been predicted”. The statement continue, “This was a terrible, unexpected, incident. The child appeared to be a happy, loved child, who was a delight to teach at school. She seemed to have been managing her parents’ separation well.”

Now I am not criticising the Council or the school for failing to spot the signs of the emotional abuse Ayesha was experiencing during the period she was attending school. To take the necessary level of interest in each member of a class of around 30 children is impossible for any teacher. I am however criticising those politicians and local council officers who continually argue that children in schools will be protected from abusive parents and other people in their family home. Clearly they cannot be, and it is foolish to expect teachers to act as policemen as well as educators. Those who say that schools are places of safety are seemingly blinded by political dogma and consequently unable to acknowledge the truth.

The second difference between Khyra’s broken family and Ayesha’s is that there does not appear to have been any contact between Social Services and the Chowdhury household. Again this is not to criticise Barking and Dagenham Council staff, but to point out that, like the 370 girls abused in Oxfordshire cited above, the Ishaq family was known to both Birmingham Social Services and to the West Midlands Police Service, both having also been alerted to her ex-school’s concerns for her well-being.

The deaths of these two little girls partly at the hands of their own mothers, after months of neglect and punishment instigated by an outsider to their respective families, are both tragedies which should not have happened. Together though they highlight the folly of claiming that home education was to blame for Khyra’s death.

Being in school did not safeguard Ayesha!

We now await the publishing of the Serious Case Review into her manslaughter.

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Will Ed Balls now apologise?

15/10/2014

In late August another story of child abuse preoccupied the British media and the public, and may do again in the future. Unlike previous reports of abuse this report does not concern a single child, nor a family of six or seven children, but an estimated fourteen hundred young people in one town! I am of course referring to the independent report by Professor Alexis Jay into the handling of child sexual exploitation by social services and police in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. It has been estimated that about a third of the victims were in local authority care when they were abused. Council staff and police have also been criticised for ignoring girls and parents who went to them for help. The key findings do not need repeating here, but anyone who wishes to read a summary can find one on the BBC’s website here. This tragedy though is potentially only the tip of a massive iceberg. Another article on the BBC’s website quotes Professor Jay as saying,

“We cannot say that Rotherham is any better or worse than other places because the information simply doesn’t exist on a national level to tell us that.”

The same article then lists five other places where prosecutions for similar offences have been reported or where successful prosecutions have been conducted. The five are Oxford, Derby, Rochdale, Telford and Peterborough. There may well be many other towns and cities where similar opportunist gangs continue to operate, though council officers, staff and police could now be less likely to turn a blind eye.

There have rightly been repeated calls for those who should have protected these children to resign their current posts or, where that may no longer be relevant, to apologise at the very least. Most prominent amongst those who have been urged to resign is Shaun Wright, who at the time of the Jay Report was the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. Wright was the Rotherham Council cabinet member for children’s services between 2005 and 2010. At first he only resigned from the Labour Party after shadow police minister Jack Dromey earlier confirmed that Labour would have suspended Mr Wright from the party had he failed to do so. In his defence Wright published a statement on South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s website in which he stated,

“I’ve dedicated my career and life to serving the public of South Yorkshire. As a father, and a citizen of South Yorkshire, my thoughts are with the victims and their families and I reiterate my apology to them and take full responsibility for my part in the collective failures which took place at Rotherham Council during the time I was in office and indeed to that end I resigned in 2010.”

In response to his refusal to quit his job, leading politicians publicly called on him to resign. David Cameron, Theresa May and Nick Clegg have all joined in the chorus demanding that he walked. Finally, three and a half weeks after the publication of the report, Wright succumbed to the pressure and stepped down. The Huffington Post quotes a statement released by his office:

“My role as South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner has clearly become prominent in terms of public opinion and media coverage following the publication of Professor Alexis Jay’s report.

This is detracting from the important issue, which should be everybody’s focus – the 1,400 victims outlined in the report – and in providing support to victims and bringing to justice the criminals responsible for the atrocious crimes committed against them.

With this in mind, I feel that it is now right to step down from the position of police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, for the sake of those victims, for the sake of the public of South Yorkshire and to ensure that the important issues outlined in the report about tackling child sexual exploitation can be discussed and considered in full and without distraction.”

This brings me to my reason for adding this post to a blog on home education. In all the clamour to name and shame those who failed these young people, as far as I am aware no one has discussed who at Westminster should be apologising for their failure to ensure the safety of these abused children. Now I am fully aware that national government does not have its own staff based in every town in the country, but local authorities are their “boots on the ground” in such situations. Local council members, council officers and other members of their staff are the front line in implementing central government’s so-called safeguarding policies. So if some councils have failed to safeguard children, who should carry the can at Westminster?

Professor Jay’s report covers the period from 1997 to 2013 and for the majority of those years the Labour Party was in government. Tony Blair won his first general election in the year the abuse is said to have begun. Labour remained in charge until Gordon Brown lost power in May 2010. This report in the Independent cites the reference made in the recent report that an earlier one in 2002 was suppressed by Rotherham Council, and questions if this was with the knowledge of someone at the Home Office.
I would not be very interested in this apart from one series of events which demanded my attention in 2009. At that time Ed Balls was the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, a post he held for almost three years. During those years Balls recruited Graham Badman to investigate home education with the view to replacing parental choice with State control. This blog is dedicated to resisting that ambition which is, it seems, part of a modern movement to disenfranchise parents. I will not repeat the history and other details here. However, I do wonder if Ed Balls or any of his predecessors are prepared to recognise that as the ministers responsible for the well-being of children, they too should be examining their own consciences?

In today’s world, many politicians and educationalists believe the State is the only safe pair of hands when it comes to protecting young people. However, a steady stream of individual cases, including that of Khyra Ishaq (see here, here & here), have demonstrated that the State’s safeguarding footsoldiers, their captains and generals have hands like sieves when it comes to protecting young people! With the publication of Professor Jay’s report we now have clear evidence of repeated failures over sixteen years, but as the image below suggests I suspect some politicians will continue to chant the mantra that “parents cannot be trusted to educate their own children”.

Graham Badman and Ed Balls with newspaper headlines from 27 Aug 2014

It is my personal opinion that everyone who failed these fourteen hundred young people, not only at the time of the actual abuse but also in their subsequent sufferings, needs to take responsibility for their actions – though I am not sure they all will. I also believe that those Westminster ministers who were responsible for child welfare at any stage during those sixteen years should apologise for their failures. Meaningful support should also be offered to the women who are still suffering emotionally as adults as a result of these failures. The comments which follows are not meant to distract from their needs.

The title of this post is however intended to call upon Ed Balls to apologise not just to the victims of this and other abuse cases where the State/Local Authorities have failed young people under his watch, but also to the hundreds of home educating parents whom he insulted by accusing them of being potential threats to their children’s well-being. Along with others he spun his unfounded accusations that unless the State registers home educator parents, effectively vetting them, unknown numbers of children will be in great danger. Such false accusations have not gone away and are now being repeated by ill-informed State representatives who fail to justify their scaremongering – see this report for an example from the Worcester News website posted in July this year.

I have reported in other posts how during and after his time as Children’s, Schools and Families Minister Balls repeatedly insisted that State hands were the safest ones to care for children. The Rotherham report serves therefore to underline what has been obvious to those with eyes to see since before the Balls & Badman attack on the integrity of home educating parents was launched. The truth is a simple one, that no matter how well they are paid, local authority employees can never possess the same attachment to the children they care for that parents have for their own offspring. Yes, there are too many cases where the parental bond breaks down and others need to step in for the children’s welfare. But Messrs Balls and Badman were not interested in imposing State supervision upon failing families alone; their target was each and every family which chooses to opt out of sending their children to school. “Out of school, out of sight and therefore out of mind” was the alarmist message championed by Ed Balls. And whilst he was feeding this poison to the media and the public at large, young girls who were “safe” in local authority care, and therefore fully in sight, were slipping out of their children’s homes in the early hours and into the back of taxis whose drivers had been paid by the council to drive them around (presumably unescorted) at other times of day!

I therefore call upon the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls MP to apologise to all the home educating parents whom he has publicly undermined by implying that they could not be trusted with their own children’s welfare.

Sadly this mistaken belief that the State must supervise all parents as they care for their children was not invented by Ed Balls, but is widespread amongst politicians – especially in the West. In Britain the Scottish government is in the process of implementing a scheme though which every child under 18 will be under the care of a “named person” who is a State employee. These guardians will, it seems, have the final say in important matters in the lives of all children, thus usurping the responsibilities of parents. Since the Badman Report there have been further attempts to impose State control on home educating families in both Wales and Northern Ireland. More recently the newly appointed Education Minister has begun to implement new guidelines for all schools in the wake of the so called “Trojan Horse” plot by Muslims in Birmingham schools. This makes all schools responsible for promoting the so called British values which have been constructed in David Cameron’s post-modern mind. The Government carried out a very brief consultation on these proposals and in section 3.2.2 of the documentation the following intention was spelt out:

Schools will be expected to focus on, and be able to show how their work with pupils is effective in embedding fundamental British values. ‘Actively promote’ also means challenging pupils, staff or parents expressing opinions contrary to fundamental British values. [emphasis mine]

This is yet another example of the State seeking to act as Thought Police imposing politically correct thinking on all children, and turning schools into its spies that challenge parents who do not go along with the world view of the political elite.

Do I really expect Ed Balls to apologies for maligning home educating parents? Do I expect modern politicians to come to their senses and realise that parents have been successfully bringing up children for many centuries before the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was even thought about? Do I expect the SNP without Alex Salmond at its helm to rescind their plans for State Guardians? Regrettably, I must answer no, no and no! Which means that increasingly all parents, whether or not they home educate, need to be ever more vigilant as politicians with inflated views of the State’s safeguarding abilities seek to take over our children and squeeze their minds and personalities into moulds which ensure their compliance to whatever is deemed desirable in the future. Of course some parents may think that is a worthy course of action, but any parent who wants their children to learn how to think for themselves will see the dangers in a State system which seeks to teach children what to think rather than how to think.