Tuesday, August 29, 2006

CAF Security Architecture

Over on Spyblog a close inspection of the proposed security measures for the Common Assessment Framework - this is the personal assessment tool that will be used on the estimated 3-4 million children who require services, or any child whom a practitioner believes to be 'failing' to progress towards the Government's 'five outcomes'.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Creating 'people like us'

Lawrence James in the Sunday Times on the middle classes' ceasless efforts to reform those troublesome peasants (thanks Ian!):

The brave new world of the bar-coded baby is at hand — the government is considering a plan to track the progress of every child born in Britain — and, its architects hope, it will be one where the middle classes will finally enjoy that peace of mind which has eluded them for so long.

Yet perhaps some humility is now required and we should concede that human nature cannot be changed completely, either by compulsion, lectures about diet or even the scientific monitoring of toddlers. But such an admission would have been and perhaps still is unthinkable to a class which has inherited its predecessors’ assumption that the world would be a better place if everyone behaved and thought as they did.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

'Failed by the System'

A new report from Barnardos, ‘Failed by the System’, puts flesh on the bones of something we have known for a long time: looked-after children have the odds stacked against them. According to egov monitor, the report:

…throws light on a chaotic and disruptive world of targeted school bullying; multiple care homes and foster care placements; of children changing schools over and over again; of them being excluded from schools; and of them frequently experiencing insufficient support from schools or carers.

The report also compares the levels of support currently enjoyed by most GCSE year children from their parents, with those experienced by young people in care, and highlights the very low expectations by some teachers of children who are in care.

The BBC extracts some figures from the report:
  • More than half reported being bullied at school as a direct result of being in care.
  • Four out of 10 said no-one had attended their school parents' evenings.
  • Nearly half said no-one went to sports days or other school events.
  • The number of care placements young people had lived in varied between one and 30 - half had been in more than four placements.
  • More than half were not currently in employment, training or education.
  • Almost half the group had attended six or more schools and 11% had attended more than 10.

Surely we can do better than this?

Eroding liberty by the pound

More on Government plans to share information on citizens. In the Telegraph today:

By extending the reach of the state and breaking down the principle of functional separation between government departments, you set up the mechanisms by which a future government might abuse its citizens. What is in the "public interest" is subject to capricious changes of definition, as we all know. "Trust us, we mean well" is not enough of a guarantee.

Two dicta are appropriate here: "knowledge is power" and "information wants to be free". We return to the principal problem with ID cards. The best way - the only way - to prevent a government abusing a comprehensive database on its citizens is to prevent that database existing in the first place.

Spot on. The erosion of civil liberties and consequent shift in the relationship between government and the governed doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a more gradual process, akin to those old anti-litter adverts (‘my little piece of litter won’t do any harm’), until one’s surroundings have changed beyond recognition. It’s the steady accretion of changes that, taken one at a time, don’t seem shatteringly important but, over time, make the unconscionable both possible and thinkable. The only defence is to challenge the first step that infringes established principles, no matter how trivial it may seem.

However well-intentioned Government plans may be, it’s useful to remember the words of Louis Brandeis, the former US Supreme Court Justice:
"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficial.The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Treat children as humans

Nice comment in today's Guardian from Carolyne Willow of CRAE, replying to a particularly noxious, child-hating piece from Julie Bindel last week. How bizarre that a feminist, whose cause is presumably to end discrimination, should indulge in such blatant stereotyping and intolerance.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bang goes YouTube's image

The government has been reaching out to yoof by putting videos on YouTube. One is about ‘leadership’; the other extols the virtues of ‘Transformational Government’ – another name for the kind of thing we blogged below. So in other words, an attempt to sell widespread government data-sharing. According to Kablenet:

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told GC News on 22 August 2006 that it was an "unofficial" trial designed to test the potential of the site. ...The videos have been on the site for three months, in which the one on Transformational Government has attracted 790 viewers and that on leadership has pulled in 430.

There was only one comment on each, describing them as government propaganda. The spokesperson added that the Cabinet Office is ready to consider the possibilities for communicating through other channels.

We’re reminded of an Information Commissioner’s conference 3 years ago when ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett was trying to sell ID Cards. He agonised over the difficulties of communicating with young people. (Why, they’d even given them their own consultation paper which asked them what colour they’d like their ID card to be!) In desperation, one civil servant had composed an ID Card rap, which we were subjected to in its skin-crawlingly embarrassing dreadfulness.

A colleague from another children’s org suggested they could try just going to youth clubs and similar places, say ‘Hallo’ (NB not “Yo Dude” or “My Man”) and ask for people’s opinions. Obviously that was far too uncool a suggestion.

There's something distinctly creepy about the way Government tries to hard-sell young people its controversial projects by pretending to be one of them. It's rather like grooming. What they haven't clocked is that young people aren't daft, and can spot a suit in jeans a mile off.

It's not only children now

We've been banging on about the sharing of children's confidential information for 5 years or so, and now they're coming for the adults:

Ministers are preparing to overturn a fundamental principle of data protection in government, the Guardian has learned. They will announce next month that public bodies can assume they are free to share citizens' personal data with other arms of the state, so long as it is in the public interest.

The policy was agreed upon by a cabinet committee set up by the prime minister, and reverses the current default position - which requires public bodies to find a legal justification each time they want to share data about individuals.

There's plenty about how this works in the case of children over on our Database Masterclass - simply click on the August archive and work your way down the page from #1 to #14.

You might in particular want to take a good look at a couple of government strategy reports. The first was published in 2000: 'Electronic Government Services for the 21st Century' (just take a look at the ‘vision’ set out on p16) and the second, ‘Privacy and Data-sharing’, came out in 2002.

Update 4pm: Ian Brown has more on Blogzilla, including comments from human rights doyen Douwe Korff.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Safe in their hands?

Yet more problems for the NHS records system.

The full extent of the financial difficulties facing the company at the heart of the NHS's £6.2bn computer upgrade will be revealed later this week. The troubled software company iSoft must release twice-delayed financial results to the stock market by Friday or trading in its shares will be suspended.

The company's results are expected to show a dramatic downward reassessment of its profitability. A series of highly unusual accounting practices appears to be behind much of the company's initial financial success.

...The next generation of the group's software, which is being developed in India, is earmarked to cover 60% of Britain's GP practices, hospitals and other NHS trusts. It is to be used by about 600,000 clinicians and managers looking after up to 30 million patients.

The NHS's computer upgrade programme, one of the world's biggest IT projects, is already said to be more than two years behind schedule. The collapse of iSoft would paralyse the programme.

We'll resist making the predictable comment, but here's an idea of what it might be.

Whoops!

From today's Guardian:

A radio advertisement for a government website showing children how to avoid online paedophiles has been banned after a listener who tried to use the link was taken to a porn site.

The campaign, run initially by the Home Office and recently taken over by the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, aimed to promote safety website Thinkuknow.co.uk.

However, the radio ad, which ran on GCap Media's Nottingham station 96 Trent FM, did not distinguish between the use of the letter "u" in the web address and the word "you".

A listener who typed in the incorrect address - using the spelt-out word "you" -complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that she had been taken to a website with a plethora of classified listing links, including some to explicit adult websites.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Home Office kicks out children

It's one of those mornings when being British makes us prickle with shame: in the Home Office’s latest bid to out-macho Gengis Khan, plans are afoot to tear up international treaty obligations and forcibly repatriate up to 500 unaccompanied Vietnamese refugee children, including many young girls who have been trafficked to the UK for prostitution. Wait, it gets worse:
Although Vietnam is being viewed as a pilot programme, details of the meeting also indicate that the Home Office is already considering the forced returns of a second wave of children to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, war-torn countries with poor human rights records.
What of our international obligation to consider a child’s best interests? Forget it!
One Home Office policy framework document sets out the way cases will be considered. A child's best interests will be "a primary consideration". However, it acknowledges: "There are likely to be occasions when IND takes a decision to remove ... which is not in accordance with the best interests of the child but is necessary for the immigration control."

The process would involve a Home Office planning meeting to decide on the future of the child. Children will be allowed non-legal representation, but the final decision about their forced removal will rest with the Home Office and there will be no right of appeal. They could be deported seven days later. Where possible, children will be returned to their families, although officials admit contacting relatives will be difficult.
Maybe a traumatic childhood is a prerequisite for working in the Home Office? They obviously have a major compassion-gap where children are concerned: not so long ago they asserted that child prisoners were "not just children" - and we mentioned the horrors of Yarl's Wood et al only 10 days ago.

This latest brainwave demonstrates that they really are not safe to be around children. Maybe we should put the Home Office on a register somewhere, and quickly despatch a crack team of psychotherapists to Marsham Street?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

NetIDme (2)

Since our last blog on NetIDme, Spyblog reports some changes to their system. Read all about it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Binbagging - help!

OK, we’ve mentioned it before but please, if you haven’t done anything yet, it really will only take a few minutes. Honest.

It’s those
black plastic suitcase substitutes again. Some local authorities don’t provide children in care with luggage. Instead, when children move placements, their possessions are unceremoniously dumped into black binbags for transport to their new address. A campaign to stop this humiliating practice has been going for some time, but:
Local authorities are still using bin bags to transport the possessions of children in care, despite a widespread belief that the practice has died out…70 councils have yet to sign the "no bin bag" charter drawn up by the charity A National Voice.
One 13-year-old in foster care told Roger Morgan, children's rights director at the Commission for Social Care Inspection, "It makes me feel unwanted". How sad is that?

Right, sleeves-up time: go to
‘this is not a suitcase’ and scroll down to the list of local authorities. Is your LA on it?

If not, go
here to find the address of your local authority, and write to the Director of Children’s Services. Send the URL for ‘this is not a suitcase’ and ask why your LA isn’t on it.

If you want to get really active, go to your LA’s website and find contact details for all of your local councillors, and for the children’s representatives in the council’s cabinet and on the scrutiny committee. Send them your email/letter as well.

If you still don’t get any joy, contact your local paper and give them copies of the pathetically inadequate explanations you’ve
received. Express total disgust.

Forward these instructions to as many people as you can.

All it needs is for one or two people in each of the slacker local authorities to cause a stir, and we’re willing to bet that suitcases start appearing like daffodils in spring.

Access to what, exactly?

News that a forthcoming report on services for disabled children will call for more key workers to help families access services is likely to provoke hollow laughter from many parents and children.
Labour MPs Tom Clarke and Joan Humble are drawing up the report at the request of Treasury minister Ed Balls. It will be sent to the Treasury in the autumn and will feed into the next comprehensive spending review.

Humble told Children Now that the report would highlight the need for key workers. She said that too many families with disabled children were struggling to get provision from a range of providers.
In the last fortnight alone, we have heard about one family whose respite care has been slashed because of local authority ‘budget restrictions’ and another whose request for 2 days’ respite a year for their autistic son has been turned down. We have heard about a child getting blisters from her outgrown wheelchair (no replacement chair in sight at the moment) and a mother who has done her back in while bathing her disabled 9-year-old: they don’t have a bath aid at the moment because of - guess what? Yup, budget restrictions.

People aren't just struggling to 'get provision from a range of providers'. Some are struggling to get provision at all. While having someone who can co-ordinate access to services is undoubtedly a good idea, ensuring services are available in the first place seems like an even better one.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Something's afoot in youth services

Guido Fawkes covers the Sunday Times allegations that nu-labour’s favourite think-tank, the IPPR, is offering firms privileged access to government policy makers as part of paid-for “sponsorship” programmes.

The latest edition of ‘Young People Now’, the sector magazine for youth services,
reports that:

An influential think-tank looks set to condemn unstructured activities for young people - including several aspects of youth work - when it reports in the autumn. The Institute for Public Policy Research is carrying out a study of youth policy. Researchers have found that "non-cognitive" social and emotional skills, such as self-esteem, are key to making a successful transition to adulthood. These can be developed through interaction with peers, institutions, the local environment, and parents.

However, it is thought that non-structured activities, such as hanging around with friends at a youth club, have a negative effect.

We wonder how many adults would tolerate conducting their social lives entirely through evening classes? But that aside, funnily enough, only three weeks earlier:
Youth minister Beverley Hughes criticised statutory youth services at the launch of a parenting initiative last week. Hughes told delegates at an event held by the Institute for Public Policy Research that services for excluded young people were important, not who delivers them. "Youth provision in this country by local authorities has an appalling record, so you need diversity," she said.
Sounds to us as if the build-up for a private sector putsch on youth services has begun.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

At least show some foresight

Brendan O'Neill, writing in the New Statesman on the current wave of antisocial behaviour towards teenagers, says:
If you want to see the future of youth policing in Blair's Britain, look no further than the West Country, the region that has become a sinister laboratory for testing Orwellian ways of keeping teens off the streets.
He describes a battery of tactics used against young people, including the 'Mosquito', which emits a high-pitched scream that only under-20s can hear (and which presumably will deter families from shopping centres in their droves - has anyone actually thought of that?)
The launch of the Mosquito sums up the fear and loathing that is driving policy on young people. We seem scared of our own youth, imagining that "hoodies" and "chavs" are dragging society down. We're so scared, in fact, that we use impersonal methods to police them: we use scanners to monitor their behaviour, we blind them from a distance, and now employ machines to screech at them in the hope they will just go away. With no idea of what to say to them - how to inspire or socialise them -we seek to disperse, disperse, disperse. It will only heighten their sense of being outsiders.
Even if one has no bleeding-heart qualms about justice, humanity or social responsibility towards our younger generation, you would think that self-interest at least might give everyone pause for thought. As the saying goes, be nice to the young because they will choose your care home when you are old. The way we're going, there won't be any care homes: our bath chairs will be wheeled to the edge of Beachy Head and the brakes taken off. It seems a bit short-sighted to pick fights with those who will one day inevitably be able to bully us back.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Antisocial Hopscotch

Nice comment piece from Adrian Voce, director of the Children's Play Council, about the latest 'Playday' survey. This shows that, rather than being wilfully obese couch-potatoes, 86% of children prefer outdoor activities.

Yet it seems that most children do spend more time inside than their parents did at the same age. Research suggests that in 20 years the "home habitat" of a typical eight-year-old - the area that a child can travel around on their own - has shrunk by nearly 90%. A Home Office survey last year revealed that as many as 33% of eight to 10-year-olds never play out without an adult being present.

When they do venture out, children are increasingly ferried around in their parents' cars for journeys that used to be made on foot. The prime minister last week, speaking about the obesity crisis, noted that the numbers of children walking to school declined from 61% to 53% between 1994 and 2004. Such data is often seen as a proxy indicator for the extent of children's outdoor play, and the statistics for younger children are even starker, with only an estimated 5% of seven to eight year-olds now walking unaccompanied to school, compared to 80% in 1990.

So, if children tell us they want to play outside as much as they ever did but the reverse is actually the case, what's stopping them?

Well, probably traffic and a smattering of the severely over-hyped 'stranger danger', and then there's the Government's antisocial rhetoric that has served to vindicate the sheer curmudgeonry of some people - as we've mentioned before.

The latest example of this is absolutely breathtaking:
A group of youngsters has fallen foul of the law for playing hopscotch. West Midlands Police community support officers asked parents in Spring Street in Halesowen to remove chalk markings after complaints about them.

Warning: NetIDme

Over the last couple of days, you may have seen news items about an online children's identity verification system called 'NetIDme'. Sounds like a good idea? Go and read Spyblog's analysis!

Update 18.44 More on this at Wendy Grossman's netwars blog, where she points out:
But the real kicker is in NetIDme's privacy policy, in which the fledgling company makes it absolutely explicit that the database of information it will collect to issue IDs is an asset of a business: it may sell the database, the database will be "one of the transferred assets" if the company itself is sold, and you explicitly consent to the transfer of your data "outside of your country" to wherever NetIDme or its affiliates "maintain facilities". Does this sound like child safety to you?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

No way to treat a child

The UK's abysmal treatment of asylum-seeking children continues, despite the view of social workers that any child kept in the conditions that exist in immigration detention centres would normally be the subject of an emergency protection order.

Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, reports one 10-year-old as saying: "I was sick in the van, but they would not stop the van even to be sick or for fresh air", while a 13-year-old describes crying as she was handcuffed. They handcuffed a crying child who had not even committed an offence?

The Refugee Children's Consortium points out that between October and December 2005, 564 children arrived at Yarl's Wood. They say this negates the Government's claims that detention is a measure of last resort. For the children interviewed by Owers, the average length of time at Yarl's Wood was 23 days; some had stayed for 112.

Lisa Nandy, chair of the consortium and policy adviser at The Children's Society, says: "Owers has been producing reports like this for years and they point out consistent failings. Her reports show detention is not used as a last resort and a minimum period is not adhered to. We also have concerns about reviews when children are in detention."

The routine cruelty to asylum-seeking children is shameful, but the Home Office persists in doing precisely nothing about it. Take a look at the 'no place for a child' campaign to see if you can do something to help.