Wednesday, December 20, 2006

We Have Moved

This is officially "The old ARCH blog"

You will now find us at

please update any your links accordingly.

All items will be left here as long as possible, but no new content will be added.

See you on the new version:-)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Beta Blogger stops play

Hi all
Owing to beta blogger not allowing posts from multiple IP addresses, we are now in the process of moving home, as we can't live with this.

We'll be advising people of our new address when we're unpacked either via email, web or on this blog.

In the meantime, have a happy Christmas.

Love and peace

Action on Rights for Children

Information-Sharing gone mad

Not strictly on topic for children, but our jaws are on the floor.

Take a look at the Digital Switchover Bill (short and easy to read) which would empower the government to disclose benefits information to the BBC (or a nominee) in order to identify anyone who needs 'help' in switching over to digital TV... Wha?

Every child matters?

Almost missed this (thanks, Mel!):

Nurseries will be able to operate for up to 10 years without being inspected under government plans to cut red tape and reduce costs.The Department for Education is ready to waive the requirement for creches or other establishments looking after children of up to six or seven to be inspected before being put on the national Childcare Register. Checks by Ofsted are also to be cut back. Experts said that nurseries would be able to register by simply filling out a form.

...Confirmation of the changes came just months after an Ofsted report said that while most childcare facilities were meeting required standards, at least 10,000 children had been rescued from inadequate or potentially dangerous childcare by inspections last year. More than 1,000 nurseries or childminders had fallen below the minimum standard.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Those DNA figures

I'd guess that everyone knows by now that the police take DNA samples on arrest, and these are kept on the National DNA Database regardless of whether a suspect turns out to be purer than the driven snow.

Spyblog has more on yesterday's Sunday Times report that more than a third of those on NDNAD don't have a criminal record or caution - that's 1.2 million, and a lot more than the government has previously admitted. The new figures have been gleaned from a series of written answers to parliamentary questions that have appeared over the past week or so.

Meanwhile, we are still waiting on the questions tabled by Grant Shapps a month ago on the number of children on NDNAD who have never been charged or were acquitted: so far, Grant Shapps has yet to receive an answer.

The Home Office's silence is making us increasingly suspicious that the figure of 25,000 bandied around for children who are entirely innocent will prove to be a great deal higher - if we ever get an answer, that is.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

How to spend £25K

Apparently a school in Hartlepool has just spent £25,000 on a fingerprint scanner to speed up the school dinner queue. Pippa has the full story.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The road to prostitution

Rachel and Not Saussure have both waxed eloquent on the subject of decriminalising prostitution, and I thought I’d throw some fact and figures into the debate because it’s so much a children’s issue - and something ARCH has been very involved with in the past.

According to the Home Office consultation document, ‘Paying the Price’,
‘ many as 70 per cent of those involved in prostitution started out as children or young teenagers’
The overwhelming majority have experienced abuse, and have run away from home or local authority care. A Barnardo's project in Teesside, for instance, found that
‘the average age for women becoming abused through prostitution in Middlesbrough was between 12 and 13 years.’
97% had run away, 86% had been physically abused – 77% of them sexually.

Home Office guidance quite rightly says that:
‘...children and young people must be treated primarily as victims of child abuse and offered support and protection.’
So far so good, but it’s that weasel word ‘primarily’ that causes the problem. Because our age of criminal responsibility is 10, the Street Offences Act (s1) makes it an offence for anyone over the age of 10 to ‘loiter or solicit for the purpose of prostitution’.

Despite huge pressure, the government has resisted every attempt to amend the Act to remove under-18s. The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s and many others have been fighting this particular battle for years, and ARCH has drafted amendments on two occasions – during the passage of both the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Children Act 2004 – to no avail.

There’s a fuller version of events in our archives and you may notice that it was Beverley Hughes, now the Minister for Children, who resisted our amendment tabled by Hilton Dawson MP in 2003, just after David Blunkett had wrongly assured parliament that the Sexual Offences Act would remove children 'from any criminal liability whatever'.

We had charitably assumed that David Blunkett made a simple error in his reply, but it became clear that this wasn’t the case. The following year, when the Home Office produced ‘Paying the Price’ it said:
'while greater emphasis is rightly placed on protection and support, we believe there are compelling arguments for retaining this offence in respect of those under 18 to underline the message that prostitution involving children and young people is wholly unacceptable.'
I don't know whose arguments proved so 'compelling', because there was in fact a barrage of protest from those working with child prostitutes, but it had no effect. In January of this year, the Home Office's new prostitution strategy said:
'Guidance will remain firmly against the use of the criminal law in respect of children involved in prostitution save in the most exceptional circumstances – as a ‘last resort’ where services fail to engage with young people and they return repeatedly to the streets.'
In other words, any child or young person involved in prostitution will be prosecuted if services fail to help them.

If I sound rather cool in reporting all this, it’s because, here at ARCH, we’ve already burned out with fury. It’s ridiculous to imagine that retaining child prostitution as a criminal offence can possibly encourage children to look for help. Rather, it gives anyone who is pimping a 13-year-old another stick to beat them with: “if you tell anyone, you’ll be prosecuted”. As for the Home Office logic of leaving children open to prosecution in order to express disapproval of child abuse, words fail us.

Instead of decriminalising children, the government’s prostitution strategy recommends using the children’s Information Sharing Index and related Common Assessment Framework to identify those ‘at risk’ (that maligned phrase again) of entering prostitution. What’s the point? Everyone already knows that abuse, being in care and running away are risk factors. It hardly needs a ‘well, duh’ assessment!

I’ll shut up now before I start using triple exclamation marks and frothing at the mouth… time to find my tablets and have a lie-down.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Strange company

While we're always pleased to find that people read this blog, we're astonished to find the CIA amongst our visitors. What word or phrase have we used during the past week that has triggered such august attention? Could it be 'leek' or 'plughole'? 'Human rights' perhaps...? If anyone knows something we don't, we'd be grateful for the heads-up.


If you employed a builder over a period of years, during which time your house deteriorated so badly that it had to be demolished, would you invite said builder to undertake the reconstruction?

According to Kable:

The organisation which will replace the Child Support Agency (CSA) will continue with the existing contract.

EDS, the current IT provider for the CSA, will stay in the role under the present contract until 2010. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed the position as it announced that the CSA will be replaced with the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-MEC) as a non departmental public body.

The DWP went on to provide some technical detail:
"We envisage a new system will be built to incorporate enforcement. We will probably use bits of the old system and create new bits for the new system and merge them together to create the new simpler system."
How very reassuring - and good to see government so in tune with the recycling zeitgeist.
The IT system has been blamed for severe problems at the CSA and to date has cost around £539m to roll out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Privacy going cheap

It's good to see that some notice is being taken of the Information Commissioner's May 2006 Report 'What Price Privacy' on the brisk trade in confidential data - plenty of it obtained from government databases. Most of it is bought by journalists, but in some cases local authorities themselves are using these thoroughly dubious means of gathering information.

Blogzilla's Ian Brown mentioned this at our LSE conference on children's databases in June, and showed a horrifying slide of the 'going rate' paid by private investigators - see slide 7 of his presentation (pdf) (We wonder what price tag will be placed on information from the children's Information Sharing Index? Or any of the other children's databases?)

Incidentally, while you're looking at Ian's slides, you might also want to check out slide 6, which details the Evaluation Assurance Level - in other words the security - of government databases. There is nothing in the UK's list above Level 4+ which provides a 'moderate to high level of independently assured security'.

Small wonder the government thinks it necessary to exclude 'celebrity children' from the IS Index.

DNA again

I see that Longrider has saved us the trouble of replying to Commander Dave Johnston's wizard wheeze of taking babies' DNA at birth. Couldn't have put it better.

It reminds me to mention that we're holding a workshop with the Information Systems department at LSE next week on police retention of children's DNA. We still have 4 places left - more information here.

DNA fob-off

Reassuring to see that the exponential growth of profiles on the National DNA Database is being monitored so carefully:

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people who have been arrested but not charged or cautioned for any offence have their DNA profile stored on the National DNA Database; and what proportion of these people are from each ethnic minority background. [101190]

Joan Ryan [holding answer 23 November 2006]: Data on whether persons with a profile on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) have been charged or cautioned for an offence is not held on the NDNAD, but is held on the Police National Computer (PNC). The information requested could only be obtained at disproportionate cost by cross-searching approximately three million records retained for such persons on the PNC.

Wonder horses

Oh good grief:
Leading figures from the Higher Education, Business and Education sectors were yesterday announced by the Department of Education & Skills as Diploma Champions for the new Diplomas and wider 14 -19 Reform Programme.
Do they get a shiny gold badge, or a Special Hat, perhaps?

Rather than indulging a penchant for puerile language, it would be more to the point if the government had listened to educationalists and found the courage to implement the Tomlinson Report two years ago, rather than worrying about middle England's perceived attachment to the 'gold standard' of GCSEs and A Levels (and as one of ARCH's younger members said at the time: 'wasn't the gold standard abandoned because it was inflexible?')

Tomlinson proposed one single diploma that eliminated the divide between academic and vocational qualifications, and allowed young people to select the elements that actually interested them. Physics, french and plumbing? Why ever not?

Instead, though, we are to have a series of 16 single-subject diplomas. It seems that fears that the government might 'cherry-pick' the Tomlinson Report, expressed by Barry Sheerman, Chair of the Education and Skills Select Committee, have been realised.

Dear Tory MP...

Carlotta has composed an excellent letter on children's databases and 'Every Child Matters':
It rather looks as if yet again, the lovely warm glow that emanates from a New Labour initiative, this time the ECM, will reveal itself to be yet another chimera. Families in dire need will continue to suffer and may indeed find that their situation worsens, since social workers will be even more hard-pressed to sort out those who are at risk from those who could get by, and will be even more out of pocket for having to spread resources about so much more.

Insider dealings

Over on B2fxxx, comment on the conviction for child pornography offences of someone employed by the Home Office to set up VISOR (Violent and Sexual Offenders Register)