Safeguarding – Our children are not invisible!

In the recent consultation on the principles underlying the forthcoming Education Bill, the Department made a number of comments relating to the safety of home educated children.

“Home education is not, in itself, a risk factor for abuse or neglect. However, there is potential that these children can become ‘invisible’ and in these cases there is a safeguarding risk of isolation from professionals. The aim is to establish an appropriate scope of duties for the Department to ensure that children do not go unseen.”

So the Department believes our children can become ‘invisible’ are ‘a safeguarding risk of isolation from professions’ and go ‘unseen’.

The reality is that our children, far from being unseen are under the spotlight and subject to a great amount of scrutiny within their local communities.

This assumption of being ‘unseen’ seems to be based on the idea that home educated children are somehow different to other children in that they do not interact with their local community. The Department seems to assume that government monitoring is the only way of ensuring home educated children are seen but home educated children do not exist in a bubble where other people do not have oversight of them and do not report any concerns to the authorities.

Firstly, all home educated children are overseen by their extended families, friends and communities. Secondly concerns do get reported to the authorities. In fact, there is evidence that home educated children are more likely get reported but less likely to be subject to a child protection plan.

Research has been carried out in England into rates of abuse of home educated children: Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric, Wendy Charles-Warner, February 2015.

The report states
“This research uses information provided by 132 Local Authorities in England, in response to Freedom of Information requests, to analyse the comparative levels of safeguarding risk in children aged 0-4 years, children aged 5-16 at school and home educated children.

Home educating families are already ‘disproportionately scrutinised’ and are ‘twice as likely to be referred to Social Services’ yet are half as likely to be on a child protection plan. They ‘are shown to be at lower risk than other children’. Statistically the rates for home educated children on a child protection plan are ‘less than (the rates of) teaching staff guilty of abuse offences’. Quite simply, home educated children are safer than schooled children in all settings.”

Home educating parents are very proactive in providing educational activities for their children. Individually each family is small in numbers so we need to join together or go out in the community for sports, drama, art, and so on. Groups of home educated children have undertaken educational activities run by government funded providers as well as private ones some examples are: Forest School and Community Farm, run by the Children’s Centre.

St John’s First Aid courses and art classes put on by local art galleries, music classes, sessions run by the Manx Wildlife Trust and Manx National Heritage. Sports activities arranged NSC and Sports Development and 7th Wave  and visits to Douglas Fire Station and Police Station.

Home educated children have taken part in community events such as Wearable Art, Manx Youth Orchestra, Western Art Trail, and have had work displayed in the Hodgson Loom Gallery and Western Swimming Pool. Home educated children are members of libraries, sports teams, community groups, take lessons in dance, drama, languages, swimming, gymnastics etc and so on.

Our children visit doctors, dentists, the hospital, supermarkets, shops, hairdressers, local shops and many all children do. Given the first question they are asked is ‘What school do you go to?’ or ‘No school today?’ they are continually in conversation with members of the public.

The Manx community is small and well known for everybody knowing everybody else’s business. Most of us have experienced being approached by complete strangers who say ‘you’re that family from …. who home educates aren’t you?’ We are surrounded by curious people all the time who don’t hold back when it comes to asking questions.

Our children even see school teachers who are part of the local community as well. They obviously don’t go to school everyday but does that keep children safe? Is there something special about school teachers that means children under their care are safe? Try asking the parents of home educated children who were bullied at school so badly that they had to remove them to ensure their safety. The answer you will get is a resounding NO. Children are not safe at school. Bullying, violence and sexual harassment in schools are all rising. It is hard to open a newspaper without reading a story about a teacher having some kind of inappropriate relationship with a student. Many home educating parents would consider the ability to protect their children from school by home educating to be a relief and a blessing.

And of course, home educated children are protected by the same child protection legislation as all other children; the powers of social services are not diminished just because home educated children do not go to schools.

Far from being invisible, home educated children are highly visible in their communities. Being something of an unusual curiosity, they are regularly questioned by members of the public with whom they interact. In this way, local communities provide an effective safeguarding and educational monitoring function. We don’t need more government interference or scrutiny, we get enough already.