Teh Xiggeh


Every Child Matters

Posted in Privacy & Rights by Xiggeh on July 19, 2006

What a nice, heart-warming sound byte from the UK government. Every child matters. But what exactly does it mean when the government tries to put it into practice? A lot of money, a lot of child surveillance, and not a lot of results.

The UK government keep a whole range of databases with information about children and young people. This information is shared between health, law enforcement, youth justice, social care and education agencies. Information about the children, and about their families, can be shared without the consent of the child or the parents. Information about other children collected from a child can be shared without consent of the child to whom it refers.

Why would the government want to keep such data? To identify children ‘at risk’. In my mind this is a good thing. When I was 16 a friend killed himself while drunk and on drugs. If this could have been avoided by people understanding that this child was at risk then that’s great. I don’t think this is the right way to go, however.

And hold on, the government have redefined the meaning of ‘at risk’ in a green paper ‘Every Child Matters’. Instead of being at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect, it now means at risk of social exclusion, missing out on services or education, or of committing crime. So because little Jimmy chose not to take his GCSEs, or his mum forgot to apply for 30 pence a week Childrens’ Socks Tax Credits, Jimmy is ‘at risk’. If Jimmy got caught stealing sweets at 12 he’s flagged for life. Now this is starting to sound a little crazy, but it gets worse.

The data held about children is also used for a ‘predictive agenda’, identifying children from an early age whom agencies believe may commit a crime later in life. The criteria used to make this judgement includes poverty, getting bored easily, being a victim of bullying, truanting, having a parent with mental health problems and living in a deprived area. So if Jimmy’s dad worked for Rover, or lives in a lower-income postcode, or Jimmy gets bored a lot at school or gets repeatedly bullied for wearing the wrong jeans to school, he is considered likely to commit crime and is monitored. That, to me, seems crazy. Jimmy most likely gets bored at school because he’s very intelligent and the curriculum doesn’t stimulate his mind. His dad doesn’t have much money because Rover laid him off. Etc, etc.

Who else shares this data? Well Connexions, the support group for children and teenagers, logs everything from the moment a child walks in the door. That data is shared with government agencies and ties into the other databases mentioned at the beginning of this post. With or without the child’s consent. If, without thinking, Jimmy said “I think my dad is an alcoholic” because he drinks beer on Saturdays .. well I’ll let you imagine the rest of that scenario.

And just to top it all off, these databases will also be used to monitor youngsters who are regular smokers, youngsters who consume alcohol, oh and children not consuming 5 portions of fruit & veg a day.

In a day-and-age where children aren’t allowed to play conkers, British Bulldog or paper aeroplanes because they’re too dangerous, teachers aren’t allowed to put suncream on students because they’re probably all child molestors anyway, and children have to wear jumpers in 36degC heat incase their pastey-white skin goes a funny colour, well I think the country’s gone mad.

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