Cases of death resulting from children being educated at home or not sent to school are, mercifully, very rare in this country. In the last eleven years there has been Victoria Climbie, Khyra Ishaq and the three children of one mother who died last year in Edinburgh. That is three serious cases in over a decade. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to take individual cases involving children and then use them as a platform to demonstrate that wide ranging changes in the law are necessary. So the death of Victoria Climbie precipitated the Every Child Matters programme, the 2004 Children Act and ContactPoint. Clearly, those in government have never heard the old legal saying that hard cases make bad law!
We seem to like personalising laws about children in this way and adopting some photogenic dead kid as the poster girls of any such initiative. How else to explain actually giving laws nicknames associated with dead children; Megan's Law and Sarah's Law for instance?
I have been musing on this recently while watching events unfold in the USA. There are currently moves afoot to introduce compulsory registration of home educated children in a number of states. The latest was Illinois, which has now been abandoned, at least for now. This desire to legislate is being driven in part by the number of cases of cruelty to, neglect and in some cases murder of children who are not attending school. Now there are far more home educated children in America than there are in this country and so one would expect more cases of this sort of thing statistically. Even so, they do seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. Each one triggers new anxiety among those whose children do go to school. I drew attention to two cases this month in a post a few days ago. Here are three more;
The first of these involves home educated adopted children, which seems to be becoming a regular news item in American papers. The others are also pretty horrible. This makes five widely publicised cases of this sort of abuse this month alone. I dare say there have been others which I have missed. It is this which is making ordinary people in the USA a little uneasy about the practice of home education. Once again, just as in this country, the focus of concerns seems to be not education as such, but rather the dangers of children suffering cruelty and abuse if they do not attend school. It will be interesting to see how things develop across the Atlantic. I have an idea that before long, one particular case of this sort will acquire an identity of its own, the name of some dead little girl, and we will see the passing of something like Megan's Law, compelling home educating parents to register with the state.