Monday, 7 October 2013

How home educators can make life easier for themselves when engaging with professionals

I wrote yesterday about how parents could attract unfavourable attention to themselves by displaying too many behaviours of a certain type. Failing 'to engage with services' is one of these, as is not sending your kid to school or nursery and missing appointments which have been made by doctors and health centres. Now it is important to realise that none of these things in themselves are likely to cause problems for a parent. Just ticking three items on one of the checklists or protocols won't result in social services kicking down your door and taking away your children for adoption! What it does mean is that sometimes eyebrows will be raised and nursery teachers, Health Visitors, social workers and so on might exchange emails; asking of there is any cause for concern. I am all in favour of this, because it is a valuable sifting process which often identifies children at risk of neglect or abuse. It's not infallible, of course; as some high profile cases in recent days have demonstrated. Still, it's a good deal better than nothing.

So those who are worried that 'failing to engage with services' will bring them problems, don't need to be overly concerned. The real problems can  start when something out of the ordinary happens to a child who has already been the object of remark in this way. Say. for instance, a child who is not at nursery or school, whose parents do not turn up for vaccinations, who has avoided health Visitors; suppose such a child presents at the GP with what might possibly be non-accidental injuries?  Now, the questions may begin. This actually happened to me when my daughter was a baby and it is worth seeing how such things can work out. I was an habitual avoider of services and dodger of Health Visitors and there was never any question of my daughter attending nursery or school.  When she was young, I used to help run groups for parents who were unable to cope with their under-5s, usually because the kid had a special need of some sort. Some of these children were exceedingly aggressive. One day, i left my daughter asleep in her buggy, turned my back for a moment and a three year-old boy bit her on the face. When I say bit, I mean bit! His mother had to prise him away from my daughters cheek like a rottweiler!

Now without going into too many details, the mark on my daughter's face from this attack, brought questions. I was quite open about the cause, did not resent the implication of those asking the questions that this might be a deliberate injury to my child, caused within the family. The result was that the whole thing fizzled out; which is how it should of course have been.

It is at this stage that some home educators make life needlessly difficult for themselves. Quite a few that one sees on the various lists have gone mad at this point, when they have been asked questions of this sort. Remember, these are often parents like me, who have declined services and refused nursery places. They have already brought themselves to attention in this way. Then, when they are asked what they see as insulting questions, they react with anger and aggression. Worse, they sometimes attempt to conceal the truth from professionals. We recently saw a parent on one list advised to give a false name and address and pretend to be moving out of the district,  just because she has been asked a question. In the past, we have seen parents who do not want to use their local hospital, because they are afraid that the local authority will learn of their existence.  They have travelled to another part of the country to attend A & E for this reason. Others, refuse to register their children with  a GP. Then, to cap it all, when they are asked about any of this, they become aggressive. Little wonder that they are by that time regarded by social services as probable abusers!

In short, no parent is going to run into any real difficulties simply for refusing to engage with any services on offer. They must realise though that they might draw attention to themselves. If, at a later stage, they are asked questions and become defensive or angry, then they could perhaps create problems which will make their lives difficult. Returning to the incident with my daughter, imagine if I had tried to give a false name and address when asked about her injuries! What if I had taken her to a hospital in a neighbouring county, because I didn't want my local authority to learn of her existence?  Worse still, suppose I had raised my voice and become aggressive when the questions began? The systems for identifying children at risk are not designed to trap home educating parents. But from time to time, this can happen, for reasons which I have explained. Under such circumstances, parents can either smooth matters over amicably, or they can make matters a hundred times worse by their behaviour. This is a choice for individual  home educators to make, but I know which I think makes more sense!

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