social policy

article on social policy and surveilance

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Family life faces State 'invasion'
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
26 June 2006
Government surveillance of all children, including information on whether they eat five portions of
fruit and vegetables a day, is condemned as a Big Brother system. Experts say it is the biggest state
intrusion in history into the role of parents. Changes being introduced since Victoria Climbié's death
from abuse include a £224 million database tracking all 12 million children in England and Wales
from birth.
But critics say the electronic files will undermine family privacy and destroy the confidentiality of
medical, social work and legal records. Doctors, schools and the police will have to alert the
database to a wide range of "concerns". Two warning flags on a child's record could start an
investigation. There will also be a system of targets and performance indicators for children's
development. Children's services have been told to work together to make sure that targets are
Dr Eileen Munro, of the LSE, said that if a child caused concern by failing to make progress towards
state targets, detailed information would be gathered. That would include subjective judgments
such as "Is the parent providing a positive role model?", as well as sensitive information such as a
parent's mental health. They include consuming five portions of fruit and veg a day, which I am
baffled how they will measure," she said. "The country is moving from 'parents are free to bring
children up as they think best as long as they are not abusive or neglectful' to a more coercive
'parents must bring children up to conform to the state's views of what is best'."
The Children Act 2004 gave the Government the powers to create the database.
Experts fear that genuine cases of neglect will be missed in the mass of detail. Keeping check on 11
million or 12 million children, when the justification for the database was that 3 or 4 million were in
some way "at risk", was "not proportionate", he said. "The cause for concern indicator against a
child's record is expressed in very broad language. For example, it could be cause for concern that a
child is not progressing well towards his or her French GCSE."
It was revealed this year that more than half a million children had been entered on a DNA
database created to record known offenders, even though many had never been charged with an
Eight-year-old Victoria Climbié died in 2000 while living with her aunt, and her aunt's boyfriend,
despite having been seen by dozens of social workers, nurses, doctors and police officers. The
Department for Education and Skills said: "We need to ensure that professionals work across
service boundaries for the benefit of children. Our proposals balance the need to do everything we
can to improve children's life chances whilst ensuring strong safeguards to make sure that
information stored is minimal, secure and used appropriately. Parents and young people will be
able to ask to see their data and make amendments and will retain full rights under the Data
Protection Act."


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