A detailed step-by-step analysis and response to the Channel 4 Dispatches programme “Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids” on 4th February 2019

Home Education quote Dispatches introduces Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, as the “eyes and ears of children in the system”. An interesting statement, considering how much harm is being caused to children by the school system, which Ms Longfield cannot be oblivious to and which goes on, continuously unaddressed.

There followed, abrupt verbiage from an apparent child welfare expert (who is later explained to be a consultant social worker named Gladys Rose White), as one of many experts who feel “alarm” about home-education. She is filmed, completely out of context, making statements about having had an image of a “pale child, with teeth falling out and bleeding gums” that was “harrowing” to her.  A bizarre and shocking statement to make about home-education, that didn’t make sense and was simply ludicrous. Clearly it was intended to scaremonger and sensationalise, to gain public agreement as to the unsuitability of home-education, the context for Ms Rose White’s statement was not explained until much later in the programme.

Dispatches stated that home-education figures have doubled in 5 years and that there are now more than 60k home-educators in the UK. Well, isn’t the Government fortunate, that all those children (many with special needs that cost additional money to support and who have been failed and traumatised by the school system) are being educated and kept safe, happy and well by their parents, at no cost to the Government.  Imagine what a massive amount of money they are saving, what heroes these parents are. It takes a lot of dedication to devote yourself 24/7 to your child’s entire wellbeing, education, stimulation and support, and to pay out-of-pocket expenses to do so as well.

The fact that schools are (supposedly) “tightly regulated and supervised” was given as a reason to believe that the education being provided by schools is of good quality. I’d love for Anne Longfield and Dispatches to explain in that case, why there are so many articles on the following:

  1. children not being provided enough skills for future life by the UK education system [1];
  2. funding for UK schools being insufficient [1];
  3. lack of teachers [1];
  4. poorer children being failed by UK education system [2];
  5. exclusions are occurring across the UK, the children often have special needs and often exclusions are illegal [3];
  6. boys are being failed by UK schools [4];
  7. autistic children are being failed by UK schools [5];
  8. adopted children are being failed by UK schools [6];
  9. children with a variety of special needs are being failed by UK schools [7];
  10. all children are being academically failed by UK schools [8];
  11. bullying is rife in UK schools and as a result, HALF of UKs children are scared to return to school after the holidays [9];
  12. ironically, only 11 hours ago at the point of writing this, the Government not only admits [10] that the Government is even failing early years education but that:

 

“A strong home learning environment can have a major impact on children’s life chances. The Government needs to come forward with a comprehensive strategy for early years services, including children’s centres and family hubs, to give disadvantaged children the best possible start in life”

 

Rather hypocritical then isn’t it, for Anne Longfield to come along and portray home-education as an abuser’s paradise and imply that home-educating parents aren’t up to the job.  The Government clearly recognises that up until legal school age (when children are often too young to speak up about abuse or neglect!) parents are trusted to be that ‘strong home learning environment’.  What changes when a child reaches five? There are umpteen more articles and statistics showing that the UK education system is not working well for our children.  It’s affecting their mental health negatively.  There are a variety of reasons for this, which would take more time to explain that I can devote here. But if Ms Longfield is truly “the eyes and ears” of UK’s children – shouldn’t she have instead, been invited by Dispatches to present a programme on our failing education system?  Yes, in case you missed it, Anne stated that not only did Dispatches invite her to do the programme (although how staged that is I don’t know) but that they even provided her statistics to quote from and details of a couple of serious case reviews into child deaths.

So, is this whole exercise simply for Channel 4 to obtain ratings by outraging people, or are there machinations behind the scenes (which would appear to be so) whereby the Government has entered into a mutually beneficial exercise. The Government is removing more and more rights and control from it’s citizen’s lives and stripping parental rights to bring up their children in the way they think best – and that’s what this is really about.  And perhaps for some parents, it is the very fact that schools are so “tightly regulated and supervised” that they don’t want their child in such an environment, where their true creativity and wonder is stifled, where they learn to conform like robots, rather than discover and learn in a relaxed, fun and exciting way.

Anne Longfield went on to say how home-educated children can fall between different services and professionals, “out-of-sight”, that LAs don’t know where they are. How is that so? Why is there an assumption that by being home-educated, means by default that children never see a GP, dentist, optician, hospital clinician, private professionals including OT, psychologist (to undo the trauma many have been caused by the school system) or speech and language therapist.  Because yes, as state services are often so shoddy, failing to diagnose many children’s difficulties or offer the right type of support, or simply leave children on interminable waiting lists, home-educating parents like other special needs parents, not infrequently do end up having to find the money for private professionals, to help their children.  Then of course most HE families have relatives, friends and acquaintances, by whom their children are seen.  They are also out and about in the community.  Professionals aren’t the only people capable of judging if a child is OK anyway.  If they were, there wouldn’t be any Daniel Pelka’s or Baby Ps.  So the description of home-educated children as “invisible” is nothing more than a lie.

Then of course, there are many home-educating parents who belong to organisations such as Home-Ed Info[11], or the Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS)[12] which offer plenty of excellent advice and signposting to resources, but also there are plentiful local HE groups (a variety on Google groups for instance) where families meet up for socialising events, outings, sharing of parental expertise as a resource and even organising and funding private tuition groups for their children.

The Children’s Commissioner sees herself as a “defender of children’s rights” and “speaking up for children”, so Anne, why aren’t you telling the truth and speaking up for the many excellent HE parents out there who go out of their way to provide a good education for their children and of the huge benefit to those children and their rights to HE as an option? Whose children are much more relaxed, have better mental health, have freedom of expression and learn in a way tailored to their individual needs. Because Anne, there is no legal requirement to follow the National Curriculum, even for private schools and academies, let-alone for parents. Oh, did I mention that teachers voted the National Curriculum as unfit for purpose [22]?  Children are all unique individuals, not automatons and they all learn differently.

Anne Longfield believes that only schools can provide the “care, education and social skills needed”. In view of what I have described above, clearly that is not the case whatsoever and these types of statement have been made very deliberately to scaremonger and denigrate home-education.  Autistic children, who struggle greatly with socialising, can be utterly alone and bullied in the midst of a school full of children.  If that list above of all the failings going on within UK schools is supposed to be the right “care, education and social skills needed” according to Anne Longfield, then she should step down from her job without further ado, because such opinions in the face of evidence of harm, in someone tasked with speaking up for children, are clearly extremely disturbing.

Just to add to the shock tactics still further, Anne then makes an outrageous statement that in Germany HE is “outlawed”, but that in UK all you need to do is de-register your child by sending a letter to the LA.  Well, well, well. Who’d’a thunk it, a parent deciding what’s right for their child’s education – I mean, UK law states that the legal duty for their child’s education belongs to a parent, so what are parents doing complying with the law, strewth. I saw some great Tweets responding to this ridiculous statement:

Home-education Germany banned

Home-education Germany Nazis

How about the fact that home-education is legal in: Australia, Canada, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, USA (14 countries) and possibly other countries (source: http://home-ed.info/heabroad). Strangely omitted to mention this fact, did ‘ole Anne.

So Anne met up with some HE families, first up was Marcello. Ms Longfield  could barely hide her contempt, when she said “Marcello ‘thinks‘ (heavily emphasised with a sneer) he can do a better job”. Well Anne, considering that long list above, of all the serious ways schools are failing children academically, emotionally/mentally and practically, I’m sure Marcello is doing a better job.  Anne wanted immediately to know what Marcello’s son Coby liked about school, totally ignored his reply of “not much” and clearly only wanted to hear positives about it, so after she had pushed him to find one, she gave a big exaggerated “oh yeah”, when Coby said there was one thing he missed about school, which was seeing his friends every day.  An empty, unspoken question remains though Anne, despite you intentionally making it appear Coby was socially isolated. Does Coby instead see his friends 3-4 times a week, or every weekend? That’s not every single day as he would at school, but would be plenty anyway (and in a far more natural environment too).  Maybe he does, but your questioning deliberately made it appear he was losing out. Notably, Anne didn’t ask Coby what he liked about home-education, she left poor Marcello having to justify why it was a positive experience, in the face of her obvious disapproval.

When Anne asked Marcello whether he had opted to have a LA visit to check his educational provision, Marcello replied that he had “declined”, but Anne immediately reworded this to say that he “refused”.  Yet more parent-blame attitudes, portraying parents as unreasonable and obstructive, with the unspoken and lingering implication that such parents have something to hide and aren’t acting in their child’s best interests. The stench of extreme bias and disapproval was making me wilt by now, but I stuck it out until the end of the programme.

Anne spoke of how LAs had been surveyed about home-educating statistics, but we should be asking why there was no survey of home-educating parents to ensure the full picture was provided.  Isn’t the horse’s mouth more accurate?  Or is being mere parents not good enough, are they not trustworthy as a data source?  Never mind, the proof of the pudding is evidenced further down this article.  If this is the sort of reporting that Channel 4 Dispatches does, then I will never believe anything another of their programmes states.

Anne then visited Bailey, and his (dyslexic) mum Sam and narrated how concerned she was, about the fact that there could be multitudes of parents out there (meaning like Sam, who was displayed like a sacrificial lamb) who struggled to teach their children and who were without resources or adequate knowledge. But instantly I spotted the issue with this portrayal. There are in fact tons of resources out there including: free and paid websites for all subjects; subject books complete with tests freely available on the high street or online [23], not to mention private tutors and as mentioned above, other parents in the HE community who share their expertise as a resource to other HE families – and these families network and swap, donate and share other resources.  So really all it boils down to, is LAs needing to offer HE parents fact sheets with information on resources and how to link-up with other HE families, just in case they haven’t discovered this rich ocean of opportunities alone. Job done.  Only Anne wouldn’t have it. It turns out Sam did get hold of a list of websites at least, following a visit by an LA official, yet Anne wanted to scare Sam and make her lose confidence and spoke of how daunting the list was.  Once the LA official had visited, Sam’s educational provision must have been deemed at least satisfactory, otherwise Anne would have wasted no time in proclaiming she was failing her son on national TV.

Anne then discussed schools off-rolling. This is a big concern and there’s not much I can add here, other than, parents should never be forced into home-education because of poor practices by schools. The case of an autistic girl who this happened to, was then shared. The problem is, 70% of autistic children are forced into mainstream and it doesn’t work for so many of them. The Government isn’t providing enough special schools and almost none whatsoever geared towards autism.  The noise, chaos, uncertainty, socialising difficulties and unmet needs, make it a living hell for most autistic children [5]. Special Needs Jungle recently wrote articles on school-induced trauma [17] & [18]. When needs are unmet, behaviour escalates and the child can end up excluded.  There is a type of ASD known as pathological demand avoidance and the educational and support needs[13] of this profile, differ significantly to those of typically autistic children. Unless children with PDA are correctly diagnosed and supported, they can react with very extreme behaviours. Many NHS Trusts refuse to recognise this diagnosis (in breach of NICE Guidance, because PDA is an ASD and NICE requires the diagnosis to describe the child’s profile) and the standard ASD clinical tools aren’t very good at identifying this sub-type. This is a disaster waiting to happen for the child and their family.  The Children’s Commissioner spoke about barriers to learning, but when a child is autistic and in mainstream that is the barrier to learning.

Ms Longfield comments that parents don’t often know the law, the answer is simple. Inform them of it. Inform them of their rights, duties and provide information on resources. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to HE and saying we need a register and to have inspections, look at WHY so many parents are HE in the first place and the fact that so many are children with SENs in the HE community. Fix the education system, put money in, build autism-specific schools, ensure all teachers have autism training and have resources to correctly support all children with SENs and you will find HE numbers would decline. If school is traumatising children, what parent in their right mind would make them continue going? That would be neglect. There are already more than enough suicides from bullying and pressures of exams, in schools. You don’t hear of children committing suicide because they are being home-educated though, do you Anne.  Anne says a child’s wellbeing must be put first, she talks about safeguarding, but if she really believes what she says, she would not only understand why parents are home-educating but appreciate the amazing job the vast majority of them do and how it is the best thing for their children compared to the alternative. And let’s not forget, the current law fully covers instances where parents might not be providing an adequate education and LAs can take parents to court to obtain an order for the child to be returned to school.  Just as if there is any reason to suspect a child is being neglected or abused, the LA has powers to investigate that too, whether a child is HE or not.

Anne wonders about HE children’s education being negatively impacted, about them losing out, but not only does research absolutely not bear this alleged concern out, but Anne needs to think bigger.  Children with SENs may mature later than typical children, this is definitely the case with children with conditions such as ADHD and ASD, which are both neurodevelopmental disorders.  Learning is lifelong, even if a child struggles academically and a parent delays their pace of learning during home-education, that doesn’t mean they won’t catch up, at a pace that meets their needs, later on. But most HE children are not losing out, quite the opposite in fact. If a HE child with a disability struggles to learn, it is almost definitely due to their SENs, not deficits in parental provision.

Evidence shows that HE children are in fact faring far better than school-educated children, so Dispatches have presented a totally dishonest programme and Anne Longfield should really be ashamed. She should be praising, endorsing and encouraging home-education (particularly where it is by parental choice) because it’s better for children! [14]

“studies confirm that home-educated children on average achieve higher intellectual scores than their school-going age-mates, regardless of whether the parents follow an existing (school) curriculum or whether education is child-led (ACTP, 1997-2001; Calvery et al., 1992; Galloway, 1995; Ray, 1994; Ray, 1997; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999; Sutton & Oliveira, 1995). Only Tipton 1990 reports no difference in the scores of home-educated children.

Some studies have even found that the lead of home-educated children can be considerable. Six-year-olds had a lead of one school-year, which increased during their school career to four years at the age of fourteen. This means that an average fourteen-year-old home-educated child is comparable – in terms of schooling – to an eighteen-year-old who goes to school (Ray, 1994; Ray 1997; Rothermel, 2002; Rudner, 1999).

HE also produces more well-rounded, mature, inquisitive children who are far better prepared for life than school-educated peers. They have far superior outcomes and score better, on all fronts! [15]  And this isn’t new information, there are quite old articles around about this. [16] (August 2000 article*) so the Government knows this. But they have an agenda for control and stripping of rights, an overlord mentality – and that’s what this is really about.

* “It discovered that home-educated children of working-class parents achieved considerably higher marks in tests than the children of professional, middle-class parents and that gender differences in exam results disappear among home-taught children.”

Anne Longfield stated that no matter how bad it is for a child in school, removing children from school is not the answer. Wow – and this is someone tasked with the best interests of children.  In view of everything shown here, I would like to know why ever not.  Of course for those parents forced into HE, improving the educational system and ensuring their children’s needs are met, is the answer. But the public sees no evidence of that any time soon.

The Children’s Commissioner then focused her disapproval on Leo and his siblings in Leicestershire. Leo’s mum’s face had a harried look, I wondered if it was her child’s special needs putting her under stress and making her appear that way.  Anne was keen to raise an eyebrow at the children’s lateness getting out of bed and a history of persistent lateness when in school, completely overlooking the fact that the family were dealing with special needs (health conditions/disabilities) and many children need a lengthy period of de-schooling once they leave school for HE. But then, she didn’t understand anything about HE and why it was better for many children, which was clear. The Government doesn’t get to dictate what time people get up and what time they do their learning.

It transpired Leo’s mum had a harried look, because she had been accused of fabricated and induced illness (FII) and of “keeping her children at home” and was under supervision by social services. And there we have it.  Another family with special needs and disabilities that were falsely accused by professionals, who wanted to disbelieve or misrepresent the child’s needs and put barriers in the way of support and help they needed. Falsely accusing parents of FII is a well-worn tactic towards special needs families, as testified all over the internet in blogs, forums and social media.  And it harms children, so we know these child protection “concerns” aren’t really about protecting the children, they are far more often about blocking state resources, covering-up NHS negligence, or punishing parents who persist in seeking support for their child.  There have been media articles about the harm these investigations cause to entire families [19].  Notably, the phone rang whilst Anne was visiting Leo’s family, social services were full of apologies all of a sudden and told Leo’s mum sorry, they didn’t even know why they had an open file as the family never met the criteria for child in need plans in the first place. Funny that.  No wonder this mum was clearly relieved, described it as having been “hell” and only half-jokingly, asked Anne Longfield whether she had told social services she was visiting. She then made a dark joke about “the Children’s Commissioner – or child snatcher” when Anne wasn’t around. What’s being done to special needs families is very wrong.

Anne said the biggest concern was about children’s wellbeing and said between 11-55% of HE families were known to social services” but for what reason? Doesn’t mean they were known as neglecting or abusing their children, being addicts or mentally unstable.  Considering the amount of children with SEN and disabilities being HE, many of them would have child in need plans and therefore of course would be “known” to social services.  Because the law says that every child with a disability is defined as a child in need, although they don’t all have a CiN plan. So this comment is somewhat disingenuous. Also, the fact that so many schools maliciously refer families to social services for child protection investigations, because the school isn’t meeting the child’s needs and the parent points this out to the school. Schools go on the defensive and start accusing their parenting [24].

Rochdale Council were interviewed and they said they don’t know if there is a concern, if families are not engaging with them (i.e. having educational inspections) but there is no reason that plenty of other professionals aren’t seeing the children as mentioned earlier, along with relatives and other adults in the community.  All the information provided in this programme was designed to mislead this way.

Someone by the name of Katy Fosgale-Hopper made a statement about there being less abuse (or chance of it) if a child is in school. But this is factually untrue.  Did they think nobody would check these claims?  The tragic case of Khyra Ishaq was cited.  But not only was she not home-educated, but she was seen by multiple professionals who all failed her – and what about Daniel Pelka who was starved and beaten to death right under his school’s nose?  Or the disabled, non-verbal 4yo autistic boy, Chadrack Mbala Mulo, who starved next to his epileptic mother’s dead body at home, because school staff didn’t check why he hadn’t been into school. Anne stated that there had been five ‘other’ cases of HE children who had died in ten years, but how many more died who were in school?  One death is one too many of course, but if it has taken ten whole years for a total of five deaths (with at least some with dubious or erroneous HE categorisation), when sixty thousand children are being home-educated, the facts speak for themselves.  The fact is, that rates of child abuse are significantly lower in home-educated children. But of course this inconvenient fact was kept out of the programme and avoided by Ms Longfield – and she is well aware of it because (1) she just is, in her role, and (2) I Tweeted the evidence* to her about a week before the programme.

An awful case of a Welsh boy who lived with his parents in a very isolated rural part of Wales, who didn’t go to school (but this may not mean he was HE either) and who starved to death, was shown.  This is the case that Gladys Rose White was speaking of at the beginning, that gave her harrowing images of bleeding gums and teeth coming out.  But as awful and tragic this event was, it didn’t happen because he was HE. It happened because his parents neglected him and not sending him to school was part of that. This very rare tragedy, even if it could be included as a HE family, still doesn’t change the fact that significantly less HE children are abused or neglected than those at school. This is another deliberately misleading case being used.

So this case was used as an illustration, that LAs simply not knowing, meant there could be thousands more cases like that. The evidence absolutely does not bear this out so lies and hysteria based on those lies, are being used to make people scared enough into agreeing that HE needs to be heavily overseen and controlled.  Very few families live so remotely as this poor Welsh child that died, even fewer who are home-educating.  What’s even worse, is when children attending school are dying right under the noses of so many professionals, even sometimes when there are additional professionals such as social workers seeing the family. And this is happening.  Where were those serious case reviews Dispatches? It’s clear that alleged fears of child abuse are being used to create a reason to monitor home-educators.

Dispatches then went on to the subject of illegal schools (which by the way aren’t HE so why would they be used). They used an example, where the set-up may not in fact have been intentionally run as a school, the people using an office space to provide tuition for HE children, stated that they found the law confusing and had inadvertently gone over the amount of hours, which made them classified as a school.  They had been to court and the finding was that they had run an illegal school. So Anne Longfield went along with Ofsted inspectors unannounced to catch them out.  The court had clarified that more than 25 hours a week is deemed a school. However, what Anne Longfield seemed not to understand (and the constant lack of awareness about HE means she was never going to provide an accurate portrayal of it), is that HE doesn’t only take place in the home!  It seems that Anne is subject to the same ignorance about HE as the general public are, taking the term “home” very literally. HE children as before stated learn not only in the home but out in the community, meeting other HE families and sometimes having private tuition elsewhere, going to clubs, libraries etc and sharing resources in other HE homes.  So this again was entirely misleading and it was notable that the court findings had not criticised the standard of provision these people were offering.

Exams The programme then moved on to the number of HE children taking exams and Anne said that no-one knows how HE children doing academically. The latter is simply not true as the referenced articles below prove.  The former, parents can enter their children at external exam centres, but there is no requirement to inform LAs that their children are taking exams.  Also, some will be doing distance learning courses and take exams that way, so any statistics collated won’t be accurate. Yet despite this, Anne claimed that out of 11k HE children, only 263 sat exams.  This simply cannot be true and the aforementioned quoted articles, must have incorporated exam results as part of their research.  Anne referred to an ADCS HE survey from 2018, which said that only 31 LAs kept records, but HE is not their business, why would they need to document this? And in any case, a successful life is not based on exams anyway. Universities can look not only at qualifications and points but other sources of learning and education (if they couldn’t, they wouldn’t consider mature students on this basis).  Here it describes other ways HE parents can track progress: https://www.theschoolrun.com/tracking-progress-in-home-education and also says of children in school, that: “Childline has reported a 200 per cent increase year-on-year in calls from young people about exam stress“.  That can as we know, sometimes tragically lead to child suicide.

Anne told us that data outlines HE children four times as likely end up NEET (not in education, employment or training), I find this impossible to believe in view of all the research on better outcomes for HE children. I would like to see the source of this data and which children are being included. If the vast majority are SEN children then it would be far more likely that it’s their SENs resulting in this, not by virtue of being HE.  She said that “parental rights” must not come before the best interests of the child, well clearly that’s not the case as the content of this article shows – the opposite is the case and these tactics won’t convince the public otherwise once they see all the facts.

The Children’s Commissioner finishes the programme by asserting that home-educators “must be registered and be visited” and she would be writing a report to the Government stating this. Well Anne, I will be sending a copy of this article to the Government also and sharing it across social media (send it viral folks!), to counter your wholly dishonest representation of home-education.

*  And Anne, research proves that regulation does not reduce (the already low) rates of abuse/neglect of home-educated children [20]. And yet HE families are disproportionately monitored and referred to social services already, without any basis for doing so [21] because the rates of abuse by HE parents is lower than school-educated children!

“…teaching staff with responsibility for caring for children during school hours, were found to be more likely to be guilty of abusing those children, than a home educated child was found likely to be abused. Clearly, the risk of a home educated child being subject to abuse is lower than the risk of an educational professional employed in a school being found guilty of abusing a child or children in their care.”

“2014 NSPCC23 report refers specifically to home educated children being denied the right to formally express their views or participate in decision making in respect to home education. Yet no process is in place to allow schooled children to take part in the decision to send them to school or to express their views about being sent to school.”

“That perception of risk is also demonstrated to be false by the current research, which indicates that home educated children, whilst twice as likely to be referred to Social Services, are between 3.5 – 5 times less likely to have that referral lead to a CPP than are schooled children aged 5-16, and 5 – 7 times less likely than children aged 0-4 years.”

Footnote: Planet Autism wrote to the chief social worker for children, Isabelle Trowler, in May 2016 about one of the very issues raised by a featured home-educating parent – but unfortunately glossed over entirely in this programme, how special needs families are being failed by the system and falsely accused of child abuse, often fabricated and induced illness (FII) and how this traumatises families, including the children. Isabelle Trowler didn’t respond to the communication about this issue, although a DfE minion did, only to respond with generic blurb which is freely available online. Anne Longfield clearly must work closely with Isabelle Trowler as their roles by default strongly overlap. The Government has known of and ignored this issue for many years. And many of the population of home-educated children have special needs, these same families, as the Dispatches programme showed, are the same families who are being wrongly targeted with child protection investigations.

References:
 
[1] “How well do schools prepare children for their future? May 2017” (APPG on Education 2017)
[2] Poorest students in England nine times more likely to be in inadequate secondary schools, research shows (August 2018 article, based on Ofsted data obtained by the Labour party)
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/poor-children-schools-uk-poverty-secondary-education-state-angela-rayner-nick-gibb-a8500226.html
[3] ““Forgotten children”: Our education system is excluding, and failing, more pupils (July 2018 article based on Commons education select committee report)
https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/education/2018/07/forgotten-children-our-education-system-excluding-and-failing-more-pupils
[4] Boys left to fail at school because attempts to help them earn wrath of feminists, says ex-Ucas chief” (November 2018 article)
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/11/16/boys-left-fail-school-attempts-help-earn-wrath-feminists-says/
[5] National Autistic Society’s “School Report” (2016)
https://network.autism.org.uk/content/report-finds-new-education-system-failing-meet-needs-autistic-children
[7] Missing special needs support ‘a national scandal’
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46400397
[8] Is Britain’s education system failing the next generation? (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) December 2016 report)
http://www.if.org.uk/2016/12/23/is-britains-education-system-failing-the-next-generation/
[9] “Half of Children Worried About Returning to School After the Holidays Because of Bullying” (2018 article)
[12] Home Education Advisory Servicwww.heas.org.uk
[13] “The Distinctive Clinical and Educational Needs of Children with Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome: Guidelines for Good Practice” (endorsed by DfE and Autism Education Trust)
[14] Home Education: A Successful Educational Experiment?

[15] Home Education Research http://edyourself.org/research/#icher.org
[16] “Children taught at home learn more. Youngsters of all social classes do better if they avoid school, study discovers
https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/aug/13/education.educationnews1
[17“How can children be traumatised just by going to school?”
https://specialneedsjungle.com/children-traumatised-just-going-school/
[18] “SEND children are being “traumatised” by not getting the help they need in schools”
https://specialneedsjungle.com/send-children-being-traumatised-by-not-getting-help-need-schools/?fbclid=IwAR3r574eNVD2cwDNR1G3-97JL26XyQKsUFoquEDbH7DM4_yd8-ZwMPCYxVQ
[19] “Rise in referrals to social services causing trauma to families, expert says”
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/15/rise-in-referrals-social-services-trauma-families-child-protection
[20] “The Relationship Between the Degree of State Regulation of Homeschooling and the Abuse of Homeschool Children (Students)”
https://www.nheri.org/degree-of-homeschool-regulation-no-relationship-to-homeschool-child-abuse/
[21] “Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric.
http://www.home-education.org.uk/articles/article-safeguarding-myth.pdf
[22] Teachers reject national curriculum as ‘not fit for purpose’ in exclusive TES/YouGov poll”
https://www.tes.com/news/teachers-reject-national-curriculum-not-fit-purpose-exclusive-tesyougov-poll
[23] WHSmith education books examples: https://www.whsmith.co.uk/dept/books-education-02×00002
[24] “The Schools that Spy on ‘Munchausen’s Mums’ – Teachers accuse them of lying about children’s autism to get attention” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article2554867/The-schools-spy-Munchausen-Mums-Teachers-accuse-lying-childrens-autismattention.html

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Courts of Protection, MSBP/FII and Autism

human rights With Courts of Protection making decisions on not only mental capacity of adults with autism, but also on the fitness of their parents to remain as their carers and legal advocates, let’s look at whether the right decisions are being made.  A case has come to light regarding a 24 year old male with lower-functioning autism, who was deemed to lack capacity and whose mother had her rights removed and was accused of FII, the renamed Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy.  Here are links to three websites/blogs, (1) is journalist Brian Deer’s opinion on the case with a link to the full judgement (2) is a blog on human rights and (3) a website article commentary with some rather vitriolic and closed-minded comments about the mother (and all parents pursuing alternative remedies) below it:

  1. http://briandeer.com/solved/mother-lied-protection-mmr-1.htm (the full 92 page judgement from that page)

  2. http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2014/10/15/munchausen-mmr-and-mendacious-warrior-mothers/ Steve Hawkins and Janet Yates are two contributors to the comments, who have also looked at the picture of what happened with this case differently than those condemning the mother and I note, that following their posts responding to the condemners, comments were closed.

  3. http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2014/10/12/brian-deer-wakefield-mmr-mother-fabricated-injury-story


Rather than discuss the details or outcome of the case in the way these sites are doing, I will instead write an open letter style response to The Honourable Mr Justice Baker, the judge who made the findings to remove the mother’s rights and decide that her son lacked capacity, with my comments in bold either replying to his italicised paragraphs or quoting them to highlight my points:

So, this is the mother deemed neglectful and abusive:

For the first 18 years of his life he lived at home with his parents – his mother, hereafter referred to as E, and father, A – where he was by all accounts generally looked after very well. His parents were and are devoted to him and have devoted much of their lives to his care. He attended local special schools and enjoyed a wide range of activities.”

The mother clearly cared for her son very well and took him for dental appointments and vaccinations (even though vaccinations are not obligatory). This is a mother who had no problems until she came into contact with the LA and other state services.

“Until his late teens the family had no contact with the local authority. At that point, however, social services became involved because his parents were looking for a residential placement where he could continue his education. There is no evidence up to that point of any conflict between members of his family and those professionals with whom they came into contact. From that point, however, the picture changed and there has been almost continuous conflict, in particular between M’s mother, E, and the local authority. M’s parents assert that they have been subjected to a malicious campaign aimed at removing M from their care. The local authority asserts that M has been subjected to a regime characterised by excessive control exercised by E over every aspect of M’s life. More seriously, the local authority alleges that E has fabricated accounts of M’s health problems and subjected him to unnecessary assessments and treatments, as well as imposing on him an unnecessarily restrictive diet, with a range of unnecessary supplements.”

It is unlikely that the mother would invent that she was told by the GP that she was an over-anxious mother, she was also calling doctors for help with her son’s difficulties – signs of abuse and neglect? I think not. Many mothers are referred to as over-anxious by GPs, who are non-specialist in any medical field and who are known to have a complete lack of autism awareness and autism training in most cases, for those very reasons.

It is the parents’ case that the mother told their GP that he had had a bad reaction to the MMR but was told by him that she was an over-anxious mother and must be imagining it. When E called the GP a second time and said she was calling the emergency services, she was told not to do this, but went ahead because M was going in and out of consciousness. The paramedics and the GP had arrived at the same time, at which point M’s temperature was 104. The GP had told the paramedics to leave. Before going, they had told her that this was a case of meningeal encephalitis. The GP had been verbally abusive to E. The above account, given to Dr. Beck, a psychologist instructed as an expert witness in these proceedings, is similar to that given by the mother to a variety of professionals”

There being no record made of what the mother says she reported to doctors regarding the MMR does not mean she did not report those concerns. I have personal experience of doctors and other professionals not only failing to record information given, but actually making false reports of consultations and other matters and I am not alone in this. Has his honour also not heard of confirmation bias? If a doctor does not believe MMR causes autism, and especially if there is financial incentive [link] for them to give the vaccination, they will be unlikely to record adverse effects, especially if they were reported verbally and they responded verbally to tell the parent that they disagreed there was a connection, because the scientific community has stated there is none. Here is just one study, easily found, which states that many more nurses submit yellow cards regarding vaccine reactions than do GPs or hospitals: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1884300/

His honour admits that despite a doctor advising tests, none were referred for:

Dr Baird thought it appropriate to consider his problems under the general heading of “autistic learning difficulties”. She suggested that he undergo a range of tests but observed that, if all proved negative, there might well be a substantial genetic component to his developmental problem. I note in passing that Dr Carpenter, in his examination of all the records in this case, found no test results following this assessment and was unclear how far the genetic component to M’s autism was explored with the parents.”

So with that lack of care happening, it’s not so unlikely that verbal reports by E were not recorded – especially as professionals rarely welcome patients (or their relatives) questioning them or being well-informed, so would have likely not respected anything she said, or taken offence at her directness and hence brushed her concerns off.

His honour states:

In none of the records prior to 2000 is there any account of an adverse reaction to the MMR.”

But none of the doctors listed are specialists in vaccinations and subsequent ill-effects – why would for instance, an audiologist have anything to say about the MMR, it’s not their discipline? So the mother would logically not have reported it to those specialists.  Why is this seen as evidence of fabrication?

Regarding Andrew Wakefield, he has said on record that he did not advise parents they should not vaccinate, only that they should have the vaccinations singly instead of combined, but the Government made that option impossible to parents. This might interest you: http://childhealthsafety.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/government-experts-cover-up-vaccine-hazards/ and this: http://nsnbc.me/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/BSEM-2011.pdf

It was the hospital themselves who recommended the gluten and casein free diet: He was put on a gluten and casein free diet and prescribed liquid paraffin and Picolax for his constipation.”  So why was E criticised about this?

According to Dr Carpenter, however, there is no record in the GP notes or any other contemporaneous complaint that M had suffered a gut disorder during this 10 year period.”   Does his honour know how many people suffer gastric discomfort and problems? They don’t all go back and forth to the GP when they can get OTC remedies to deal with the symptoms, so the lack of gastric issues being recorded in that period means very little and if she was seeking alternative remedies these wouldn’t necessarily have been recorded anyway.  Negative assumption again, of fabrication.

In the following years M continued to receive assessment and treatment from a variety of alternative and complimentary practitioners, including auditory integration and sensory intervention therapy and sound therapy, as well as being treated for routine illnesses by the GP. He was not, however, permitted to undergo any further vaccinations. In 2004, E had refused to give consent for M to receive immunisations for tetanus, diphtheria and polio. In addition, M’s diet was increasingly restricted and he was given an increasing number of supplements.”  Clearly the mother was in no way neglectful, as she was taking her son for GP appointments as required. It is a parent’s right to decline vaccinations, as already stated, they are not obligatory. Is it now a crime to alter diet to find the best one for someone with gastric problems? Or to give vitamins and supplements? I think not! Clearly, the supplements being given were recommended by hospitals also: By this point, according to a list prepared by E and A, the range of biomedical interventions being supplied to M included a probiotic, six vitamin supplements, four mineral supplements, five trace elements, fatty acids, amino acids, enzymes and a range of homeopathic remedies. E and A said that this combination had been arrived at through the advice of the gastroenterology department of the Royal Free Hospital, the Autism Research Unit at Sunderland University, the Autism Treatment Trust in Scotland and a privately funded naturopath.”  How does this translate as snake-oil salesmen or the actions of an unbalanced mother (quite apart from the fact that vitamins and supplements are every day items – not abuse!)?

The parents asserted, as is their right to do: “The medical profession does little to recognise the chronic medical disease that autism truly is … It is for this reason that we have consistently adopted a biochemical intervention approach and engaged a variety of privately funded specialists, all of whom have made a tremendous difference to the improvement to M’s quality of life and proven that autism is a treatable medical condition. Due to the constant rejection and dismissal of our conviction that we have continually faced, we have chosen only to tap into the NHS for diagnosis of secondary medical complications of a more general nature, local dietary advice and, where specialist expertise was available, in the form of Dr Andrew Wakefield.”  Does this sound like neglectful and abusive parents? No, it sounds like parents with their own views who are perfectly entitled to have them and views which are shared by thousands of others in the autism community. They have been vilified for not conforming to the tick-box mentality that the state would have them do.

I see parents who tried their hardest for their child, planned for his future in the face of obstructiveness from the state – as many parents of autistic children find they have to do, tried to get things right for their son and wanted everything to be the best for him. The Government claims that parents are experts in their own children – clearly that only applies so long as the parents are in full agreement with the state.

Does this sound like a neglectful or abusive parent?  E made a series of complaints about the standard of care given to M, including that he suffered repeated episodes of ringworm, other fungal infections, conjunctivitis and ear infections, including a burst eardrum. As a result, E spent three weeks staying in a nearby hotel to provide support for M.”  No, it sounds like a parent wanting the best for their disabled child.

A dentist claims E was informed of the presence of an abscess but there was nothing in writing to E to say that this is so, only the dentist’s personal record (which as E points out could have been altered for the reason of fear over liability). Where is the controversy? Isn’t a courtroom the place for only facts and evidence? If it’s unprovable it should be disallowed. E emailed the dentist the following dayIn an email dated the following day, E told Ms Haywood that “nothing has shown up on the x-ray, so I am told it is likely to be sinusitis causing teeth nerves to be on edge.”  so WHY did the dentist not challenge this at the time if she knew it to be an abscess and in requirement of urgent treatment? A GP prescribed antibiotics for the sinus problem E believed her son had: “…and was examined by another dentist at a surgery near to Z House. Nothing abnormal was detected, although the notes of this examination produced in the course of the hearing indicated that E requested that no x-rays be taken. When seen by the oral hygienist at the family dental surgery on 4th September 2012, no signs of an abscess were detected. It was said in evidence that a hygienist would not be in a position to make such a finding.”  So she has taken him for several appointments during this period, there is no watertight explanation as to why she (purportedly) requested another x-ray was not given, but we know that too many x-rays are ill-advised due to radiation exposure and perhaps she had trusted what the previous dentist had told her and the interpretation of the previous x-ray results, as she understood them.  Would a mother knowingly covering up the abscess take their child for further appointments?  So you are accusing her of leaving her son in pain for 14 months, when she had been the one taking him for the check-ups and the dentist didn’t follow up when E put in writing she had been told it was sinusitis?

E also sent an email to Ms Haywood (the naturopath) saying: “This would not only explain the excruciating pain that [M] has experienced, and possibly on/off since October 2011 … that would have been horrendous for [M] to have had to cope with over the last year and just unbearable without intravenous pain relief.”   So clearly it was not her fault the delays happened and she had ensured he had regular pain relief whilst stating all the while that she knew something was wrong, yet lack of action by the dentist is blamed on E.

“It was at this meeting that the chief executive of X College – MH – first suggested that E’s behaviour was akin to “Munchausen by proxy.”   So a very rare psychiatric disorder, that is disputed [link] to exist by some experts, is “diagnosed” by an admin manager!

E seemed agitated and told the social workers that she had been giving M a hand and foot massage, although the social workers saw no signs of this on M.”  Is this for real? Who has “signs” of having had their hands and feet massaged and why is this some sort of indication of negative parenting!  E told them that they should not have visited; they should have made an appointment.”  This, along with many of the other comments, about her monologuing etc., to me says that she has Asperger’s syndrome straight away, in view of her general parenting style as well (dedicated and tenacious). So tell me how court psychiatrists instead found her to have personality disorders? This is shocking and clear evidence of high-functioning female presentation of ASC yet again being misunderstood.  The Equality Act 2010 states that reasonable adjustments must be made by all public bodies for people with ASC (or mental health issues), a reasonable adjustment in this case would have been not to misjudge her for her communication style!

No examination or assessment should be carried out without permission by his new GP.”  GPs are known to be autism ignorant, hence the RCGP has instigated plans [link] to address this precisely because it is a problem and many parents of autistic children as well as autistic adults struggle to even get referrals for ASC assessment, let-alone any co-morbid condition or health issues. Studies have shown that adults with ASC struggle to get health problems recognised and treated [link].  They are also called general practitioners for a reason.  Autistic people often struggle to identify problems with their own body and emotions, struggle to go to see their GP because of feeling intimidated or struggling to communicate and sometimes need a parent or someone who knows them very well to accompany them and help them to communicate with the GP.  Without this, their health needs can suffer.  So how this action will benefit M is highly doubtful and it is likely to in fact hinder him.

E stated that she is a very precise individual and passed on the information in a way that ensured clarity.” Another sign that she has Asperger’s.

“At the outset I was told by E that she had problems with communications attributable to a long-standing neurological condition.”  She may have all the symptoms of the condition and not been officially assessed or diagnosed, but be self-diagnosed, that doesn’t make her a liar. What she feels is down to a neurological condition is easily down to ASC.  Literalness is another sign of Asperger’s so she could have read the symptoms and decided it fit herself.  A liar is someone who knows something to be untrue but they say it anyway.

I found it difficult during the hearing to keep E on the point when she was cross-examining witnesses.”  Again, sounding like Asperger’s and it sounds as if his honour is suffering confirmation bias, because he didn’t understand E’s presentation, it was easy to build a picture against her along with the failure in understanding of the other parties and this has gone against her in a very discriminatory way.

“It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence, and not on suspicion or speculation.”  I don’t believe that court is the place for inferences – that is assumption based on what it looks like (due to majority bias), but what it looks like isn’t always what it is!

“Eighth, it is not uncommon for witnesses in these cases to tell lies, both before and during the hearing. The court must be careful to bear in mind that a witness may lie for many reasons – such as shame, misplaced loyalty, panic, fear and distress – and the fact that a witness has lied about some matters does not mean that he or she has lied about everything – see R v. Lucas [1981] QB 720.”  This also applies to witnesses from the LA, clinicians etc. as many parents know!

…during the hearing I had the clear sense that she was relishing the opportunity to put across her case about which she plainly feels very strongly.” Again, another Asperger’s trait.

I have no doubts that E adores her son and her daughter, and that she has devoted much of her life to her children and, in particular, to getting the most that can be achieved for her son. Her devotion is not, however, selfless. On more than one occasion she said that this was case was about her and, although she was quick to retract that comment, when I pointed out that it was actually about M, there was no doubt that she felt she was the main focus of the inquiry. She was the centre of attention and, in my judgment, at times obviously enjoying the experience.”  It was about her too – it was about removing her parental rights, her rights to continue caring for the son she raised for 24 years and this is part of what directly affects her son! “enjoying the experience?” that is a subjective and biased comment which has no place in court.

It was E’s case that she had suffered from a neurological condition – vestibular neuritis …In her oral evidence she had no difficulty apparently recalling detailed events from many years ago. I have already observed that she showed no difficulty in communicating. Mr Bagchi submits that her suggestion that she had a memory problem was just a crude cover story to avoid criticism for her secret recordings. I agree.”  If E has Asperger’s, then his honour has a lot to understand about ASC communication. Someone can be very high-functioning and verbally superior even, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have deficits in communication, problems with working memory, difficulty focusing during verbal communication etc.

E used a number of tactics to avoid answering questions and ensure that the interview was focused on materials she considered important, including talking a great deal and without allowing interruption, providing emotive impressions which lacked concrete detail, and jumping from one topic to another. Dr Beck reported that she felt on occasion as if E had embarked on a monologue and she found that she had to be very firm and to interrupt her, and when she did interrupt her, E sometimes apologised and at other times protested, but invariably continued talking about whatever she wanted to talk about, without apparently being influenced by Dr Beck’s interruption. Dr Beck had the impression that E was keen to control the interview and that, if she reflected on this with her, E’s apologies were not genuine and she did not generally change her behaviour as a result.”  Yet again, hyperfocus is an Asperger’s trait, difficulty focusing during verbal communication is again, as is monologuing and digressing from the original point due to inserting much detail.

I can well understand why his family feel so strongly about him and want to do whatever they can to ensure that he gets the most out of life.”  And yet you will allow psychiatrists who likely have no understanding of ASC to brand her as having personality disorders, and claim she is a risk to him because she doesn’t fit into the LA tick-box?

“Dr Carpenter observed that most of the dietary and nutritional therapies given to M are ones that he has experienced with other patients over the years. He has not objected to them being used in most cases. He also observes that E appears to have normally sought professional help when using therapies; that she has not devised treatment protocols without advice.”  Yet you still made it a problem.

“Dr Carpenter also criticises E for failing to question the reason and purpose of any of the therapies or interventions used or seek unbiased evidence about their effectiveness.”  Yet conversely, patients are not expected to question medical treatments, which many times turn out to have bad side-effects and in some cases be the wrong treatment?  This is also very contradictory considering she is accused of being over-controlling, this is an instance where she has accepted what she was told by several practitioners and tried to assist her son based on their directions, not her own, so she wasn’t the one controlling the direction of treatments.  It is also claimed her son had 6 hours per day of oxygen treatment, how can this be possible if he was living in homes and attending college as well as having access to enriching activities?  Even if it went on while he was still at home, who is to say it didn’t happen while he was relaxing in the evenings?

It is the quantity and intensity of the supplements given to M that causes concern for Dr Carpenter rather than any single supplement.”  Really? So what if it was traditional medication that needed taking to the same degree? Double standards.

“The concern about the insistence of the diet in this case was, therefore, not so much about the use of the diet per se, (which is plainly not uncommon amongst people with autism, notwithstanding the clear view expressed in the NICE guidelines), but, rather, the fabricated diagnosis which led to the diet being imposed.”  Assumptions have led to the view that the diagnosis was fabricated. At worst, she could be considered highly tenacious and naïve, with a very direct communication style (none of which equal abuse) and at best, no different than many other devoted autism mothers out there – do they all have FII?

“Dr Carpenter notes, however, that most of the supplements appeared to have no known toxic overdose limit.”  Yet still, because you decided she lied about his conditions, this is problematic.

“By and large, it is the sheer range and number of the treatments and their indiscriminate use on an incapacitated person that gives rise to concern, rather than the risk of any harm befalling the individual.”  So it’s now a crime to have someone take a bunch of vitamins every day?

Regarding the assertion ofneurodevelopmental dysautonomia” not being in any recognised diagnostic manual, have a look here at familial dysautonomia which is a neurodevelopmental condition – for microscopic semantics you have branded her a liar again: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14981733

M’s life was increasingly dominated by the programme of treatment to the exclusion of other activities.”  Are you sure? How is it then, that you describe his home life thus, in total contradiction of yourself:

I do not doubt the devotion which E and A feel for their son. In some ways his life at home was far richer than could possibly be achieved in any care setting. The range of activities arranged for him was plainly very stimulating and beneficial.”  So clearly the LA didn’t want to enrich his life the way his parents did and this is where the disputes have arisen, which therefore makes it look rather correct that as E said, they wanted to decide what to fund, to have control over it all. She is not the only person to take this view in the same situation.

Without exception, I accept the evidence of the social workers and care staff. Where their evidence conflicts with that given by E, I prefer their evidence and reject that given by E, and indeed A.”  Very unfair and biased judgement and a very slippery slope for human rights, justice and balance.  M’s loving and dedicated father is viewed as an “enabler” in much the same way as someone enabling a drug user.  His support of his wife is used as a criticism against him instead of a testament to her doing the right thing.  This is just appalling.  It is a classic example of the blame culture that exists in the state today.

Mr McKinstrie identifies several advantages of a return home. First, M clearly has a longstanding affectionate relationship with his parents and sister and they continue to be important people in his life. Furthermore, each is committed to M and in supporting him in what they consider to be his best interests.”  Yet still, you decided that purely on the basis of what are highly likely Asperger’s traits in the mother, which means she thinks somewhat differently and is hyperfocused on giving her son the best, because neither his honour nor the professionals understood this, you have branded her with at least two personality disorders she most likely does not have, and have decided that M must fit in with what the LA want and his own mother is a danger to him? The worst she could be accused of is being overzealous, but clearly has been well-meaning.  This is no reason at all to come between a mother and her son, bearing in mind he is stated to lack capacity, why would you deem her perfectly legal preferences as abuse or damaging?  Not knowing whether he would choose those preferences for himself does not mean it’s correct to assume that he wouldn’t.  Since when has failure to communicate well with professionals been a crime?  Where do you draw the line?  Are parents going to have rights removed for religious or cultural reasons?  For being vegetarians?  For parents who are on the autistic spectrum who also have autistic children needing support, this judgement is tantamount to being completely discriminatory against their specific style of communication.  This whole judgement is a farce and is a dark day for many out there, who have open-minds and don’t fit neatly into the boxes this nanny state would love to have everyone in and don’t blindly consider what the establishment says to be always correct.

Final note – his honour says:

“I merely observe that, if the parents’ assertion about conspiracies is correct, it would amount to gross misfeasance in public office and the biggest scandal in public care and social care in modern times.”

And that means that it can’t be so?  Absolutely not!  There have been multiple cases in the media of public organisations covering up, lying, withholding evidence and huge scandals – the very fact that the term ‘misfeasance in public office’ exists at all, proves that it happens.  I didn’t expect judges to be using straw man arguments or paradoxical statements.  The state is most certainly not above error as this judgement shows, nor corruption, as many have experienced.