On November 15th 2004, The Children’s Bill 2004 received the Royal Assent and became the Children’s Act 2004, having passed its third reading in the House of Lords by a mere 12 votes.
Reading what the DfES has to say about this Act it would seem benign enough –
The overall aim is to encourage integrated planning, commissioning and delivery of services as well as improve multi-disciplinary working, remove duplication, increase accountability and improve the coordination of individual and joint inspections in local authorities. The legislation is enabling rather than prescriptive and provides local authorities with a considerable amount of flexibility in the way they implement its provisions.
However, while mooching around the Information Commissoner’s website this morning – I was actually looking for his paper on the ID Cards Bill, but with no joy – I came across this ‘Memorandum to the Education and Skills Select Committee’ which proves, to my mind conclusively, that not only could function creep extend the use of the National Identity Register into areas which the Goverment has yet to reveal publicly, but that function creep will happen – and has already been planned for – and that provisions are already in place for new database systems which will ultimately be linked back to the National Identity Register.
What, you might think, has an Act which is supposed to improve children’s services, got to do with the National Identity Register?
Well, this –
In September 2003 the Green Paper Every Child Matters put forward Government proposals for local authorities to set up and maintain databases covering all children living in the local authority area. These databases were to contain basic identification and contact details for the child and their carers, contacts with the universal services of education and health, and contacts with other child care professionals who were dealing professionally with the child. It was also proposed that child care professionals would be able to put on an individual child’s record flags indicating that they had concerns about that child.
You’ll note that this proposal covers ALL CHILDREN, not just those about whom their may be good reason for official concern within Social Services, Schools or the NHS.
So what information will this new and largely unpublicised ‘universal’ Children’s Register contain?
Well, the current list is as follows…
a. Name, address and date of birth
b. An identification number
c. Name and contact details of anyone with parental responsibility or who has care of him at any time
d. Details of any education being received by him including the name and contact details of any educational establishment attended by him
e. The name and contact details of any person providing primary medical services
f. The name and contact details of any person providing him with services of such description as may be described in regulations
g. Information as to the existence of any cause for concern in relation to him
h. Information of such description as the SoS may specify by regulations.
Notice the similarities between this and the National Identity Register? Not only does it contain the minimum basic information necessary to generate a basic entry on the National Identity Register – in other words the ability to automatically register children once they turn 16 – but it also allows for the extension of ths information it holds by regulation, i.e. statutory instrument and on the authority of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills.
Moreover, one can see from the outset how this database may be linked to the NIR. Each child will have an identification number – which could be added to the NIR entry for their parent(s) or guardian(s), again on a regulatory extension to the Register made by statutory instrument.
Alternatively, such an obvious and overt linkage between the two registers may not be necessary as in allowing for the recording of “Name and contact details of anyone with parental responsibility or who has care of him at any time” it logically follows that such details – in the name of accuracy – will include the National Identity Registration Number of each individual recorded on the children’s register as a ‘carer’ – not just parents or guardians, but also childminders, teachers and who knows who else? This loose definition – ‘who has care of him at any time’ – could hypothetically encompass any family member who looks after your child in addition to a whole host of other people as well. What if your child attends a local scout group, sports club, playgroup or other out of school club or activity? Would all the people involved in ‘caring’ for you child while they attend those activities also need to be registered?
So what is stated purpose of this register, its justification and raison d’etre?
Well, in the Act itself, its purpose is loosely defined as being to “promote cooperation to improve wellbeing and to ensure that arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare are in place” – all very laudable.
Since then, this has been refined by the DfES into the following three purposes –
To help practitioners quickly identify a child they have contact with, and to check whether that child is getting the universal services (education, primary health care) to which she or he is entitled;
To enable earlier identification of needs and earlier and more effective action to address them by providing a tool for practitioners to identify who else is involved with or has a concern about a child; and
To be an important tool to encourage better communication and closer working between different professionals and practitioners.
If we ignore the utter banality of the final stated purpose, which is less a purpose and more ‘stating the bleeding obvious’, then what we’re left with is, at its heart, a surveillance system which will monitor children – all children – irrespective of whether there is any good or valid reason to monitor them or not.
The Government’s justification for this is nothing more than…
“the universality of the databases was necessary because it was not possible to predict which of the 11 million children up to the age of 18 would need additional services. The Department cite the figure of 3 to 4 million children as being vulnerable, that is in having needs for additional services, at some time in their lives. In addition it was suggested that universality was required because all children have a right to universal services of education and health, and the databases would allow children not receiving those services to do so.”
In other words – “We need to watch them all on the off-chance they might need help at some point”.
This, as should be patently obvious, is about as nannying a justification as it is humanly possible to put forward and effectively a statement that the State does not trust parents to bring their kids up properly and therefore needs to watch over them all the time and at every stage in their development.
As you might expect, the Children’s Registers gives rise to many of the same concerns that are relevant to the National Identity Register, these having been identified by, amongst others, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Select Committee, and are outlined by the Information Commissioner as follows –
a. compliance with the ECHR,
b. the administrative burden from having to capture information on all children and the resources required to follow up concerns,
c. the cause for concern indicator and the danger of a “tick box