Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Home Education, Changes Afoot?
It seems to have taken a while for the Department of Education, Ofsted and others to appreciate that rising numbers of children being home educated is one indication that a significant number of schools are excluding – both formally and informally – children who require adaptations or more support than the school is prepared to make/can provide. This 2017 Ofsted and Care Quality Commission report Local area SEND inspections: one year on makes for very depressing reading on that front.
The Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield has also recently raised concerns that a number of schools are forcing or "encouraging" children with behavioural issues to leave school. She has produced a briefing paper about this. Falling through the Gaps in Education
Sometimes what is needed is more money and sometimes it is about changing the values and culture within the (specialist) school to be more welcoming of children who have learning disabilities and/or autism and/or behaviour that the school finds challenging.
“There can be a vicious circle occurring within the ASD (autistic) cohort. A poor provider triggers challenging behaviour or physical meltdowns (or fails to prevent such events), often exacerbating this with their reactions e.g. restraint, punishment or confinement. Good providers in whose care this behaviour may not have occurred will now not accept the child due to their history and pattern of risk. Therefore, the child is placed in a more restrictive or secure setting which can result in a worsening situation. Eventually, the child reaches a secure NHS setting which often is wholly inappropriate for their ASD needs. In different circumstances, a good specialist day placement could have worked for this child”.
In this context, a significant number of parents, after battling for years to get a child’s needs recognized and then then met in a school setting, while watching their child’s anxiety increase to the point that they develop extremely poor mental health, may then consider any and all alternatives including home education. It is a daunting prospect for many. Most of us would find it difficult to teach the national curriculum in one subject, never mind all, however some parents see no viable alternative but to take this route for the sake of their child if even for a year or two while they work towards getting a suitable package of support for the child in a school setting. Home education is also likely to involve loss of a household income or a career change. There are also parents who home school by choice.
The death of a home schooled child in December 2011, Dylan Seabridge, raised questions about whether existing safeguarding mechanisms are sufficient for children who are home educated. A review was commissioned by the National Independent Safeguarding Board of Wales in February 2017 to explore possible risks in relation to safeguarding, health and well-being for children and young people who are educated at home.
I’ve extracted sections from this report below because it helpfully analyses the current context and makes recommendations for change. Many of these I think would be very welcome to parents of children with SEN-D particularly those recommendations that place a duty on services to take steps to understand and meet a child's needs and following on from this, propose and facilitate alternatives to home schooling.
Review of existing evidence
Only a small proportion of children are home educated –perhaps 2-3,000 in Wales (there is no register) There are signs that the numbers have doubled over the last 6 years. Home educated children are a diverse group, including those whose parents choose home education from birth and a larger group who leave school. Often the reasons for children leaving school include bullying, additional needs or a child having other problems at school. Home educated children tend to have poorer access to both universal and specialist services that are provided for children in school.
Serious Case Reviews and Child Practice Reviews: Home education was identified as a feature in 11 Serious Case Reviews and Child Practice Reviews These broke down into two types of case:
“Withdrawers” in four families home education was part of a withdrawal from services following the identification of concerns. There was evidence that professionals failed to respond to this sufficiently robustly. “Avoiders” in seven families home education was part of a strategy by parents that prevented, limited or controlled professional contact with children. This seemed to be associated with controlling and apparently eccentric parents, several of whom may have had undiagnosed mental health problems.
Where children are maltreated it can be more difficult for this to be identified if a parent wishes to limit access to a child, and home education can and did contribute to that in the serious cases under review. Parents who are abusing or neglecting their children can, do and have used home education as one of the ways of limiting professional contact and therefore protection.
Recommendation 1: A significantly enhanced support service for home educated children. A Clear duties for local authorities to support the education and well-being of children who are home educated. B The Welsh Government and local authorities should ensure that funds are available to deliver this duty to support home educated children, for instance by providing a proportion of the per-pupil funding that is provided for school educated children. C This support service should be delivered by professionals who understand the particular needs and circumstances of home educated children and their families. D Such support to be developed in partnership with the local home education community as consistent with principles of co-production. E. The proposed home education support service should fund the sitting of examinations as a right for each child in Wales not only those in school. F Where children leave the school roll the family should have access to an independent assessment of their child’s educational needs. This assessment would identify whether reasonable steps could be taken by education services to ensure the child remains in school and/or the support needed for the child to be educated at home. G Schools should be encouraged to be creative in addressing the needs of children who might become home educated where this is not a positive choice by parents, and in particular explore shared educational options. Inspection of schools and evaluation of attendance figures would need to recognise this as a valid option for some children, for instance by excluding them from attendance measures. H Where a child is withdrawn from school and home educated the school and other professionals should assess whether this change might give rise to care and support needs or pose a risk to the well-being or safety of the child. If this is the case a referral to social services should be made.
Recommendation 2: Clearer assessment of the needs and wellbeing of home educated children A. There should be a register of home educated children in a similar way to the school register. B. A more holistic assessment of the well-being and education of children educated at home should be undertaken at regular intervals. Such assessments would focus on ensuring that the child is thriving, their education is adequate and would help provide and plan for appropriate support services. C Such assessments should involve children, as appropriate for age and ability. They should also take place in the child’s home as their place of education. D. A key decision is whether registration and/or cooperating with assessment should be a legal expectation on parents. Making registration and assessment compulsory would create high levels of resistance from a significant proportion of home educating parents. Yet, a voluntary scheme would be unlikely to have protected Dylan Seabridge or other children known to have suffered serious abuse or neglect whilst home educated. We therefore recommend that registration and regular assessment should be legal expectations for parents choosing to home educate.
Recommendation 3: An improved response to children where actual or suspected harm is identified and the child is or becomes home educated. Home education is not a risk factor for child abuse or neglect. However, where there are concerns for a child’s safety or wellbeing home education significantly reduces professional access and child safety monitoring opportunities. Responses to any risk of abuse or neglect identified about a home educated child need to take seriously this reduced level of scrutiny. A. Failure to educate a child may harm their wellbeing and can in itself be a form of neglect. If there are grounds to believe a child is not receiving education, this should result in a referral to social services, either for an assessment of any care and support needs the child and family might have, or, where the level of risk is higher, as a child at risk of neglect. B . Where actual or suspected abuse or neglect has led to a child being allocated either as a child in need of care and support or on the Child Protection Register, and that child is or becomes home educated, the plan should include as appropriate. C Where actual or suspected abuse and neglect is identified professionals should assess whether home education appears to be an attempt to avoid professional scrutiny. Where there is evidence that this is the case it increases the risk of harm to the child. Appropriate legal action and statutory safeguarding procedures should be used to ensure the child is safe. D Where home education is considered to increase risks to a child, professionals should be aware that education legislation will not provide protection. The safeguarding provisions of the Children Act 1989 need to be used as appropriate for the child and their circumstances. E Each local authority should have a named individual with responsibility and expertise in relation to home education and safeguarding. This individual should provide advice and consultancy for the relatively small number of families where home education and safeguarding issues arise.
Recommendation 4: We recommend that Estyn ( the education and training inspectorate for Wales ) be given a duty to inspect the adequacy of local authority provision to support and assess home education. Such inspections would need to include educational and social care expertise and knowledge of good practice in home education. This should include designing criteria for inspection that do not take a negative approach to flexi-schooling arrangements. Such inspections should also consider the adequacy of support and safeguarding for home educated children within each authority.
Home education is not a reason in and of itself to consider a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. However, where a child is ‘hidden’, intentionally or not, from services (i.e. there is no engagement with education, health services, or other statutory agencies) it seems unclear how the State is able to fulfil its obligations under Article 19 the UNCRC (Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them.)
Parents who home educate may be very alienated. They and their children may become ‘invisible’ by choice or because services are not configured to meet their needs and they find an alternative way to meet their child's needs.
Our duties as a society to support, protect and ensure the education of children do not end if they are home educated. The state (some elements of safeguarding continue to be affected by legislation and policy from both the National Assembly for Wales and the UK Parliament) is not currently supporting home educated children or their families. Equally, we can have no confidence that the minority of children educated at home who are being abused or neglected are being identified or protected.