Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Daniel Pelka: pre-judging the issue?

I was interested to read the recently reported comments of Coventry South MP, Jim Cunningham, concerning Daniel Pelka.  Mr Cunningham is sponsoring an Early Day Motion in Parliament on the tragedy.

The BBC quotes him as saying that a national debate should take place into ways to improve child protection practices and that we urgently need to look into ways of improving information sharing between agencies. 

It seems Mr Cunningham has already reached his conclusions before having the debate!

To be fair I don’t know exactly what he has in mind in making his comments, but I hope he is not alluding to some of the diabolical ideas on ‘information sharing’ that arose ten years or so ago from the Every Child Matters agenda.   

The idea of tracking every child in the country on a computer system (ContactPoint) was one bizarre Orwellian idea that arose (see former Children's Minister Tim Loughton's comment in the Guardian)  Others included elaborate ‘information sharing protocols’ between agencies, facilitating the exchange of data about families and children between health, local authorities, the police and a host of other agencies.

I do not think that amassing data about families and children is an effective means of protecting children from abuse and neglect. Databases and surveillance systems may be of value to the security services (as they were to the Stasi) but they are no substitute for being attentive to children’s needs, seeing things from their perspectives and hearing what they say. Having lots of information will never compensate for not being adept in recognising child abuse and neglect and knowing what to do next.

Good situation awareness and effective decision-making do not come from having all the data. They come from making the best possible use of the available relevant data.  Sadly it is all too easy to make a poor decision and then to amass more information that appears to support it.

We don’t want undifferentiated ‘information sharing’ – what we want are better decisions resulting in more children being protected.