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Safeguarding panel calls for register of children who are electively home educated

A new report by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel analyses 27 serious safeguarding incidents involving children who were being electively home-educated.

16/05/24

Safeguarding panel calls for register of children who are electively home educated

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has published a briefing paper about children who were subject to abuse and neglect, and whose parents had chosen to educate them at home, prompting calls for a statutory register of all choosing this option.

The report looks at 27 serious safeguarding incidents that occurred between August 2020 and October 2021. The 41 children at the heart of this analysis were subjected to horrific abuse, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. Six of the children died as a result, including three who tragically took their own lives.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, an independent body that was set up to identify, commission and oversee reviews of serious child safeguarding cases, brings together experts from social care, policing, education, health and the third sector to provide a multi-agency view on cases which they believe raise issues that are complex, or of national importance.

While the Panel is clear that home education is not, in and of itself, a safeguarding risk, the findings show that vulnerable children who were the focus of safeguarding reviews were less visible to safeguarding agencies than those who attend school.

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel Chair, Annie Hudson said it is crucial that, where children are at risk of harm, they are afforded the very best protection.

“Our analysis looks at the lives of 41 children who were subjected to horrific, and sometimes fatal, abuse while they were being electively home educated. It seeks to raise awareness and understanding of the risk of harm factors so professionals can better provide children at risk with the help and protection they need.

“Our findings show that children who are educated at home and where there is a risk of abuse and neglect, may not be visible to safeguarding agencies and cannot access the potential protective benefits that school may provide.”

As a result of the findings, the Panel is joining calls for a statutory register of children who are electively home educated so, when children are at risk of harm, safeguarding agencies are better able to protect them.

“It is also vital that all professionals who work with children, including social workers, GPs and other health professionals who may come into contact with a child when they are ill, take appropriate actions if they have concerns about their welfare,” Ms Hudson continued.

There is currently no legal obligation for a parent to register or inform a local authority that their child is being educated at home, although some local authorities operate voluntary registration schemes. Therefore, the Panel is joining calls for a National Register of children who are being electively home educated, alongside ADCS, Ofsted and the Education Committee.

“Whilst a register in and of itself will not keep children safe, it will help to establish exactly how many children are being educated other than at school and assist with the identification of children who may be vulnerable to harm,” Heather Sandy, Chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Education Policy Committee said, adding: “We urge government to avoid further delay and establish a national register at the earliest possible opportunity.”

“Education is a fundamental right for all children and we recognise that parents have the right to educate their children at home. However, local authorities must be given the powers to match their responsibilities to assure themselves that children are safe and receiving a good education. This must also be met with adequate funding to allow us to carry out our statutory duties.”

The Panel is also calling for government to increase and clarify the scope and responsibilities of local authorities, including through the establishment of a national register and strengthened guidance, to ensure that there is knowledge about which children are being electively home educated.

Over half of the children in this study were previously known to children’s social care. The findings from safeguarding reviews indicate that when children are withdrawn from school and there are already known family stressors or safeguarding concerns, practitioners should be mindful that the decision to electively home educate could contribute to future harm not being identified, recognised, and followed up by statutory agencies.

Children's Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, joined the calls saying no child with a social worker whose home is a risk to their safety should be allowed to be home educated.

“Home education is not itself a safeguarding risk. The majority of parents choosing to home educate do so with the best of intentions, often when they feel they have no other choice, as a last resort, because their child’s needs are not adequately supported in school.

“The risk comes when particularly vulnerable groups of children are overly represented among those missing school, groups whose wellbeing I am increasingly concerned about. This report demonstrates the sharp end of that risk in stark detail.

“My own research shows that 2.7% of looked after children are not in school – there is no excuse for this. No child with a social worker whose home is a risk to their safety should be allowed to be home-educated. Being in school acts as an additional protective measure, helping them build positive, stable relationships with staff and to be seen regularly by safeguarding professionals.

“I have long called for a register of children who are not attending school, alongside a unique identifying number, so that we can assure ourselves we are doing everything possible to avoid the kinds of tragedies born out in this report.”

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