June 26, 2006

Why not keep track of whether every child in the country is eating enough vegetables?

That's what they mean to do in England and Wales. In fact, the new database will track all sorts of "concerns" and developmental targets, with doctors, teachers, and police compelled to submit information and investigations triggered by various warning signals:
Child care academics, practitioners and policy experts attending a conference at the London School of Economics will express concern about how the system will work.

Dr Eileen Munro, of the LSE, said that if a child caused concern by failing to make progress towards state targets, detailed information would be gathered. That would include subjective judgments such as "Is the parent providing a positive role model?", as well as sensitive information such as a parent's mental health.

"They include consuming five portions of fruit and veg a day, which I am baffled how they will measure," she said. "The country is moving from 'parents are free to bring children up as they think best as long as they are not abusive or neglectful' to a more coercive 'parents must bring children up to conform to the state's views of what is best'."
I'm sure they mean well, and I'm sure many parents really can't be trusted with their own children, and it's terrible for a child to be isolated in a home that falls short of minimal standards. In fact, the whole idea of children being left in the care of the individuals who happen to have them is quite disturbing. But this cure is so invasive and oppressive. Imagine having to fret about the government's rules every time you feed your kids. Imagine not having any creative role in thinking about how to bring up your children. In your intimate family life, you'd feel like an employee of the state. To have a child would be like accepting a permanent job working for the government. And to be a child! When your parents tell you eat your vegetables, your parents will be begging you to eat your vegetables lest they become the subject of a government investigation. The child gains a powerful new weapon. I won't eat that broccoli! And you are in so much trouble, old man.

47 comments:

Pogo said...

We’re going down the same road. In 2003, Arkansas legislators mandated that public schools record the body mass index of each student, and send the results home with a warning and nutritional advice to parents.

In the past, “public health” referred primarily to communicable diseases. However, when taxes are paying everyone’s health bills, private behaviors such as smoking, overeating and using alcohol become everybody’s business. The declaration by the director of the NIH that obesity is a “public health emergency” has initiated these rules. BUT Virtually any activity could be viewed through the health care lens, and the state might deign to forbid, favor or penalize anything that might reasonably be seen as a matter of “public” health. For example, the demand for compliance in “public health measures” could reasonably require weigh-ins for the overweight or universal blood tests for drugs and tobacco.

If it is the duty of the government to prevent people from harming the body by what is ingested (e.g. tobacco, alcohol, high fat content), surely there can be no objection to the state limiting those activities that might also result in harm and public expense. Riding a motorcycle, skiing, rock climbing, and other high-risk activities become fair game.

Further, if the government demands the right to determine what the human body can or cannot consume, there is no good reason to limit its interest in the effects of media on behavior and the human mind. In order to reduce health costs and prevent harm to society, preventing people from reading bad books or advertisements, listening to bad music or speeches and watching bad TV shows, video games, or movies should quite reasonably fall under the purview of the state.

Senator Hillary Clinton echoes this intrusive mentality by discussing the concept of “our collective health”. Citing productivity losses, health expenses and national security, she endorses legislation and national policy governing social and environmental factors to design neighborhoods and schools, “control dangerous behaviors”, and implement “required responsibility” for individual health concerns.

Welcome to totalitarianism, the soft socialist way.

Michael Simpson said...

"In fact, the whole idea of children being left in the care of the individuals who happen to have them is quite disturbing."

How is that? What's the non-disturbing alternative?

Ann Althouse said...

Michael: Of course, there isn't one. The solution is worse than the problem.

Ricardo said...

This is going to have several immediate effects, aside from sparking endless "totalitarian state" arguments. First, it will regenerate the whole murky area of "ketchup as a vegetable" controversies, and what exactly IS a vegetable and a fruit, given the ability of corporations to destroy the health benefits of just about any food or beverage with enough genetic engineering and added fats and sugars and artificial sweeteners. Second, it will create a whole new industry designed to satisfy these targets with as little effort as possible, as in the rash of "five servings of vegetables and fruits in just two little capsules" claims that are already being presented by certain supplement manufacturers. Third, it will provide endless fodder and amusement for us commenters on the blogosphere.

Pogo said...

Re: sparking endless "totalitarian state" arguments

Ricardo, I wonder, why put scare quotes around that phrase?

Is the state requirement for parents to meet certain targets not totalitarian? Is it not concerning to you at all?

I am dismayed at the ease of shrugging off these incursions on individual freedom, and acting as if people who object are nuts to do so. Perhaps you meant otherwise, though.

Marghlar said...

Big Brother is watching you ... eat your vegetables.

In all seriousness, I sympathize with the state wanting to make sure kids get a decent diet. I've worked with a lot of kids whose caregivers left them undernourished, and it is a scary, unpleasant reality.

Probably, this proposal would not be highly invasive except in the case of kids who are failing to thrive -- a small fraction of the total population. It's a tough balance to draw, regarding when a child's apparent ill health should be cause for an investigation into possible parental misconduct. But you all should note that a school teacher in the US might be legally required to make a report to Child Protection Services in a similar situation, triggering a similar investigation. So this is not necessarily that different from the regime in which we live now -- the key factor that many are missing is that the triggering signs have to be pretty severe before the state gets involved.

Ann: do you really believe that such a solution is always worse than the problem? What would you propose to do for a child who shows up at school severely undernourished?

It seems like the only really different thing this involves is tracking this information at a national level, as opposed to the more local tracking that occurs in the US or in the UK right now. Such local tracking does suffer from a significant problem -- it often fails to track effectively parents who move frequently (sometimes in order to evade child services interventions).

Based on what I saw in the article, it does look like some aspects of the program bare cricism -- the broadly drafted signs of concern, for instance. But the larger goal of the program seems worthwhile, if carefully implemented. (I think it would be good to have very clear warning signs, and to require some supporting explanation of each one.)

I would also freely admit that I have worked with too many neglected children to be fully impartial on this issue. Malnourishment can be really scary. It can kill kids, or leave them permanently disabled or undersized. I'm willing to tolerate a little intrusiveness from the state to make sure that kids are being adequately fed.

Pogo said...

Re: I'm willing to tolerate a little intrusiveness from the state to make sure that...

And that is precisley the problem. Where does this end? Should you be required to submit to a monthly weigh-in to combat obesity? Why not, given the expense to the nation?

Ann Althouse said...

Marghlar: The solution that I said was worse than the problem was raising kids in some way other than leaving them with their parents. I think the state does need to figure out ways to protect children from abuse and neglect and that this does require some way to gather information and, at some point, to intervene. I don't think the British approach is too good though.

Ricardo said...

"Welcome to totalitarianism ...."

Pogo: I didn't mean my "totalitarian state" quote marks to be anything more than an accent. I didn't want to get into an argument with you over this, since your first post seemed interested in making a political issue (Hillary) out of this. My real belief is that BOTH political parties are interested in turning all 300 million of us into kinds of "wards of the state" where our personal liberties are more and more restricted. Since this is done incrementally and slowly, few notice the erosion as time goes on (restrictions on private property rights, and the massive collection of personal information on individuals are examples of this). You and I probably have a lot of common ground on this issue, when we get into the substance. On an issue like food and weight, I don't have a problem with "guidelines", but I have a lot of concern with "monitoring".

carla said...

It seems odd to me that there is screaming about government watching what kids eat....but in the name of "catching terrorists" folks will sit on their hands while the government listens in on phone conversations, reads emails and gathers banking records.

Marghlar said...

Ann: The solution that I said was worse than the problem was raising kids in some way other than leaving them with their parents.

This is fine to a point -- and I think that CPS is sometimes over quick to take custody -- but when a kid is getting horrifically abused by parents, the state does need to step in. There are cases where better resources given to the parents could help them do an adequate job, and in those cases, its probably better for the kid to just help the parents out. However, there are also plenty of kids who are locked in the closets of crackhouses, or eating out of the trash, or being violently abused while in diapers. While the foster care system sucks, it is the less bad alternative in such cases.

Marghlar said...

Those of you who are carping about this program:

Do you object to the state stepping in when the kid is in medical crisis because of undernourishment? That really happens, and it is sickening to see.

I understand this program as being focused on that goal. Maybe it isn't perfectly designed (I'd like to see a fair few changes), but the goal is surely laudable, no?

Jennifer said...

Marghlar - No, I doubt anyone objects to the state stepping in for the protection of abused children - including those who are severely malnourished.

But, I would scream bloody murder before I submitted to this type of government monitoring. I can see how quickly this could get ridiculous.

When my son was about 1 1/2, we saw a different pediatrician than his usual for one appointment. She flipped out that he doesn't drink milk and that he was low on the body weight percentile chart (even though he was tracking just fine at the same percentile he had always been at).

Suddenly, we found ourselves forced into a nutrition program - this is a military health program - where they were giving me ridiculous advice like withhold water (at the heat of summer) from him until he drinks milk. I ignored them completely, his regular doctor pleaded our case and we managed to escape the oversight.

BUT, arbitrary measures like this are what they will go by. God help you if your child is growing taller than he is wide for a certain period. God help you if your child prefers to get his calcium from other sources than milk.

SO, not only is the program an offensive concept, but the implementation will be hairy.

P. Froward said...

Issue number one is the fact that in the case that's being used as an excuse, the child was adequately monitored already under existing law. The social services people new there was a problem. They just didn't bother taking action.

This is legislation designed to give the appearance of doing something.


Marghlar, I agree that it's sickening for kids to be malnourished, but if a kid is genuinely malnourished, do his teachers really need data mining to find out about it?

And how, for the love of God, is this information going to be gathered? How do you plan to find out, in a reliable way, how many servings of vegetables kids are getting at home? You can find out what groceries the family is buying by keeping records at every store in the country and requiring SSN for purchase. The expense and the intrusion would beggar the imagination, and all you'd accomplish is SWAT raids on the homes of people who grow their own squash and tomatoes in the back yard. To fix that, we can have a program where you're required to register your home-grown tomatoes with the government, rather like Catholics in some countries getting food blessed on Easter (but better, because the FDA, unlike the BVM, can be proven to exist (more's the pity)). Now, you just have to find out who's eating the tomatoes. CCTV in the kitchen ought to do that. It'll be too expensive to wire every room in every house, so we'll just introduce harsh penalties for eating in front of the TV (tempting...!). And for eating with your back to the cameras, of course.

The problem with "zero tolerance" is that you never do reduce anything to zero. You just hit a point of diminishing returns where you spend more and more for less and less benefit, because you've already fixed all the easy cases. You cannot reach perfection. Insisting on it is crazy and destructive. Meanwhile, you're pouring all your resources into fixing malnutrition, and they start getting diptheria instead.

You can't just say that absolutely any imaginable price is worth it If It Saves the Life of Just One Child™. Where does it end? What are you not willing to criminalize? What rights are you not willing to sacrifice? How many millions of kids' lives are you willing to blight with endless regimentation just to cover your ass with regard to the few kids who will still, inevitably, die of malnutrition anyway?


"The goal is laudable"? No, the goal is to create the impression that New Labor Cares About Children. That's not notably laudable. Even if it were laudable, so what? I recall a guy whose goal was to rejuvenate German pride and fix the German economy. Can't get much more laudable than that. His methods were unsound, as it turns out, but surely we can appreciate that his heart was in the right place?

Ann Althouse said...

Marghlar: Of course, I agree that some children must be taken away from some parents. I was referring to the basic social plan that parents raise their own children.

Pogo said...

Re: "It seems odd to me that there is screaming about government watching what kids eat....but in the name of "catching terrorists" folks will sit on their hands while etc. etc."

Odd, unless you recall that the first and greatest function of any government is national defense. Child-raising doesn't appear on any lists of government duties, except for under communism, where control of the populace within was needed in equal degree to (or even more than) their external threats.

AJ Lynch said...

I was surpised that several on this blog view this govt-led program is reasonable, desirable and doable.

I submit a simple but voluntary public humiliation program would work as well.....you know just loudly mock fat people and refuse to serve them when they order junk food at places like DQ or fast-food stores.

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
reader_iam said...

On the one hand, you've got governments that think micro-managing vegetable-eating along the lines of what the original article addresses is good or practical idea.

(Jennifer and P. Froward cover the objections to this well; and no, I don't think you ignore severely malnourished children or that it's wrong for government to step in these cases.)

On the other, you have A.J. Lynch saying: submit a simple but voluntary public humiliation program would work as well.....you know just loudly mock fat people and refuse to serve them when they order junk food... .

What an increasingly shitty world we humans are envisioning.

Of course, I'm no better: I propose we loudly mock both government AND private efforts that are extreme, overreaching, and just plain repugnant.

Not to mention dumb.

P. Froward said...

Carla,

I would be relatively understanding about the government taking an interest in cases where people are getting their vegetables in the mail from Waziristan.

It is not crazy for the government to keep an eye on people who fund groups that we're at war with. There's a difference in scale between acts of war, and children not eating their vegetables. It's really not a very subtle distinction.

But I'm wasting my breath. There is nothing the United States can do to defend itself or pursue its own interests, that the left won't object to. These are the people who were apoplectic with rage when we killed Zarqawi.


Another point worth making w/r/t this law in the UK is that their law enforcement is so over-stretched that they're no longer prosecuting burglars and rapists for first offences. They do, however, have the resources to go after people who use racist language. Maybe if they add spinach enforcement to the mix they'll have to let murderers go free, too. If it saves even one life, it'll be worth it!

Marghlar said...

My understanding of the basics of this program is that it merely takes data that is already collected (teacher reports of alarming signs related to student health that could indicate abuse) and creates a database of them. Thus, if parent A travels from London to Leeds, and there is a second complaint about malnourishment, local authorites are better prepared to deal with it.

I doubt that this is really contemplating day-to-day monitoring of kids diets, or any such thing. That would be ridiculous and impossible. To the degree that it involves invasive monitoring of kids who aren't apparently at risk, I would oppose it.

But my reading of this is that it is primarily a way to centralize data that is already being collected. That seems useful, and not too invasive, to me.

But maybe I'm wrong, and it more closely resembles Jennifer's nightmarish involvement with military health care. If that was the case, I'd join all of you in condemning it. I think there is an abominably excessive amount of fuss directed at the minutia of child-rearing, in today's climate.

But if I'm right, and this program is primarily a way to identify and monitor kids who have had serious health problems that indicate abuse or neglect, then I'm all for it. My sense of the program is that is more resembles this than the Orwellian horror many of you seem to assume.

Marghlar said...

I was referring to the basic social plan that parents raise their own children.

Although I like Sparta as much as the next guy, I have to agree with you there. I just doubt that this program really involves tampering with that on any signficant scale.

Marghlar said...

Marghlar, I agree that it's sickening for kids to be malnourished, but if a kid is genuinely malnourished, do his teachers really need data mining to find out about it?

And how, for the love of God, is this information going to be gathered?


PF, like I said above, I think this program is mainly useful for tracking these cases as they move from place to place -- a real problem under a locally-administered monitoring system. Kids constantly fall off the child welfare grid as their parents move from state to state, often for the express purpose of evading monitoring.

As for how you identify the cases, I think it is primarily something that teachers already do -- looking for visible signs of abuse or negelct, including injuries, sores, really low energy, failure to thrive, etc. The more in-depth nutritional monitoring (as I read the article) only occurs after a warning sign has been identified and reported. That's pretty much how it already works in the U.S. -- all this would add is a national tracking system for such cases.

The article seems pretty slanted -- note that no quotes were included from the actual people behind the program, or from any supporters, until the last three paragraphs. I think it is just possible that a distorted impression of this is being conveyed. Note that the quotes from the actual people implementing the program tend to support my reading as to its scope, and purpose.

Pogo said...

Re: the quotes from the actual people implementing the program tend to support my reading as to its scope, and purpose

Of course it does. Supporters of the nanny state approach would be (1) expected to agree with such intrusiveness and (2) consider its intrusions minor.

But don't try to track terrorist financing. Well there you've just gone too far!!!

Marghlar said...

Pogo, why do you feel the need to go assuming my positions on every issue on the basis of one opinion? I haven't read closely into the bank surveillance program, but from what little I know about it, I am not bothered by it.

Do you really think there is no appropriate role for the government in protecting kids from abusive or neglectful parents? I'd find that somewhat disturbing.

Pogo said...

Re: Do you really think there is no appropriate role for the government in protecting kids from abusive or neglectful parents?

We misread each other, it appears.

To answer your question: Of course not. But this isn't about protecting children at all. It's about amassing power. The claim to protection of children is merely the excuse.

What you are witnessing is precisely what Orwell predicted for England, the soft expansive tyranny of state socialism, agreed to by its citizens, until eventually they become mere subjects. Over time, they'll never know a freer time, so they won't be able to tell it was ever any different.

Why use jackboots, when candy works just as well?

Marghlar said...

Pogo, what do you base those assumptions on? Why is creating a database of information the state already collects necessarily terrible? What evil use do you imagine it will be put to?

I wonder whether you are projecting your fears into this program, and seeing it as worse than it is. I'm no huge fan of oversized government, but tracking mistreated kids to make sure that they get the care they need seems pretty reasonable to me.

Pogo said...

Re: "What evil use do you imagine it will be put to?"

Robert Conquest once said that the primary fault of the West in missing the mass genocides of the 20th century occurring under collectivist regimes was their lack of imagination. Your lack of imagination is the thing I fear.

The government is a kudzu and should not be fed, fertilized or watered except sparingly. Accordingly, one should not give it any more information than is absolutely needed. The point is, if it does not have the information in the first place, it cannot come to the mischief that has afflicted other socialist nations before. Every. Single. Time.

Marghlar said...

Sorry, Pogo, count me unconvinced. I think government is useful for some functions, and shouldn't be mindlessly hacked away at until it cannot function. Nor do I see the lurking totalitarianism in what seems a reasonable project designed to keep kids safe from abusive parents. Unless you can identify some more concrete and plausible dangers of this program, I'm unlikely to join you in opposing it.

Pogo said...

Re: "Unless you can identify some more concrete and plausible dangers of this program, I'm unlikely to join you in opposing it."

And that is the crux of the difference between us. The conservative recognizes the necessity for limited government, something much expounded on by the Framers. Modern liberals, in contrast, see government as the primary tool for getting things done in the world.

Their lack of imagination is also present in limited approaches to improving social conditions like child abuse. They always seem to ignore (if aware of it at all) Henry Hazlitt's admonition that policymakers must look
"not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups "

Your inability to identify adverse outcomes here is what I find damning.

Marghlar said...

Your inability to identify adverse outcomes here is what I find damning.

What? So now it's my job to come up with reasons to support your position?

I asked you to provide some concrete reasons of your own. You've declined to do so. Since this program seems both sensible in purpose, and doesn't seem to have a strong obvious downside, I find little reason to disapprove.

Pogo said...

Re: "So now it's my job to come up with reasons to support your position?"

Sort of. More correctly, like advising a new medication, supporting a new policy requires that those in favor of its adoption identify potential adverse effects. Liberals never seem able to do so.

I think the downside to this scheme are obvious and large. Plus, I think your ideology prevents anticipating them. Moreover, it requires you to be dismissive of any complaints as a "slippery slope" argument. That these adverse effects have already occurred in other countries immersed in social control is always ignored, dismissed, or explained away. It's the liberal way, over and over and over again.

Pogo said...

P.S. My first post identified the long-term outcome of treading down this path.

In the shorter term, Ann's comment said it all: "To have a child would be like accepting a permanent job working for the government." But again, your mindset may find that a big plus. I beg to differ.

Marghlar said...

Ok, concrete suggestions of problems I can deal with:

My first post identified the long-term outcome of treading down this path.

In the shorter term, Ann's comment said it all: "To have a child would be like accepting a permanent job working for the government." But again, your mindset may find that a big plus. I beg to differ.


So, the long term thing is some sort of descent into totalitarian horror? I find that highly implausible, Pogo. For every society in which some amount of regulation has led to Orwellian nightmares, there are ten in which regulation is balanced with competition in freedom in ways beneficial to the society at large. You'll need to buttress your claim of causality quite a bit more before I would view this as a meaningful or plausible downside.

As to Ann's comment -- I think it involves a misreading of the program at issue. As I've repeatedly noted, this seems to be primarily a way for the state to track data it already collects on a local level, and it would only be initiated if kids show warning signs of abuse -- in which case a CPS investigation would already be initiated in the US under the present system. So I doubt that parents would find this any more intrusive than the existing regime -- unless they were serial child abusers/neglecters who move from state to state in an effort to evade child protective services.

Try again, with something more plausible. But don't criticize me for not listing reasons that undermine my position, when you yourself cannot put forth persuasive ones. Sometimes, the absence of a strong downside isn't a failure of inquiry, but rather, the absence of a strong downside.

reader_iam said...

So I doubt that parents would find this any more intrusive than the existing regime -- unless they were serial child abusers/neglecters who move from state to state in an effort to evade child protective services

Well, you've stated your assumption right there.

In fact, parents--with nothing to hide, by any reasonable standard--could find BOTH the existing regime intrusive, and this one more so.

..unless they were serial child abusers ...

This explains precisely< why you SHOULD be quizzed as to whether you are capable of understanding and offering counter-arguments to your own point of view. In fact, you should be held accountable as to whether you are, can and do.

As I've repeatedly noted, this seems to be primarily a way for the state to track data it already collects on a local level, and it would only be initiated if kids show warning signs of abuse -- in which case a CPS investigation would already be initiated in the US under the present system. So I doubt that parents would find this any more intrusive than the existing regime -- unless they were serial child abusers/neglecters who move from state to state in an effort to evade child protective services.

You can "repeatedly state" all you want, but you also need to address the FIRST part of that of paragraph. Oh, not just the part where you assume, as a course, that the information should be tracked, but whether you can understand what the objection to that assumption might be on the part of the vast majority of people who do not need or deserve to be tracked.

For one minute, step inside the mindset of the majority who are not "serial" or otherwise abusers. From that standpoint, YOU are the intruder. Which means YOU have to justify the intrusion. WE don't have to defend, or more precisely defend against, YOUR intrusion.

By golly, you wanna be an enforcer or propose more intrustion--and now I'm speaking generally--damn it, YOU DO have to be able to imagine and ponder and posit and even state the objections to your own position.

As should anyone who thinks they know better.

/end (pretty damn rare of-this-heat) rant.

Pogo said...

And I thank reader_iam for explaining more directly why the burden of proof is on Marghlar, not me.

But as I said, the blinders of ideology (here, on the left) are so effective as to create a mindset where individual liberty is not sacrosanct as outlined by the Framers of the Constitution. No, the left borrows from the extreme right here, making parents guilty unless they prove themselves innocent by agreeing to endless surveillance.

And Marghlar, more concerns about the adverse outcomes of this program were clearly voiced in the article. My argument is that the left doesn't know about these problems, or doesn't care. It simply wants to expand the power of the state. And that is what Orwell wrote about: the slow and accepted, even desired, tyranny of Western socialism.

Marghlar said...

Pogo and readeriam: what both of you seem to be missing is that there won't be any surveillance at all until children demonstrate signs of abuse. And the surveillance will be limited to tracking reports of those signs. That's it.

So if you're kids never show up at school strikingly underweight, you are probably never going to be tracked by this system, as I understand it. The only change that this program will work will be keeping kids from falling through the cracks of the child welfare system.

Would you ask the same of police in other situations where crimes were suspected? Would you wish to tie their hands so they can't keep track of reports of other crimes when the alleged perpetrators cross state lines? What if the child is being sexually abused (and it is frequently caregivers doing the abusing, by the way)?

You all seem to assume the absolute worst of the people who will operate this system.

Pogo said...

Marghlar, you are wrong. From the article:

Changes being introduced...include a £224 million database tracking all 12 million children in England and Wales from birth.

Doctors, schools and the police will have to alert the database to a wide range of "concerns". Two warning flags on a child's record could start an investigation.

There will also be a system of targets and performance indicators for children's development.

Dr Eileen Munro, of the LSE, said that if a child caused concern by failing to make progress towards state targets, detailed information would be gathered. That would include subjective judgments such as "Is the parent providing a positive role model?", as well as sensitive information such as a parent's mental health.


Not providing what the state feels is a positive role model is abuse?
Tracking ALL children is is a far, far cry from saying "there won't be any surveillance at all until children demonstrate signs of abuse". Now you're just being obtuse.

Pogo said...

From the Children Act 2004

"The Children's Commissioner is to be concerned in particular under this section with the views and interests of children so far as relating to the following aspects of their well-being-

(a) physical and mental health and emotional well-being;
(b) protection from harm and neglect;
(c) education, training and recreation;
(d) the contribution made by them to society;
(e) social and economic well-being.


Gee, how narrow their scope!
Somehow I cannot see this database being limited to investigations of suspected abuse. But maybe I'm just cynical.

Marghlar said...

Pogo,

As I read the Act, and the site I linked to (which provides much more detail about the intended scope of the program, from people who aren't just setting out to attack it), the "file" on each kid is just a tracking number. There will be nothing in any "file" unless the kid is reported as abused or neglected.

It is only then that things like nutritional targets start to come into play. For instance, if a child is severely malnourished, it makes sense for the state to monitor their diets while they return to normal bodyweight and health. Note that this is the less invasive alternative -- traditionally, malnourished kids would have been removed from the parents' custody straight-away.

I'm not obtuse, I just read the article differently from you, on the basis of my experience with actual child welfare cases. I know how the system (on our side of the pond, granted, but there are a lot of similarities) generally operates, which gives me more context to understand changes.

If you read less slanted writing on this subject (no quotes from anyone in favor until the last three paragraphs!) you might notice that it is viewed as changing only the way that data is tracked, not the amount of monitoring or intervention that takes place. It also seems designed to reform the way that child welfare offices are run, and to offer more resources to parents who are the subject of an intervention (which arises from a report of abuse or neglect).

I don't have time to do a really careful researching of this issue, but such a reading is far more consistent with everything I know about child welfare practice than the one you are putting forward. It would just be impossible for the state to collect as much data as you envision, nor would there be enough benefit to make it worthwhile.

I'd fully agree that if the program involved monitoring the diets of every kid in England, it would be ridiculous, overbroad and invasive. I just don't think that this program is like that, based on reading this article and other sources. Until I read a credible source that more explicitly lays out the scope of the program, I'm going to assume that my read is right, because the alternative would be raising far more controversy than this one article.

Pogo said...

From your cite:

A nationwide database will keep track of England’s 11 million children. A file will be kept on every child...

Every child. Each one. How can I make it more clear?

It is otherwise entirely unclear that it says what you think it says. Your experience in child welfare would have I thought made you suspicious of overbroad directives like this one.

How will this act seek to address these other stated aims?
the physical and mental health and emotional well-being; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by them to society; social and economic well-being

You are far, far too trusting.

Marghlar said...

Pogo, all a file is, is a container for information. A file can be empty, just available.

As I read this information, a triggering report is necessary before any information is put into the files.

As to the other goals of the act, if you read the page I linked to, there will be training programs and other voluntary services for parents who wish to participate, as part of the act. That seems a good way to further those goals, doesn't it?

I don't see any reason to believe, based on the information I've seen, that any information at all will be gathered regarding kids who are not suspected to be the victims of abuse or neglect. I might be wrong -- if I turn out to be, I'll admit it freely. But right now, that's how it appears to me.

Pogo said...

From Information-Sharing Databases under the Children Act 2004
The "flags of concern" have been defined down in this act. The threshold for recording a concern is set to create "a policy of flagging up low-level concerns and concerns unrelated to abusive parenting".

"This is a significant change from current practice, where professionals alert others without the family's consent only when they have a concern about abuse or neglect A child may be in need of a service and be the subject of an assessment, but this does not mean that that they are in need of protection from abuse.... The Government's argument is that universal coverage is necessary to achieve the aim of ensuring the welfare of all children; the Select Committee's response was that if this is a proportionate interference, there is no meaningful content left to a child's [UN] Article 8 right to privacy and confidentiality in their personal information.
A policy update in Match 2005 stated:
Every area should have the basic data recorded for each child up to their 18th birthday. This is because:
- it is not possible to predict in advance which children will have needs for additional services
- any child or young person could require the support of those services at any time in their childhood; and
- all children have the right to the universal services (education, primary health care) that the basic data will show whether or not they are receiving, and will then as necessary trigger local action to ensure they do receive them.


No empty file, that.

Marghlar said...

Pogo:

It's hard to get a sense of exactly what is going to be reported up from what you posted -- but I'll agree that it looks broader than I had supposed, and involves data regarding every child, which is a bit crazy.

So, I agree that this is a bad idea. I thought otherwise before, mainly because it seems so implausible that a program would in fact be this broad. But from what you've pulled, this looks pretty unpleasant.

Fun talking to you.

Marghlar said...

I would add, though, that if you had produced this information initially, rather than just lambasting me for being an unwashed godless liberal, you'd have convinced me about twenty comments ago.

Pogo said...

Very true. Demanding rigor, you kept me honest.

Kathy said...

Marghlar, I think it's hard for Americans to understand exactly how intrusive the British government has become, so it's natural that you might assume this program not to be as extensive as it appears to be. If you read Mark Steyn or Theordore Dalrymple very often you get a sense of how bad things have become. This concerns me not just because I hate to see a free country becoming no longer free, but also because, as Pogo pointed out in the first comment, the U.S. is making similar changes, just more gradually. For a variety of reasons, I'm hopeful for the U.S., but the pessimist (or perhaps realist) in me does not think my hopes very likely to be realized.