It's not Home Educators who abuse children. It's abusers. Why we should look at the bigger picture...
I am a Home Office approved and accredited Independent Chair for Domestic Homicide Reviews. I have specialised in the field of domestic abuse and sexual violence for over 14 years, working initially as a Chief Executive of a specialist regional charity before being invited to join the Department of Health’s National Support Team for the Response to Sexual Violence. I am an accredited Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and So-Called Honour Based Violence (DASH) Risk Assessment Trainer and have written and delivered courses to over 4800 front-line professionals.
During the course of my career, I have witnessed the heartbreak of parents who have lost a loved-one to a known serial perpetrator. I have cried for families who have buried children following a filicide-suicide at the hands of a controlling partner. I have watched agencies despair over information systems that prevent them from ‘joining up the dots’. I know of individuals who have fallen through the net. I lose sleep knowing it will happen again. I am aware of violent and dangerous individuals currently living in our communities, who pose a very grave risk to partners and children.
Currently, there is no existing framework in the UK which can track or monitor serial domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers, unless they have been convicted and reach a very high threshold for Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).
Despite an ocean of academic research linking these individuals to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, they are free to move from home to home, relationship to relationship, family unit to family unit, causing a trail of untold harm and devastation in their wake.
In 2017, the parents of Jane Clough, the Blackpool Nurse who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Jonathan Vass, delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street containing over 130,000 signatures requesting a national register for stalkers and serious, serial domestic abuse perpetrators.
This register, if adopted, would enable professionals to identify exactly who our dangerous offenders are and where they are, so that appropriate steps can be taken to safeguard those most at risk of harm.
To date, Jane’s plight has not been heard.
We still do not know where our most dangerous domestic abuse offenders are. To all intents and purposes, they are ‘missing’ or ‘hidden’. Much like the children Lord Soley refers to as ‘missing’ from education – either after being removed from school or never registered in the first place.
By the word ‘missing’, I assume he means that they are not easily ‘traceable’ by professionals with a simple click of a button. In which case, I agree with him.
But that is as far as I can support a comparison between the two.
The problem I have with the Home Education Bill and the articles written in support of it, is the continuous reference to child abuse cases, both here and in America, to emphasise the perils of home education, rather than focus on the manipulative behaviours of the perpetrators who misuse home education legislation to carry out their abuse behind closed doors, under the radar of agencies.
The problem is not with home educators, but dangerous offenders who exploit the law to carry out their crimes unchecked. These individuals are cunning and manipulative. They use, or misuse, any means available to prolong their punishment and control. Family courts are no exception.
Home Educators are ordinary parents who exercise their legal right under section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to provide an age, ability and aptitude-appropriate education within the safety of their own home. It is entirely legal and often fulfils an unmet need, particularly for SEN Children.
Perpetrators of coercive and controlling abuse commit an illegal act, punishable under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship). They make their children subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulate their everyday behaviour.
We must make the distinction.
Most computer users do not use the dark web. Most parents do not abuse their children. Most pet owners do not mistreat their animals. We are all presumed innocent until proven guilty. The same should be applied to home educators.
It is abusers who abuse. Extremist terrorists who radicalise young people. Sex offenders who sexually abuse children. Arsonists who set deliberate fires. Domestic abuse perpetrators, of a controlling nature, that terrorise, isolate, humiliate, intimidate and overpower victims, children and pets.
Rather than seek a national register for home educators in the hope of finding the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’, I implore the Government to utilise our precious under-funded and over-stretched resources to make it easier for professionals to identify those ‘haystacks already smoking’.
It is nonsensical to look for children at risk of abuse within one small section of society when we have the opportunity to support a nationwide register that will lead us directly to children who reside with violent and controlling offenders, regardless of whether they are taught in school or at home.
To consider registration and monitoring for home educators before or instead of a register for serious domestic abuse perpetrators risks criminalising innocent parents over monitoring known criminals. How can we justify that?
Our front-line Professionals are already working in excess of their salaried hours to respond to the 1.9 million adults experiencing domestic abuse each year, the two women who die each day (Office for National Statistics) and the estimated 130,000 children who live in high-risk domestic abuse households (NSPCC).
Surely, it makes sense to prioritise our resources and respond to the greatest risk?
Unless, of course, the Home Education Bill is not about the protection of children at all?
If the primary focus of the Bill is to monitor education outside of state-provided provision or tackle illegal schools that pose a risk to national security through radicalisation, or a means to bridge the gap between school and home education curriculums, I would ask that its supporters are clear and honest in their communications with the media, home educators and parliamentary members as the above issues are entirely different and should be addressed separately.
Grouping Home Education together with case studies highlighting the abuse, starvation, torture and killing of children in the family home is misleading and evokes an emotive response and a sense of mistrust. The last thing we need as professionals is a cohort of parents disengaging from services and support through misplaced fear. Casting more families into the shadows unnecessarily only serves to make it more difficult for professionals to identify and respond to legitimate concerns of child abuse.
I hope that the Home Education Community will join me in lending support to the Clough Family and the Paladin Service in supporting a national register for serial domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers. If we really do care about the protection of children, we will all prioritise this call to action.
If, after that, the incumbent Government wish to discuss education and explore the root cause of why so many children are being de-registered from state schools, I am sure the Home Education Community will be more than willing to respond positively.
All opinions are my own.