Abuse in Home Education

Sara Spinks 12 June 2024 2 min read
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An independent review into the deaths and abuse of 41 children has shed light on a concerning trend: those in home education are vulnerable due to the absence of protective factors typically provided by schools.

The findings, published by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, highlight a crucial missing link in safeguarding efforts for children not enrolled in traditional educational settings.

The report covers 27 referrals received between August 2020 and October 2021 and paints a grim picture of the experiences of children not attending school. Shockingly, these children, who were not benefiting from the oversight and support structures of educational institutions, were subjected to various forms of abuse, including sexual and physical abuse, as well as neglect. Tragically, six children lost their lives, and 35 others suffered serious harm.

One of the key revelations of the review is the diminished visibility of home-educated children to safeguarding agencies compared to their peers in schools. Without regular contact with educational establishments, these children often flew under the radar of agencies tasked with protecting them from harm, leaving them more vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

The Panel highlighted the crucial role schools play as a protective factor in children's lives, providing not only education but also a network of support and oversight. The absence of this protective environment had severe, and sometimes fatal, consequences for the safety and well-being of home-educated children.

Moreover, the report uncovered systemic challenges in addressing the welfare of home-educated children. Limited legislative powers and guidance hampered practitioners' ability to monitor and intervene in cases of abuse or neglect effectively. Additionally, the lack of resources and capacity within elective home education teams further exacerbated the issue, with some teams consisting of only one or two part-time staff.

The review also drew attention to the significant role of religious or faith-based teaching in some cases of serious harm. Children subjected to such teachings often experienced prolonged physical chastisement and were isolated from the outside world, further exacerbating their vulnerability.

While acknowledging that the majority of home-educated children lead safe and happy lives, the Panel emphasised the need for proactive measures to safeguard the small minority who do not. Proposals for a statutory register of home-educated children aim to improve visibility and ensure that relevant agencies are equipped with the necessary information to intervene when needed.

In response to the findings, calls have been made for HM Government to consider expanding the scope of Local Authority responsibilities and establishing a national register to track home-educated children. Additionally, plans to designate schools as a fourth statutory safeguarding partner are underway, recognising their pivotal duty of care role in child welfare.

The Panel also supports greater involvement in safeguarding partnerships and urges consideration of children's voices and needs in decision-making processes. They emphasise the importance of identifying home-educated children, understanding their vulnerabilities, and implementing multi-agency plans when necessary. While most home-educated children thrive, a minority face risks, highlighting the need for enhanced safeguarding measures and more explicit responsibilities for Local Authorities.

Ultimately, the report serves as a wake-up call, urging policymakers and stakeholders to prioritise the safety and well-being of all children, regardless of their educational setting. By addressing the gaps in safeguarding practices and implementing robust measures to support vulnerable children, we can strive towards a society where every child is afforded the protection and care they deserve.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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