Home education and co-sleeping as risk factors in child abuse

The latest piece of paranoia to start a panic among home educators is the Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command's tool for detecting the abuse of children and instigating action before a greater tragedy befalls the child, i.e. she is murdered. This document is called the Child Risk Assessment matrix or CRAM for short and it may be seen here:


Now there are two objections to CRAM from the point of view of some home educating parents. Firstly, it gives 'home education' as a risk factor, thus putting a home educated child automatically on a par with one who has a child protection plan or is displaying sexualised behaviour. Secondly, co-sleeping is also suggested as a risk factor. Some people are already becoming hysterical about this and claiming that this is yet another attack upon home education in this country and that the government is now trying to peer into our bedrooms and criticise our sleeping arrangements

I am in two minds about this approach by the police. On the one hand, it does seem outrageous that the simple fact of home education should be regarded as a risk factor when investigating possible cases of child abuse. Similarly co-sleeping, the practice of allowing babies and small children to share the same bedroom as their parents, is usually harmless enough. Why on earth should that be a risk factor? The problem is that many of those who are raising these objections come from comfortable, happy and well educated families. They simply cannot imagine anybody neglecting their children or having sex with a toddler. In short, they have had no experience of the sort of families which CRAM is designed to be used with.

The home education bit is probably more a matter of semantics than anything else. The police do not really think that those educating their children at home are any more at risk than other children. 'Home education' is a convenient, short phrase which means 'not attending school'. It is perfectly true that Victoria Climbie, for example, was not home educated. It is also quite true that she was not at school. It is this which has been identified as being a factor in some of the high profile cases upon which the CRAM document is based. Similarly, nobody is suggesting that co-sleeping is harmful in itself. It can be though, if it were to continue past puberty say or if a four year old were to be in the room regularly while two or three adults were engaging in noisy sex. One can see how this might lead to sexualised behaviour as well.

I think that part of the difficulty here is that a lot of home educators live such respectable and stable lives with their children that they cannot imagine what the police have to deal with. These risk factors are not taken in isolation, but enable the police to build up a picture of a child's overall circumstance. For example, alongside 'home education' as a risk factor is having a disability. this does not of course mean that if the police visit a home where a child is in a wheelchair that they will immediately contact social services and warn that a child is at risk! How could home education or co-sleeping be relevant in this context? Let us suppose that a visit is made to a home where a twelve year-old girl is sharing a bedroom with a man and woman who are having a sexual relationship. Let us further suppose that the man is not related to her and that there are also signs of substance abuse. If on top of that the child were to be displaying sexualised behaviour and not attending school, then eyebrows might certainly be raised. This would certainly be a family where 'home education' and co-sleeping were relevant factors when looking at the lifestyle of a family. It all depends on circumstance.

In short, I can see why the CRAM tool might seem alarming to some parents, but I do not see it so myself. I have a suspicion though that we shall be hearing a good deal more about this document in the near