Young people’s charity brands council survey a ‘Big Brother invasion of privacy’ | Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald | 28 August 2014

From the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 28 August 2014.

A CHARITY that helps young people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – or ME – has branded the Council’s doorstep survey on children and young people a ‘Big Brother invasion of family privacy’.

Last week, surveyors were rounded on by parents upset at how the door to door survey was being carried out.

The Council was forced to halt the survey and do a mass leafleting campaign this week to reassure parents.

The ChildrenCount Survey is part of a project called Improving Children’s Outcomes and asks children aged nine to 16 a broad range of questions from the child’s ethnic background, domestic situation, how they feel about school and how much exercise they take.

Later in the survey children are asked a series of more probing questions about their relationship with their parents or carers, attitudes to drug and alcohol use, their parents’ employment status and how much they argue.

The survey’s purpose according to the Council is ‘to gain a deeper understanding of children’s needs in North Ayrshire and to improve on how these can be met more effectively by community partners like North Ayrshire Council and NHS Ayrshire and Arran’.

A council statement adds: “By obtaining the best information about the needs of babies, children and families it will help us to prioritise areas for greater investment and tailor services to improve the well-being of young people in our communities.”

But the Young ME Sufferers Trust – or Tymes Trust – says the survey could give rise to unwanted attention from social services.

The Tymes Trust advises families whose children are suffering with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis).

They claim to have advised, to date, 121 families which they say have faced varying degrees of suspicion or investigation by social services.

Jane Colby, Executive Director of the Tymes Trust, said:

“None of the cases has so far been shown to have merit.
 
“This shows that there is something terribly wrong with the system and we have drawn attention to this over many years with members of the Westminster Parliament and also the Scottish Government.”

About the NAC survey she said:

“Our prime concern is that parents’ rights and responsibilities are being overridden and that the whole scheme appears to be based on suspicions of families.
 
“In our experience, this can lead to false allegations and the trauma of unnecessary child protection investigations.”

Lesley Scott who is the charity’s representative in Scotland added: “The Trust is very concerned at this Big Brother invasion of family privacy.”

North Ayrshire Council has emphasised that participation in the study is purely voluntary and all responses will remain confidential.

Their statement goes on to say:

“None of the answers to the questions will identify any of the participants or their children.
 
“Also, no survey answers will be passed on to anyone, including those at the local council or social services.”

Council bosses issued the following statement:

“Local households are to receive explanatory leaflets reassuring them of the authenticity of a door-to-door children’s welfare survey being conducted in the area.
 
“Household fliers are being distributed within specific areas by volunteers from The Ayrshire Community Trust (TACT), providing information on who is conducting the survey, what questions will be asked and how the data gathered will be used.”

They added that a sample of parents of children aged up to eight will be interviewed during the study period which runs until mid-October.

A Council spokesperson said:

“The aim of the survey is to gain a deeper understanding of children’s needs in North Ayrshire and to improve on how these can be met more effectively by community partners like North Ayrshire Council and NHS Ayrshire and Arran.
 
“All the interviewers who will be calling at local homes have personal ID badges with their photographs attached. They also carry telephone numbers which householders can use, if they wish, to confirm who’s calling on them and the reasons why.”

The information is being gathered on behalf of North Ayrshire Community Planning Partnership by BMG Research, a national company which has carried out similar surveys in 21 local authority areas throughout the UK.

Completed surveys from 600 households are required to establish a representative sample of families and children across North Ayrshire.

Anyone who wishes to know more about the survey should go online at www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk/childrencount

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