Big Brother quiz for new school parents: Officials launch 83-point probe into families' lives

Daily Mail | November 18, 2009
By Steve Doughty

Parents of five-year-olds starting school have been sent an 83-point questionnaire that probes personal details of their lives.

It asks whether their children tell lies or bully others, and if they steal at home or from shops.

Parents are questioned over whether they have friends, if they can speak freely with others in their family and how well they did at school themselves.

The form also delves into family routines, questioning whether they eat takeaways and if the children drink water with their meals.

Thousands of families in Lincolnshire were sent the forms as part of trials of a 'Healthy Child Programme' being developed in Whitehall.

The Department of Health wants all families in England and Wales to fill in similar forms.

The information will be held indefinitely on NHS databases for the use of health workers. Planners want new forms submitted each year to build up a detailed picture of the family and their children's development.

Children themselves will fill in questionnaires when they become old enough.

The aim is to 'enhance children's life chances' but critics warned of unprecedented intrusion into family life and the growth of a major new state database.

Parents have been told the information is 'confidential' but it will be available to health workers who will decide whether families should be approached by health visitors offering 'support'.

It will also be used to identify districts with widespread health and social problems so officials can plan and target health campaigns.

There is no legal compulsion to fill in the School Entry Wellbeing Review forms, but parents who do not are likely to be visited by community nurses charged with identifying vulnerable families.

Dylan Sharpe of the Big Brother Watch pressure group said: 'This is incredibly intrusive and asks questions which, quite frankly, Lincolnshire Community Health Services do not need to know and have no right knowing.

'Even worse, the NHS Trust has failed to make it clear that this is a voluntary questionnaire. I would advise any parent receiving this to stick it straight in the bin.'

Jill Kirby of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: 'This is badly wrong for a number of reasons.

'Parents are not told how the information will be used, nor that they can refuse to give it and it will create worry and suspicion among many families.

'It risks labelling children and families as problem cases when the aim should be to help children escape from difficult backgrounds. It will make families wary and those most in need of help are likely to retreat from it.'

Joy Wood, clinical team leader at Lincolnshire Community Health Services, said shorter questionnaires had been sent in previous years.

This year's trial was intended to help identify vulnerable children.

She said: 'The intention is that the children that need our services will be supported. We are not keeping this information to be divulged to third parties.'

After a complaint from a parent, letters are being sent out making it clear that filling in the form is voluntary.

The Department of Health said last night: 'Many local areas currently administer a questionnaire to parents as the basis for a review at school entry.

'The Healthy Child Programme includes the commitment to build on good practice to make available a standardised, evaluated version.

'We will ensure this complies with legal requirements in relation to data handling and approaches to encourage take-up.

'This questionnaire will be an additional tool to safeguard and support all children's health and wellbeing.'