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Saturday, 12 September 2009

Child safety hysteria

There is a lot of noise in the news and blogs about the new child safeguarding process. It seems to me that a lot of this is mis-informed, lead by the Daily Mail shock horror reporting.

The new system consists of a new body, the Independent Safeguarding Authority which will hold a database of every adult who works with children or vulnerable adults, including volunteers. The information in this database already exists but is distributed across the counties.

A similar system currently exists today, of Criminal Records Bureau checks performed locally and List 99, kept by the DfES.

The key is to apply the system at the point of recruitment. When a teacher is hired, a football coach joins a youth football club or a school governor is appointed, a CRB check is made and a certificate is issued. This is done each time someone joins an organisation. If you are a school governor who teaches swimming in your spare time and teach in a Sunday School, you will have three certificates, each with a three year expiry. This has been going for years and is not controversial within schools, sports clubs, churches etc..

So what is different about the new scheme?
  • The CRB database is national rather than local. This means convicted paedophiles cannot get away from their record by moving to a different county.
  • You only have one entry in the database, no matter how many organisations you work with. It will save some of the bureaucracy, for example today, if a school changes its name all the CRB certificates have to be re-done. A new application is not necessary when you move job.

  • There is no expiry or renewal process. Any new conviction information will be added on and passed to employers immediately.

  • The old CRB scheme only covers criminal convictions. The new one includes recorded suspicions that were never tested in court. To me this is the really controversial element, hardly picked up in the Daily Mail hysteria. Malicious accusations are made all the time of teachers that a child does not like - these could find their way onto a record with no method of appeal and wreck a career.

The scheme will not apply to parents giving lifts to other children, unless it has been arranged by an organisation. If parents have their own rota for collecting from cubs that can continue. If Cubs asks you to volunteer as a driver to drive children unknown to you, you need a check.

Does it brand everyone a paedophile? I don't think it does. I have a CRB check for my work as a school governor, I don't think the people reading my application form suspected me to be a paedophile, this is just the system they have to find people that are, a needle in a haystack. The people setting this up and running it know full well that paedophiles are very rare. But as with bombers smuggling knives and explosives on planes being screened by X-ray machines and metal detectors, the screen that is supposed to stop them has to apply to everyone to work. Or consider the US Visa waiver form - are you offended that the US Govt thinks you are a Nazi or have convictions for Moral Turpitude? No, of course not, you know they are just covering themselves. The system will work, to the extent that it makes it less likely that known paedophiles are working with children, due to the "theatre of security" designed into the system.

The system has two functions: one to deter known paedophiles from applying for jobs or volunteering with children. and two to protect schools and clubs against employing someone with a criminal record involving child abuse. People with criminal records that don't involve children will still be employable, the Rehabilitation of Offenders act ensures this, the only exception is for child abuse convictions. You won't be barred from being a scout helper if you have 3 points on your licence or even if you did 18 months for breaking & entering.

Will the system completely protect children? Of course it cannot do that, there will be paedophiles today working with children who do not have any previous history. But there really are paedophiles out there, using the loopholes in the current system to access children. The changes to the system arose from the Bichard enquiry following the conviction of Ian Huntley for the abuse and murder of Holly & Jessica. The old CRB system did not catch, or more likely deter, Ian Huntley, hopefully the new system will deter future Ian Huntleys.

The information here was gleaned from a course I attended run by the child protection officer at my local council.


  1. I'm interested you say that only criminal convictions involving children will be taken into account. Is this gospel? I have not read this elsewhere. Because it must be the case that there are hundreds of thousands (possibly millions?) of people who have old (or not so old) criminal convictions that would be detered from undergoing a ISA check if they thought that the fact that they did something stupid 20 years ago was going to be held against them.

    One of the main problems with the new system is this - the consequences for 'failing' the check are massive. You will effectively be labelled a paedophile, with no way of proving you are not. The ISA will presumably not say why you have failed the check, nor make public any facts. If you have no criminal records involving children, but some unspecified allegations (incidentally where will these allegations be recorded? Who collects such information?) it will be impossible to counter the reaction of people in your area to an ISA check failure.

    Given the governments record in getting things wrong in IT type situations, I personally would not risk the outcome of being put forward for a check. I have no criminal record whatsoever, but I don't trust the State to get things right. And if they do mess up the genie will be out of the bottle. Whatever you did, said, proved, there will always be people who say 'no smoke without fire' etc etc. At best always talked about behind your back, at worst subject to physical attacks.

    If there was a 1 in 100,000 chance that if you did X your life would be ruined, and there was no neccessity to do X at all, would you still do it?

    I play sport, and often give lifts to under 18s to away games. If I am asked to undergo an ISA check in order to do so, I will refuse. No skin off my nose. I'll have the car to myself. But its hard luck on the lads who want to play for the team but can't get to away games because their parents can't (or won't) take them.

  2. Having done a bit of research I eventually found the ISA guidelines. And it is not true that only criminal convictions involving children will be considered 'relevant' when deciding to bar a person from working with children. The full list is:

    4.6.5 Relevant convictions and cautions – In general, the offences (including
    attempts, conspiracy etc.) that are regarded as ‘relevant’ include (though are
    not restricted to) those that indicate there may be evidence of risk of harm,
    for example those which;
    • are directed towards children and/or vulnerable adults;
    • involve sexual behaviour;
    • involve violence or potential for violence against people and property,
    especially where such conduct is intentional or a weapon is used, and
    animal cruelty;
    • involve acquisitive behaviour and fraud;
    • indicate that the person holds/held a position of authority and
    breached a trust;
    • relate to addictive behaviour or persistent offending.

    In addition they also state:

    4.6.9 It is again important to stress that each case is dealt with on its merits. It is,
    therefore, not possible to specify which offences would lead to a bar (other
    than auto-bar offences) and which offences would not.

    So that means that anyone who in their youth did some burglaries, or got involved in few Saturday night punch ups, would fail the ISA assessment.

    While I might not think that someone who has a criminal record is that trustworthy a person, its a bit of a long jump to then accuse them of being a potential paedophile

  3. Jim, thanks very much for your comments. I'm glad to see some people wanting to understand and debate without resorting to hysteria.

    Your 1st point I agree with. I said

    "The old CRB scheme only covers criminal convictions. The new
    one includes recorded suspicions that were never tested in
    court. To me this is the really controversial element"

    The old system only took account of criminal records + list99. The new system will collect "intelligence" which may only amount to rumour and innuendo which could wreck a career and a life and not be open to appeal. This is very worrying and should be subject to media scrutiny. Unfortunately they are so obsessed with parents' lifts to cubs they are missing this point.

    For your second point, if the football club is asking you to ferry children then you need to be checked or vetted. That is true today and you need a 2nd adult in the car. If parents are arranging the lifts then no check needed becuase the parent has taken the responsibility. If I was a parent at your club I would want to know who you are before you gave my kids a lift. The check will be free as you are a volunteer. I'm sure the FA already has guidelines for this, and your club should have a child protection officer who could tell you about it.

    The way clubs etc will continue is by a lot of people being vetted, people like you, and it should not be a big deal. Or by parents doing all the lifts among themselves (as happens at my son's football club today) Unfortunately the press reaction to the vetting cheme may put people off from doing so, which will cause problems for clubs - a self fulfiling prophecy.

    I don't believe non-child abuse criminal convictions affect your ability to work with children - the resettlement of offender legislation prevents this. Only prior convictions within a child or sexual abuse critera would result in barring - again hysteria has taken over. I agree the letter of the guidelines says this is not the case, which is in conflict wth the training I have received on this, which I will follow up on.

    On the one hand the risk to children is small and the ability of the system to protect is limited, but this scheme protects employers from hiring known peadophiles. Can you imagine the impact on your club and the child if it turned out one of the people running lifts was a convicted child abuser and they never found out until it was too late?

    Once again, thanks for your excellent comments, and for reading.