The Government has finally caved in, in the face of the growing chorus of protest against its “Vetting and Barring” scheme, which was recommended by the inquiry into the murders of two schoolgirls by school caretaker Ian Huntley in Soham, Cambridgeshire, in 2002. The scheme was launched in October this year and was set to become statutory in October 2010. It would have stood alongside the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) as the public face of the government’s pledge to enhance the safety of children.
The final straw came when representatives of head teachers joined the clamour against the plan. They stood back and looked at how the scheme would impact on society, and saw negative consequences greatly outweighing any supposed advantage. One example: there had been a steady reduction in the number of parents volunteering to work on school plays and fundraising events. The scheme will now be dropped for volunteers and occasional visitors.
Guilty until proven innocent
It would have been a small price to pay, some might argue, if the safety of children would be enhanced. Well, it would have been a big if – based on the assumption that all adults who seek to volunteer to work in some capacity with children have dark ulterior motives. Guilty until proven innocent. It sought to criminalise what should be instinctive and natural relationships between adults and young people purely on the basis that there do exist abusive adults in society.
Would a CRB check have prevented Ian Huntley from killing two girls in Soham? Probably not. Did convicted paedophile Vanessa George have an enhanced CRB check in relation to her work in that nursery? Yes, she did. Would the V and B scheme have prevented the tragic abuse and death of Baby Peter in Haringey earlier this year? Certainly not. Most abuse takes place in families, where there are no CRB checks.
Determined people with criminal intentions will get past barriers such as these. Fortunately, though they are headline news, they are very rare. Far more young people commit suicide every year than are killed or abused by strangers. Why not put the spotlight on what it is about our society which drives so many to despair?
Earlier this year, a number of authors and illustrators of children’s literature set this ball rolling by saying they would refuse to continue going into schools to talk about their work if they had to register with the V and B scheme. Philip Pullman, author of the trilogy His Dark Materials said on Radio 4, “…It’s actually rather dispiriting and sinister. Why should I [ask] a Government agency to give me a little certificate to say I’m not a paedophile? Children are abused in the home, not in classes of 30 or groups of 200 in the assembly hall with teachers looking on.”
Schemes such as this encourage a passive, box-ticking approach to child protection. Have you got a CRB check? Job done! Child protection should be a matter of monitoring the behaviour of those in contact with children, and acting swiftly when suspicions are aroused. Instead we have an entire industry grinding out meaningless certificates, and then looking away.