People have said there was no problem with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) and its Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) because its scope was restricted; it wouldn’t apply to everyone, nor to all work, so there was nothing to fear. The scheme has been running for only a matter of weeks, but its head Sir Roger Singleton has already suggested it’ll grow in scope and will increase its power sooner rather than later:
far from reducing the scope of this scheme, Sir Roger suggested that the reach of the database could actually increase because companies, even those whose work did not normally involve contact with children, would see commercial advantage in asking employees to get an ISA check. “The electrical contractor who wants school business may decide that although he is not required to have all his electricians registered with the ISA, there is a tendering advantage to doing so,” said Sir Roger.
It had been thought that this scheme would be limited only to those who regularly come into contact with children as an essential part of their jobs, notably teachers, though they have long been subject to special checks. But the ISA registration will be needed by doctors, dentists, opticians and others whose clients might include children. If Sir Roger is right and businesses believe that it is important to be ISA registered, where will it stop?
The answer is, as with every bureaucracy – once it covers everything and everyone. A power grab like this is inevitable – no government bureacracy of this nature ever stays stable. It’s in their very nature to expand and the ISA will grow in scope, as it’s nebulous ‘protection’ remit allows ever more businesses, areas of the public sector and organisations to define ‘risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults’ as they see fit. And what about activity of a ‘specified nature’ which involves children? Why not newsagents? Why not hairdressers? Any job could involve contact with children or vulnerable adults, so why shouldn’t the VBS encompass the entire British economy, presuming all the while that everyone might be a paedophile? Philip Johnston goes on to say:
Child protection has become a vast, self-perpetuating industry whose very existence depends upon maintaining the fiction that all adults are potentially harmful to children. Perversely, even though most abusers are known to the abused, and children are most at risk from relatives or their friends, the new ISA scheme excludes family or private arrangements. What sort of society is it where adults suspect other adults, and children are taught to suspect anyone other than their parents, who are often the people who cause them greatest harm?
I couldn’t agree more. The concept of the ISA is rotten to the core. Not only will it destroy social cohesion and the rule of law, but it won’t have a hope of actually protecting those caught under its remit. The VBS is a sop to the child protection industry, which in its zeal for total protection and the removal of risk from daily life, has failed to grasp where its attention needs to be focused. It’ll mean that the people guilty of genuine abuse will become ever more invisible to the authorities, as they search in vain only for people who are known to the criminal justice system, and worse in the case of the ISA for people against whom the vaguest, most unprovable of allegations have been made. Johnston is right:
An obsession with health and safety, an unwillingness to accept that there is an element of risk in everything we do and a requirement for virtually everyone dealing with children to be subjected to a criminal record check have turned volunteering into something unwarrantedly expensive, bureaucratic and intrusive. And to what end? As Sir Roger admitted, cases of abuse will never be eliminated. “Every now and then something inexplicable happens that will defy our best attempts to understand and explain it.”
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.
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