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The ISA: When a U-Turn Isn’t a U-Turn

Posted on Thursday, December 17, 2009 in civil liberties, News

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls has announced that he’s removing two million people from needing to be vetted by the Independent Safeguarding Authority’s (ISA) Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS):

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Last night, a spokesman for Balls said he would accept all of [Sir Roger] Singleton’s recommendations in full. The law will be amended as soon as possible.

This will mean that someone working with children will have to undergo vetting only if he or she has contact with the same group at least once a week, rather than once a month as stated in the act. People, such as authors, who go into different schools or similar settings to work with groups of children, should not be required to register unless their contact with the same children is frequent or intensive.

Singleton will also recommend that 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds who help out in schools, sports organisations or elsewhere will not be required to register. Neither will overseas visitors who bring groups of children to the UK, unless they stay for more than three months.

Ministers will also make it clear that no parents making any form of private arrangements with each other’s children will be affected.

And unsurprisingly Balls and Singleton (who of course is the Head of the ISA) have spun and spun all week about how important the ISA is and how it would have saved Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, even though the cops who caught Ian Huntley acknowledge it wouldn’t have; even Vanessa George had been cleared by the CRB and there are no additional means by which the ISA would have picked her up. So why is this u-turn important? Because it isn’t a u-turn:

Although the revised rules have been announced as a reduction in the people who will need to be vetted, the registration list is set to increase each year – with more people being added than are likely to leave.

As such this child protection database, already the biggest of its kind, will cover even more of the population.

“We don’t have a prediction for how many will be on it,” said a Home Office spokesman.

The revised rules for England, Wales and Northern Ireland launched on Monday have been intended in part to reduce the number of people who will need to be vetted by the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

There had been plans for some 11.3 million adults to be vetted – but after criticism from school leaders and children’s authors the rules on frequency of contact have been eased, reducing this to an estimated nine million.

The whole ‘revision’ of the ISA is an exercise in spin by a government which is now desperate to convince a sceptical public and child protection practitioners that the agency is even necessary. And the ISA remains a solution to a problem which hasn’t been proven even to exist. Ian Huntley would never have worked at that school if the most basic pre-CRB check had been done, but people didn’t do their jobs properly. That’s why children like Baby Peter end up dead, not because of an absence of an unaccountable bureaucracy making presumptions of paedophilia of all of us. Huntley’s working at that school wasn’t the reason he got access to the girls – it was because of his girlfriend, who both the CRB and ISA wouldn’t have even noticed – it’s preposterous to think a bureaucracy could effectively police child safety. Tim Garton-Ash mocks the ISA pretty effectively:

I’m afraid that the government has not gone far enough in its efforts to protect our children. It is not sufficient for the newly established Independent Safeguarding Authority to vet every adult who comes into regular contact with children outside the home. As we know, most cases of child abuse occur within the extended family or at the hands of family friends. Therefore the state needs to get inside the home to ensure absolute security for every child.

Fortunately, building on the pioneering all-round security work done by the government of Tony Blair, and by the Metropolitan police under Ian Blair, we can now implement an excellent proposal made some years ago by the political analyst Eric Blair. Ahead of his time, he suggested that the state might install hidden round-the-clock monitoring cameras in every home to watch out for any signs of deviance and nip it in the bud. He called them telescreens.

Yet child protection experts point out that telescreens would not cover all situations in which abuse could occur. Therefore the Safeguarding Authority should really move to a system of in-brain chips for every adult who comes into contact with a child – including parents, all of whom are obviously a grave potential threat to their own children. Linked to the National Identity Register, the Criminal Records Bureau, the world’s largest DNA database, the ContactPoint database, the National Pupil database, the Police National Computer, the files of MI5 and MI6, and 17 other government databases, known and unknown, these constantly monitored in-brain chips would ensure that all British children could sleep safely in their beds, serene in the knowledge that the now consolidated Supreme Safeguarding Authority, headed by Lord Mandelson, was watching over them day and night.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.

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