The ConDemNation coalition set its sights on returning government to adhering to the rule of law, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg has promised a wholescale rollback of New Labour’s authoritarian project, but of course their record is already patchy – check out prisoners’ voting rights, the DNA database and control orders as just three examples. One unexpected partial step in the right direction involves the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):
Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that [ISA] registration, due to begin next month, has been put on hold.
There will be a review of the entire vetting and barring scheme, with a scaling back to “common-sense levels”.
The government says the vetting scheme would have been “disproportionate and overly burdensome”.
Mrs May told the BBC that the measures were “draconian”.
“You were assumed to be guilty until you were proven innocent, and told you were able to work with children,” she said.
“All sorts of groups out there were deeply concerned about this and how it was going to affect them.
“There were schools where they were very concerned that foreign exchanges could be finished as a result of this, parents were worried about looking after other people’s children after school.”
The government is now contacting 66,000 organisations, including charities, voluntary groups and education authorities, to tell them that the planned registration is being cancelled.
Excellent news, really quite an impressive step in the right direction, particularly by a Conservative Party which in the past has been so succeptible to moral panics. In fact it’s highly impressive that May has used the term ‘draconian’ to describe the scheme, but it remains to be seen what this ‘scaling-back’ will involve. The ISA has already caused significant damage to the social fabric, presuming as it does that everyone is a paedophile unless they can prove otherwise. The Vetting and Barring Scheme was one of the most serious blights on the rule of law under New Labour, allowing the ISA to decide on people’s suitability as ‘safe’ to work with ‘vulnerable’ people (which would inevitably widen in its scope and definition over time) based on heresay and personal prejudice, with the most threadbare of rights of appeal.
The ISA, left unchecked, will send the message to younger people that everyone older than them is a potential threat, will make it more difficult for younger people to learn how to risk assess meaningfully for themselves, and will allow government to make decisions which are best suited to local people and local communities. After all the Soham murders, which the ISA was set up in response to, weren’t caused by an absence of child protection at the school which Ian Huntley worked at. And Huntley would never have worked at that school if existing protection provisions had been properly adhered to, and only gained contact with Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells because of their association with his girlfriend. The ISA could never have prevented that, indeed such a bureaucracy will never adequately be able to detect child abuse, which is invariably perpetrated by someone children already know (and who won’t be on a database). Is there a problem with paedophilia and child abuse? Of course, but it’s not best tackled through over-reliance on a database, nor by subverting the rule of law. We can only hope that the coalition really has understood that it can’t prevent risk, can’t protect everyone, and must allow employers and voluntary organisations to exercise their own expertise and discretion.
The only credible solution would be for the ISA to be wound up.
Sorry for the short time away, regular readers. I got thrown off by a nasty chest infection but I’m back now and it’s time to open up Simon Jenkins’ latest CiF piece:
The toughest lesson to draw from the Whitehaven tragedy is that there might be no lesson at all. We cannot stop people having rows at home or work, taking leave of their senses, finding a gun and going berserk. Such things rarely happen. But even the most authoritarian state must allow some personal liberty, and everyone accepts the resulting risk. No free community can be wholly safe without losing its freedom.
And this is at the entire core of what’s not working in society right now, isn’t it? A zero-sum game has been forced up into cabinet decision-making about the prevention of risk, about ‘safeguarding’ those who can’t be safeguarded, about ‘protecting’ everyone by throwing the civil liberties of everyone away. What’s brilliant about Jenkins’ article is that he takes issue with the concept itself. You can’t protect children by presuming every adult is a paedophile, it’s just absurd. You can’t protect every politician by presuming every voter is a terrorist, and demonising the exceptions to the rule only teaches society that there are easy answers to be had where there may be no answers at all. He goes on:
When the bossy Labour minister Ed Balls banned pictures of children in schools and vetted parents for sex crimes, the bounds of public sanity were strained. Yet no one stopped him. People muttered, “Well, you can’t be too safe.”
On every First Great Western train, an announcement is made after each stop telling passengers to look about for suspicious people or parcels and report them immediately to the police. It makes for a miserable journey. If you enter a government building, you are told that the current alert status means an imminent terrorist attack is “highly likely”. This serves no purpose but to frighten people into conceding the Home Office ever more power.
Yup entirely right, and this is what’s important to remember. New Labour wasn’t alone in creating the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). This belief that a super bureaucracy could possibly vet and safeguard every (any?) credible threat to children’s safety didn’t only originate with super-authoritarian Balls – he just went along with it. Did the rest of parliament stop the ISA in its tracks? Not at all. Has the media really had the balls to question the social damage that it’s continuing (under Nick Clegg’s new socially liberal era) to inflict? Not at all. We decided, and government decided it was in its interests to accept, that we wanted to prevent any sort of risk at all, and contracted out the implementation of our decision to government. It was completely ignorant of history, it has taught the upcoming generation nothing at all about how to risk assess wisely and has perversely led us (as Jenkins points out) to request ever more control of us by government.
Was it because of the absence of long-held certainties, like the Cold War, or pre-globalisation economic orders? Maybe. With society itself now marketised, not just economies, it’s entirely possible that the resulting discomfort (and government-propagated fear after 9/11) has led us, sheep-like, to ask our political masters to provide us with one cornerstone to put our trust in – safety. But Jenkins goes on to say:
There is no such thing as safe. There is only safer, and safer can require the greater watchfulness that comes with taking risks, witness new theories of road safety. Removing risk lowers the protective instinct of individuals and communities, and paradoxically leaves them in greater danger. But there is no government agency charged with averting that danger. There is no money in it.
Entirely right, and it’s worth remembering that although Nick Clegg has promised a groundbreaking bill, repealing the authoritarian excesses of New Labour, he hasn’t actually put his money where his mouth is yet – noone in the ConDemNation coalition has. Control orders? Unchanged. The Digital Economy Act? Unchanged. Any changes to the ISA, when quangos are apparently a ‘bad thing’? Nope. Jenkins argues that this is all motivated by money. When you compare what the coalition has promised to change with what’s actually going to change it seems like he might be right. It’s time to stand up for allowing risk to resume in society, for ‘protection’ to be proportionate and the need for it assessed by individuals once more. The industry promulgating this trend has to be torn down, but in an age of extraordinarily craven politics, the means can only come from us. Why should a profitable industry wind itself up, after all?
Most home tutors are threatening to refuse to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) altogether:
Self-employed home tutors, of whom there are 750,000 in the UK, have been asked to register by the agency – the Independent Safeguarding Authority – but are not obliged to do so. Three quarters of respondents in a poll of 525 tutors, conducted for thetutorpages.com, said they had no intention of registering on the so-called vetting and barring scheme. They said the database was intrusive and would damage trust built up between parents and tutors.
Four-fifths believe it will fail to stop abusers harming children, while 68% argue it will lead to miscarriages of justice.
Deryn Cullen, a cello tutor from Leeds, said the database implied tutors were “guilty until proven innocent”.
He said: “Whilst I appreciate the need for parents’ peace of mind, I have built up an excellent reputation as a teacher and responsible adult. I obtained an enhanced CRB certificate when I was working as a peripatetic cello teacher and no one has ever asked me to show it. I always give parents of my students the option to sit in on the lesson – especially in the early stages, when the child may feel insecure being in an unfamiliar environment.”
Henry Fagg, director of thetutorpages.com – a site that puts parents in touch with tutors – said many home tutors saw registration as “unnecessary, bureaucratic and intrusive”.
He said: “The very fact that the government has decided to exempt self-employed tutors, who regularly go into family homes, from having to register in the first place, speaks volumes. The reality is that tutors work very closely with parents and have a relationship built on trust. This scheme is in danger of undermining that bond of trust as it breeds the suspicion that every adult who works with children is a potential paedophile.”
What a brilliant article, which highlights beautifully the insidiousness of the ISA. It would damage trust built up between parents and tutors. It does imply everyone forced to be vetted is guilty of being a paedophile until they prove themselves innocent (and at their cost). It is unnecessary, bureaucratic and intrusive and will damage every relationship of trust between adults and children or young people which it covers. Presuming everyone is a paedophile actually puts children at risk, by diverting bureaucratic attention in entirely the wrong direction, leaving real abusers (who are rarely likely already to be on the database) to continue abusing the vulnerable undetected. Trust between individuals used to be a hallmark of how our society operated, but New Labour has decided it must now be after scrutiny by poorly trained and remote bureaucrats, and approval by vetting schemes. It’s not a natural way for anyone to relate to one another, let alone adults and children, and it’s good news that so many people are preparing to rebel against the ISA.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.
Tim Gill argues the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) into oblivion:
All the fundamental questions remain. Questions about cost. About due process. About data protection. About checks giving a false sense of security. About malicious accusations and people being wrongly identified as paedophiles. And, most profoundly, about the wider implications of living in a society in which casual, freely given offers of help are met not with appreciation but with deep suspicion.
Common sense tells us that the ideal of a zero-risk childhood is untenable, if not impossible. Of course, children have a just claim for a degree of protection from harm. But when it comes to protecting them, our responsibility should surely be to tackle the most serious threats first and foremost.
So as a parent, my response to the question “how would I feel if it were my child?” is as follows. We would all want to feel that our collective efforts to keep children reasonably safe in an uncertain world were well thought through, proportionate to the risk, and effective. On all these counts, the vetting system is still wholly unfit for purpose.
It’s not just unfit for purpose, it’s unsuitable for purpose. The ISA by definition won’t be able to fulfil its remit, all the while distracting its 250 administrators’ attention from the real abuses which are committed behind closed doors, almost always by people who don’t appear on its bureucratised radar. When we rationalise the management of risk we can’t exactly be surprised when, at enormous cost, children and other ‘vulnerable’ groups continue to be abused and killed, and a culture of suspicion continues to grow. When the most likely outcome is a generation of children and young people unable to risk assess the world for themselves, we should really think again. Bureaucracy and databases are pernicious and ineffective tools with which to manage society.
Home Office minister Meg Hillier has revealed how much revenue will be raised by applications to the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):
Home Office minister Meg Hillier said that the £277m of revenue expected in the scheme’s first three years is intended to cover the estimated costs of both the Vetting and Barring Scheme and the Criminal Records Bureau. She was responding to written parliamentary questions from James Brokenshire, her Conservative shadow counterpart.
The cost for each application will reflect the anticipated average cost of £64 for each application, she said. Some £28 of this will be the cost of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which is responsible for running the scheme, and £36 for the services of the Criminal Records Bureau.
The fee is charged to people who apply for clearance to be allowed to work with organisations for children and vulnerable adults. Since 12 October last year people have been checked on a voluntary basis, but from June this year it will be compulsory.
Brokenshire also asked for an estimate of the number of people who are likely to be referred to the ISA because of fears that they pose a risk. The minister said that in the first year of operation this is estimated at 28,000.
So the biggest and most unnecessary bureaucracy in modern times has found a way to manage to pay for itself. What a shock. It’s fascinating that the only questions which are being asked of it in parliament are technical and budgetary. What about the immoral nature of the ISA? What about its surefire inability to detect genuine abuse of children and ‘vulnerable’ groups? What about the freedom the ISA has to bar people from specified work based on supposition and guesswork? What about the outrageous presumption the organisation makes, that everyone is a paedophile unless they can prove otherwise? What about the fact that no need has been demonstrated for this organisation even to exist? Alarm bells should be ringint that even now those aren’t the questions being asked by parliament.
The ISA must be abolished.
The country’s obsession with paedophiles is now extending to public spaces never previously in the political firing line. Following on from the thoroughly unnecessary and unjust foundation of the Independent ‘Safeguarding’ Authority, it is now becoming unacceptable for adults to be naked in showers in public pools:
Gym users at a popular pool have been asked to shower in their trunks and costumes when schoolchildren are around, it was revealed today.
After using the equipment at the Torridge Pool in Northam, Devon, members have been “respectfully” asked to wear swimsuits in the showers, if pupils are present.
The pool said it acted after “concerns were raised” by schools, and made the request to protect both children and adults.
General manager Bob Demott said there had never been any untoward incidents and stressed the measure was a safeguard for both children and adults.
He said today: “The measures we have put in place are pro-active. The schools felt uncomfortable that there were naked people in the showers when children were in the changing rooms.”
‘Concerns were raised’, despite there not having been any inappropriate or alarming incidents whatsoever. Concerns about what exactly? Adult, non-sexual nudity? Just what threat does adult, non-sexual nudity actually pose to anyone? Are children now not supposed to be seeing their parents naked, or be in their presence when they are naked? As with every other recent development connected with the ‘protection’ agenda there is no evidence that such ‘pro-active measures’ are needed. Hugh Bone, a local councillor, said:
“This surely is ridiculous. People should not believe that we are all perverts.
“Boys and men as well as girls and women have always changed in front of each other and this is part of the growing up experience.”
Except we’re now being indoctrinated into believing that everyone might be a threat, might be a paedophile, unless they can prove otherwise.
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):
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.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) is a direct attack on the social fabric of this country. It undermines the rule of law and presumes that a bureaucracy can find paedophiles and provide protection for the ‘vulnerable’, when even children’s charities agree it can’t. At last teachers are starting the fight back:
In a letter to the children’s secretary, Ed Balls, seven associations spanning state and private schools warn that new requirements to vet anyone who works or applies to work with children on a voluntary or paid basis are “disproportionate” and will not stop some paedophiles.
The seven bodies say this will stop language exchanges altogether, because it will not be possible to vet overseas families who host British pupils. They argue that the rules will reduce the number of outside speakers prepared to come to give assemblies because they will have to go through the “excessive bureaucracy” of the vetting process. Parents who help out with drama productions, fundraising and school trips will also be affected.
Scouting jamborees, nativity plays, volunteering right across the spectrum will be affected by the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS). And with the government requiring a volunteering component for 18 year old school leavers (which sort of changes it from volunteering to ‘unpaid work’ doesn’t it?), every young person in further education will have to be vetted. Considering the ISA doesn’t require evidence-based disclosures in order to bar people from specific areas of work, there will be a huge risk of criminalising and tainting the futures of huge numbers of young people, and in the end deterring them from continuing with their education. The letter goes on to say:
schools were concerned the review would merely “tinker with the system because of the constraints of his [Sir Roger Singleton's] remit”.
“We are urging a review of the whole strategy,” the letter said.
The letter added that regulations failed to guarantee the safety of children.
“Concern has also been expressed by colleagues that there could be a sense of false security engendered by the completion of checks,” said the letter. “It is also worth reminding you that Ian Huntley might well not have been exposed by the CRB system.”
The letter was also signed by the Girls’ School Association, the Independent Association of Prep Schools, the Independent Schools Association and the Society of Heads of Independent Schools.
The teachers have got it right, but this is a government which believes fundamentally that databases and bureaucracies can solve every problem. Watch how Ed Balls won’t do anything to tackle any of these issues, whilst the ISA through its existence will discourage child protection practitioners from looking in the right direction for real abuse.
The UK Supreme Court has spoken out against the Independent Safeguarding Authority‘s (ISA) Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS):
“The widespread concern about the compulsory registration rules for all those having regular contact with children, as proposed by the Government in September 2009, demonstrates that there is a real risk that, unless child protection procedures are proportionate and contain adequate safeguards, they will not merely fall foul of the Convention [on human rights], but they will rebound to the disadvantage of the very group they are designed to shield, and will undermine public confidence in the laudable exercise of protecting the vulnerable,” wrote Lord Neuberger, one of the panel of five judges considering the case.
It’s interesting to see the UK’s supreme legal body agrees that the direction the ISA is going in won’t just end up disadvantaging the vulnerable groups it’s supposed to ‘safeguard’, but that it will actually breach the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). I really hope Sir Roger Singleton, Ed Balls, anyone with influence over the ISA appreciates the significance of this, but I doubt it.
The ISA must be abolished. Only then can agencies and resources already tasked with protecting children and ‘vulnerable’ adults actually do their jobs properly. It’s reassuring to see that the Supreme Court understands this, but it’ll take more than this ruling to end the agency.
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.
Publicservice.co.uk reports that today marked Day 1 of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA)’s Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS):
Home Office Minister David Hanson said: “Today marks a major step forward in the protection of the most vulnerable members of our society. The new scheme means greater assurance that anyone who regularly works or volunteers with children or vulnerable adults will be appropriate to do so. We believe this is a common sense approach, and what the public would rightly expect.”
The deputy children’s commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, played down criticism of the scheme and said it was not “over-bureaucratic” and did not limit opportunities for volunteers to work with children.
Whilst the scheme has now come into force, the vetting does not become mandatory until next year. People looking to work or volunteer with vulnerable groups must become registered with ISA by November 2010. Existing workers must start to become registered by April 2011.
Sue Berelowitz is clearly living on another planet. The VBS isn’t over-bureaucratic? Really? So determining risk for children or other ‘vulnerable adults’ through a graph matrix applied to each individual vetted by the scheme isn’t bureaucratic. So not allowing employers to use their own discretion, but imposing huge fines on them and the barred employee, should either or both parties choose to ignore or disagree with the ISA, isn’t bureaucratic. So the fact that the ISA is entitled to use evidence which would never be allowed in a court of law to make barring decisions isn’t bureaucratic? And what about the scheme itself? Well it covers:
- regulated activity, which it defines as paid or voluntary work which involves contact with children or vulnerable adults;
- controlled activity, which it defines as support work that is ‘frequent or intensive’ in the NHS, the health sector in general, further education, adult social care, and work in specified organisations with frequent access to sensitive records about children and vulnerable adults.
Oh and a barred person can work in a controlled activity as long as ‘safeguards’ are put in place. None of this is clearly overly bureaucratic.The thing is none of it is necessary at all.
Employers have risk assessment and safeguarding policies, local agencies like the police, social services and the probation services are all already required to talk to one another about people they feel pose risks to vulnerable groups (and to act accordingly), and we already have the CRB (which is admittedly merely a snapshot of someone’s criminal justice history). The only additional ‘safeguarding’ the ISA provides is determined by an administrator far removed from the person they’re vetting, who can use entirely unfair, meaningless and irrelevant criteria (such as heresay or even their own prejudices about their sex lives) to determine someone’s suitability for ‘regulated’ or ‘controlled’ activity. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.
And remember this is all to keep the most vulnerable members of society safe from the legions of paedophile hordes, which it presumes we all are, unless we spend £64 to prove otherwise. Noone debates there are abusers out there, nor that there are paedophiles who will stop at nothing to get to children and young people. But as Esther Rantzen recently pointed out, the vast majority of child abuse happens at the hand of ‘people very close to them’. The ISA was created in response to the murders committed by Ian Huntley in Soham in 2002, but he’d never have had a chance if his employer had carried out the pre-CRB-era checks on his background. It also wasn’t his employment at the school he worked at which led to the murders – it was a chance encounter. The ISA is a bureaucratic nightmare which has already cost nearly £200 million; it subverts the rule of law, and is entirely unnecessary.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.
The Scouting Association has announced that major gatherings from around the world may be cancelled because of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):
It has warned that major gatherings of packs from around the world may be cancelled due to the introduction of the scheme.
Under the controversial rules anyone working or volunteering with children must register for background checks.
But organising checks on thousands of foreign Scout leaders was “just not possible”, a spokesman said.
Volunteers who fail to register face the prospect of criminal prosecution and a fine of up to £5,000.
Simon Carter, Scout Association spokesman, said: “When we hold big international jamborees we rely on adults from other parts of the world coming in and staffing these events.
“The rules for checking people out suggest that if they were to come along and do intensive activity they would have to be checked.
“Clearly we cannot do that, it’s just not possible.”
So now the ISA is disadvantaging young people. Brilliant. The ISA by its very nature could never provide any meaningful protection for young people at scouting jamborees – how could it after all? A bureaucracy which relies on determining risk by a graph matrix, with the information it uses legally allowed to come from hearsay would never be able to detect those likeliest to commit abuse, nor to succeed in barring them from from attending.
It’s shocking to hear the Department for Children, Schools and Families imply it’s going to find a way around the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) for the Scouting Association, given that doing so would leave the entire purpose of the ISA dead and buried.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.
From the British Journal of Photography:
One day after Malcolm Dike took pictures of a sunset from his window, two Community Support Officers questioned him over claims that he could be a paedophile.
A member of the public reported Dike’s actions to the police, as his flat overlooks a youth centre, and it was feared that Dike was taking pictures of kids. ‘It was absolutely outrageous – I have been taking photos for years and never had any problems before,’ Dike told the Daily Mail. ‘My home overlooks the Oasis Youth Centre and apparently whoever complained was afraid I might have been taking photos of the children. That was completely untrue, of course, but the police have no right to come round here asking questions anyway.’
I’m floored. This paranoid, busybody behaviour is setting us against one another in ways we’ve never previously conceived. In the last 10 years many of us have come to the opinion that photographers are either terrorists or paedophiles, and that photography should be tightly controlled (or prohibited) – all without a shred of evidence to back such attitudes up. We prohibit photography on public land, we assume that anyone photographing a building wants to blow it up (and terrorist photography scouts are an as-yet undiscovered phenomenon), and anyone with a camera near children wants to take sexually objectifying pictures of them. I’m fed up with said ‘member of the public’ and sickened by the tin-pot police substitutes who actually gave this more than a second’s thought.
When I say the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) contravenes the rule of law, this is what I mean. The Human Rights Act 1998, which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law clearly states:
Article 7 No punishment without law
1 No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.
And yet that’s exactly what the ISA is all about – the ISA is set up to be a judge, jury and executioner for everyone’s employment rights. By its own admission it operates to a lower standard of proof than a criminal court for its Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS):
Some applicants will be given eight weeks in which to make “representations” against the move to bar them, but those with serious convictions against their names will have no opportunity to do so.
However even those who are allowed to tell their side of the story may struggle to clear their names, as ISA guidance states clearly that it operates to a lower standard of proof than a criminal court.
“Assessing whether something happened on the ‘balance of probabilities’ means, simply, whether it is ‘more likely than not’ that something happened,” the document says.
If an individual’s representations fail and they are barred, they will be unable to work with children or vulnerable adults and face prosecution if they seek jobs in these fields.
They then have three months in which to launch an independent appeal to a body called the Upper Chamber, which will comprise a judge and two “non-legal members”.
However the applicant cannot simply appeal against the decision to bar them, or the subjective opinion of the risk they pose made by the ISA.
Guidance states: “You can only seek permission to appeal against the decision of the ISA on the ground that it made a mistake no any point of law, or in any finding of any fact which it has made and on which the decision was based.”
This could be that it interpreted a law wrongly; made an error in its own procedure; or had no evidence to support its ruling.
The guidance adds that “the decision whether or not it is appropriate for an individual to be included in a barred list is not a question of law or fact”.
If this appeal fails, individuals may try to take their legal fight to the Court of Appeal.
But they may have to wait for as long as a decade before they are allowed another chance to challenge the ISA’s ruling – with older applicants facing a longer wait than younger ones.
The guidance states: “A decision to include a person on a list means that they will be barred from the entirety of the workforce affected for a minimum period of one, five or ten years depending on the individual’s age.”
Under-18s will be barred for a year before their cases can be reviewed; 18- to 25 year-olds will have five-year bans and anyone over 25 must wait 10 years. They must prove they no longer pose a danger before they are cleared to work with children [or vulnerable adults - Ed]
In other words even if the justice system hasn’t determined that certain offenders (and this government has created an unprecedented number of those) should be denied the freedom to work with children and/or ‘vulnerable adults’, the ISA, without even using evidence which would be admissible in a court of law, can. It’s a flat-out contravention of the Human Rights Act, with a torturous (and threadbare) right of appeal, and for what benefit? The ISA wouldn’t have detected Vanessa George – how could it? For that matter when its entire operation is based on determining ‘risk’ by means of a graph matrix how will it ever catch people who genuinely pose a risk to vulnerable groups?
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.
What Vanessa George, Colin Blanchard and Angela Allen did to those children is so heinous I can barely grasp it:
Nursery worker Vanessa George and her accomplices Colin Blanchard and Angela Allen face lengthy jail terms after admitting a string of sex offences yesterday.
The three – who had started a bizarre relationship online – met for the first time in the dock at Bristol crown court, where they pleaded guilty to abusing young children and sharing the images of that abuse with each other.
It also emerged there had been online discussion between the three about abducting a child. Officers believe this may have been nothing more than a fantasy but expressed relief that finding and catching them had halted any nascent plots.
A serious case review has been launched to look at how George, previously considered a stalwart of her community in Devon, was able to abuse children. There have been calls for the use of camera phones in nurseries to be looked at again and for more checks to make sure workers do not get such easy and private one-to-one access with children.
This isn’t a post about how unusual child abuse conducted by women is. I want it to be abundantly clear that Vanessa George passed her Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check and she almost certainly would have passed the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA)’s Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS). This whole case makes a mockery of the Home Office’s strategy of child protection – expecting a database or a bureaucracy to detect an abuser who doesn’t have a criminal record, and who has probably become skilful at concealing their behaviour is lunacy. Instead these three were able to commit their horrific crimes against children because:
“The nursery was not run properly. The problem was there were about 10 staff and they are all good friends – so standards got really slack.”
Parents knew standards were slack, the nursery was run poorly and then there’s Ofsted, which said after George’s arrest:
“Ofsted was unaware of the recent allegations about a member of staff at Little Ted’s Nursery in Plymouth which we understand has led to its immediate closure.
“We have had one recent complaint relating to the nursery. This complaint was not of a level that would require police involvement and did not relate to the content of the allegations made public today.
“Ofsted is investigating this matter in line with our normal procedures and it would not be appropriate to comment further until the outcomes of that investigation are complete.”
Could children’s services or the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board have stopped this? Maybe not, but it’s an indication of just how many services are out there tasked with safeguarding children, who actually have involvement with children, and even they weren’t able to detect this abuse until it was too late. Expect the ISA, with its starting presumption that everyone‘s a paedophile, to do any better will end in disaster for the genuinely vulnerable.