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Sep 12

The Independent Safeguarding Authority – Whatever the Cost?

Posted on Saturday, September 12, 2009 in Editorial, human rights

The Children’s Society believes that the potential benefits of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) outweigh its costs:


It is not a knee-jerk reaction provoked by media hype and moral panic. Nor do I agree that it would produce more social evil than it is seeking to prevent. This is about preventing unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.

After the horrendous Soham case, we should all see this practical and down-to-earth scheme as a positive development, as it is designed to improve significantly the flow of valuable information. We have learned over many years now that there are adults, albeit a small proportion, who deliberately seek ways of gaining access to children in order to abuse them.

This is not a wild surmise. The figures back it up. For example, in January 2009, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) took over responsibility for receiving referrals from employers who had been alerted to concerns about the behaviour of people working with children and vulnerable adults. There have been 500-600 referrals every month. Surely, in the light of those figures, any parent would want to know that the person who is taking their child to a football match, the Girl Guides or Cubs had been checked out?

Bob Reitemeier’s argument doesn’t make sense. It most certainly is a knee-jerk reaction provoked by moral panic. It’s already been determined that if the relevant (and pre-CRB) checks had been done, that Ian Huntley would never have come into contact with Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. To set up a super-bureaucracy to prevent ‘unsuitable people’ from working with children and vulnerable adults is then just an exercise in futility. As I’ve argued before it will have limited, if any, success, it will make genuine abuse much more difficult to detect, and because the ISA is allowed to make barring decisions based on heresay, it will undermine the rule of law. Reitemeier suggests the ISA is already a success because there have been 500-600 referrals a month. So what? When those referrals could all be malicious, bogus or not even covered by the ISA’s remit, how can he claim there really are hundreds of paedophiles out there, trying to access children? It’s an appalling, irresponsible position to take. Are those 500-600 people then automatically barred from working with children and vulnerable adults? Should it be alright to bar someone from the workplace based on evidence which wouldn’t be admissible in court, or is it really worth sacrificing hundreds or even thousands of people’s careers to the altar of child ‘protection’?

His final line: ‘what would I want for my child’ raises the stakes. I personally would want my child to be taught how to risk assess for themselves, to acknowledge that all risk in public and private can never be prevented (and certainly not by a bureaucracy) and for workplaces I allowed my child (or elderly parent or autistic elder brother) near to have their own child protection policies, and make fair, measured decisions based on individuals and situations they know. An employer with a employee doing work they have been ‘barred’ from faces a fine of £5000, even if the ISA’s decision is wrong or unfair. I wouldn’t want my child to live under the illusion of protection, and certainly not at the cost of a single innocent adult’s life.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority should be abolished.