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.
Ofsted, whose remit is “to inspect and regulate care for children and young people, and inspect education and training for learners of all ages”, has deemed that parents who look after their friends’ children and receive a ‘reward’ must register with them as childminders:
It said most parents would be exempted but those who babysit for more than two hours at a time, or more than 14 days per year, should be registered.
The “reward” could be money or free baby-sitting in return, it said.
It comes after Ofsted told two police women to end an arrangement to care for each other’s children.
Two women who work part-time for the same company have been told that they cannot care for each other’s child unless they register as childminders and undergo Ofsted inspections.
The women, who wish to remain anonymous, gave birth to girls at similar times. They set up a job share, with both working half a week in the same post. They are also close friends, so when one was at work the other cared for both children.
Ofsted, however, has put an end to the arrangement. It said that, according to legislation, caring for another person’s child “for reward” was classed as childminding.
And in a stroke Ofsted has expanded the scope of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). This after the chief of the ISA, Sir Roger Singleton had previously said:
that because the scheme only applied to arrangements made through third parties such as a school or a club, the personal arrangements made by parents with friends were not included: “This means that the scheme will not come into play when parents agree to give their friends’ children a lift to school or to cubs. Nor will it cover instances where parents work with children at school or a youth club on an occasional or one-off basis, or when parents visit their child’s school, for example, to watch the Christmas play.”
This should concern everyone. It’s not even a power grab, but a demonstration of the way in which agencies such as the ISA work – it’s at the heart of the argument against ID cards. The government starts by saying it’s starting a new quango, or introducing a new system of ‘protection’, and that they’ll add ‘safeguards’ and ‘commissioners’ to protect against abuses of the system. But the truth is what you see here – other quangos and other government agencies then step in and cause their scope to expand massively beyond that which was initially, formally announced. These women will now have to register with the ISA at a cost of £64 each, to prove that they aren’t paedophiles, even though each of them already knows that about the other. Kim Simpson, a campaigner for the Open Eye Group said:
“Something akin to a kind of anxiety-driven psychosis seems to have engulfed government policymaking in the realms of children and family life.”
Vernon Coaker, the Children’s Minister, responded saying:
“We need to be sure that the legislation does not penalise hard-working families. My department is discussing with Ofsted the interpretation of the word ‘reward’.”
Sir Roger Singleton, the government-appointed head of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) has decided that rather than giving a reason why the ISA should exist, he’d rather just patronise the scheme’s opponents:
Sir Roger, whose agency will run the vetting scheme, said: “We need to calm down and consider carefully and rationally what this scheme is and is not about.
“It is not about interfering with the sensible arrangements which parents make with each other to take their children to schools and clubs.
“It is not about subjecting a quarter of the population to intensive scrutiny of their personal lives and it is not about creating mistrust between adults and children or discouraging volunteering.”
He added: “It is about ensuring that those people who have already been dismissed by their employers for inappropriate behaviour with children do not simply up sticks and move elsewhere in the country to continue their abuse.
“And it is about bringing an end to the need for repeated CRB checks which so many people have found irritating. ISA registration is a one-off process for a single fee.”
Except he’s wrong on all counts, and for the record Sir Roger I am calm, I have considered your scheme carefully and rationally and know exactly what it’s about. It’s about presuming that everyone in the country is a paedophile unless they can prove (at their cost) otherwise. It’s about discouraging children from risk-assessing on their own, and teaching them to believe that a giant, unmanageable bureaucracy can protect them from harm. It’s about undermining the rule of law, using heresay, supposition, guesswork and a graph matrix to quantify ‘unsuitability’ by people who are themselves unaccountable for their decisions. The ISA makes all the wrong presumptions about relationships in society, breaks down trust and quite simply isn’t necessary. Oh and it doesn’t supplant the CRB…
There are people who would have you believe that the ISA or even CRB would have prevented Ian Huntley’s Soham murders, but it’s already been determined that even the most basic (and pre-CRB) checks would have stopped him in his tracks; they were never done. As Esther Rantzen rightly said, the vast majority of abuse is committed by people whom the victim already knows – the ISA is yet another scheme aimed at giving the illusion that the government is doing something, when the people already tasked with protection aren’t (for a variety of reasons). All risk can never be eliminated and certainly won’t be by a bureaucracy.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished (calmly and rationally).
Childline founder Esther Rantzen has attacked the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), saying it was damaging to the national psyche, which puts children at risk. This isn’t an argument from an activist, a blogger or an opposition politician – this is from a woman whose credentials in child protection are beyond reproach.
“Most abused children suffer at home, at the hands of people very close to them; the risk provided by strangers is minimal.”
And she’s right – blanketing the entire population with the suspicion that they might be paedophiles is damaging the national psyche, and is already putting children at risk. Wes Cuell, director of services for children and young people for the NSPCC, added:
“The warning signs are now out there that this scheme will stop people doing things that are perfectly safe and normal, things that they shouldn’t be prevented from doing.
“When you get this degree of public outcry there is generally a good reason for it. I think we are getting a bit too close to crossing the line about what is acceptable in the court of public opinion. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Mr Cuell said that while it was important to strengthen rules to protect children from potential sex offenders, over zealous interpretation of such rules could threaten the civil liberties of thousands.
When leading child protection charities themselves start calling for an end to this madness of trying to use a bureaucracy to obliterate all risk for children and ‘vulnerable adults’, it suggests something really needs to be done. Interestingly Iain Dale has discovered that the likely next Home Secretary Chris Grayling is already reviewing the possibility of abolishing the ISA. How sickening a legacy it would be for Alan Johnson, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown – all progressive politicians once – to leave behind next summer. We shouldn’t have to wait for the Tories – the ISA must be abolished now – there is no time to waste.
Three prominent writers (at least two of them Tories) have lined up against the Independent Safeguarding Authority:
“Independent” Safeguarding Authority indeed! Independent of whom? Paedophile networks? One would hope so. Rather like the Independent Electoral Commission in Afghanistan (its boss appointed by President Karzai), “independent” seems to have become the adjective of choice for politicians anxious to slap a patina of objectivity on to their latest acronym.
I’ve racked my brains for sinister vested interests from which the ISA might be independent: certainly not the Home Office, which appoints its chairman. What’s the betting that when the authority stumbles, as all authorities do, and ministers seek shelter from the media storm by appointing an inquiry, it will be called the Independent Inquiry into the Independent Safeguarding Authority?
The ISA scheme and its enabling legislation were a response to the Soham murders. Those murders would almost certainly never have happened were it not for the incompetence of the police, social services and education authorities. The result is that in consequence of the failure of three state authorities, a fourth state authority has been set up.
If we can pull back from the manipulation of fear and the exaggeration of risk, the madness of the scheme is evident. Not only Scoutleaders, choirmasters and football coaches will need to be certified, but so will parents who give a lift to other people’s children to school, and authors who enter schools to chat about their books (including me). If you give a lift to school to a neighbour’s children a few times without beiing certified, you will get a criminal record and a £5,000 fine.
Relatives, of course, are exempt – which as they are statistically by a huge degree the most likely people to harm the kids, only further points up the nonsense.
I hesitated to write that, lest the government has the wheeze of bringing in a certificate you need to be an uncle.
The scheme represents a monstrous new bureaucracy and yet a further radical extension of government databases on ordinary people. It will not stop child abuse at all. To take as one example the recent high profile case of Vanessa George, Plymouth nursery teacher accused of child sex abuse. Ms George could have easily obtained a certificate as she had no prior convictions.
What kind of sick society is it that puts its entire adult population under a cloud of suspicion? Does the word Trust not mean anything at all? An entire generation of kids will be brought up without that particular word in its vocabulary. We have lost all sense of perspective.
The fact of the matter is that nine out of ten instances of child abuse occur within the family or the family’s circle of friends. What would our government like to do about that? Introduce family visiting orders, whereby only “approved” members of one’s family is allowed to visit? Because that’s the logical next step.
Predatory paedophiles will always find ways to get to their prey. That”s not to say society shouldn’t do everything it can to make it more difficult for them. But this scheme not only won’t achieve its aim, it will actually make life worse for kids.
Ian Dale makes a valid appeal to Chris Grayling – the likely next Home Secretary, and I’ll repeat it here. The ISA is unfair, wrong-minded and counter-productive. You want some easy votes to get you into office, and then prove the leftie naysayers wrong when you win in May/June? Promise to stop the ISA. You’re into law and order? Promise to manage the police better, social services, the CRB; get local public services to talk to one another the way they should. Labour’s had 12 years to do this, but gave up early on and started forming bureaucracies to look as though they were doing something – that should be anathema to a Tory administration. Repeal the Safeguarding Groups Act 2006 and start getting society to accept once more that we can’t get rid of all risk, and that we should be teaching our children to risk assess for themselves rather than hope for the best from a bureaucracy that measures risk from a meaningless matrix, and won’t have the reach to stop real paedophiles accessing children.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) was set up following the murders in 2002 of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. It is supposed to offer an additional level of protection for children, and work in conjunction with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). From October 2009 for entire swathes of work involving contact with what the legislation refers to as ‘vulnerable people’ (not just children) it will run its Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS), which will require job applicants or existing job holders to be registered (at their own cost) with the ISA. The ISA in contrast has absolute power to force people onto its vetted and barred lists, as well as the ability to prosecute employers and employees for non-registered employment in areas the ISA considers under its remit. Terrifyingly, unlike the CRB though they’re allowed to use hearsay – they can play judge, jury and executioner towards people’s entire livelihoods on the basis of material which wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, with no meaningful comeback. Authors attending school assemblies will be presumed to be paedophiles if they refuse to register. Children’s parents will be presumed paedophiles if they refuse to register for summer exchange visits; the entire basis of the ISA is a universal presumption of paedophilia and an operating manual which subverts the rule of law.
One of the initial aims of Cosmodaddy.com is to bring about the abolition of the ISA.
This is not because any of the authors disagree with child protection – quite the opposite. We simply do not believe that the ISA by its very nature has a hope in hell of actually protecting children. Instead the bureaucracy will use an arcane ‘matrix’ to determine risk (whatever happened to assessing individual cases on their merits?), which will breach the human rights of vulnerable adults, will disincentivise social services and the police from old fashioned evidence collection and analysis, and instead make the detection of people who pose a real risk for children and other vulnerable groups that much harder. The ISA however accepts none of these points. Even when recently suffering an information security breach its response was to say:
“There has been one security incident in respect of information handling in the current year when an email containing confidential data was issued to the incorrect email address.
“A full investigation was carried out into this incident which concluded that there were no systematic failures in procedure and that the incident was due to human error. The incident did not result in any risk to safeguarding.”
A separate section on the “management and control of information risk” states: “While all staff are made continuously aware of information assurance issues, the lack of ISA policies to direct staff could have an impact on the confidentiality, integrity or availability of information. Policies are close to being finalised.”
Safeguarding is not a one-way process and in saying ‘risk to safeguarding’ it clearly doesn’t see those it considers caught in its remit (vetted or barred) as worthy of protection at all. I’m reminded of the government saying it sees the ISA as a ‘club’ to which ‘decent adults’ should want to be part of. Quite frankly considering the damage which it is already causing to the social fabric and the rule of law, should decency not really be determined by different criteria? We at Cosmodaddy.com will be campaigning in the months to come to convince ever more of you that an unaccountable bureaucracy which makes insidious presumptions, and which is guaranteed to make numerous errors (as the CRB has) is not the solution to child protection. There are existing services and procedures which are already responsible for child protection - local public services must communicate between one another as they are required to but rarely effectively do, protection agencies need better funding and managing, and there needs to be a national conversation started that running society from databases, and ignoring local communities entirely, doesn’t protect anyone. Subscribe to this site, join us and tell us your stories if you’ve already been affected by the ISA.