Saturday, 18 July 2009

Kid gloves

There's a big fuss going on about the widespread vetting of anyone coming into contact with children. There's a feeling it's all gone too far and turned into pervert-paranoia.

Even writers visiting schools to talk about books will be required by the government's new Vetting and Barring Scheme to pay £64 for confirmation that they are no known risk to children.

Several of them, including Philip Pullman and Anne Fine, say they will stop visiting schools in protest.

The VBS, which launches in October, will oblige millions of people in indirect contact with school children to register with them for a risk-assessment.

That includes caretakers, cleaners, cooks, electricians, plumbers and anyone who gives talks to pupils like firefighters, police and paramedics. Even if a teacher will be present throughout, they still have to be vetted.

There are vociferous complaints that this huge new bureaucracy is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, casting undeserved suspicions on thousands of people without necessarily preventing offences against children.

The VBS is a consequence of the awful murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley, a school janitor. But Huntley didn't get the job because of a lack of vetting. On the contrary, he was already suspected of sexual offences but was employed nonetheless.

Oversights and negligence of this sort are bound to happen again, regardless of whether people's backgrounds have been checked. And surely the incidence of sexual assaults in schools is not enough to justify such a huge bureaucratic operation casting doubts on so many probably harmless people?

Once you start to see potential abusers on all sides, where do you stop? What about people who live close to a primary school (like me)? Or people who frequent sweetshops? or people who travel on buses with schoolkids? It won't be long before the entire population is under suspicion and every adult is seen as a lurking predator.

This isn't child protection, it's mindless hysteria.


  1. The world has gone crazy! I would hate to be a young mother nowadays.

  2. Grannymar - Would a young mother feel reassured by all this obsessive vetting? Any amount of vetting still can't guarantee your child's safety.

  3. I agree.How the Hell did he get a job as a school janitor with that record? All people involved with children here have to have a criminal history check then an assessment is made as to their suitability. Clearly someone who might have been charged with a driving offence is not a threat to a child but you're so right. Teachers can't even 'touch' their students without fear of it being misconstrued as abuse or sexual attention. I feel guilty for carrying a camera sometimes but I'm no pervert I just want to take beautiful photographs and if a child wonders into my frame, so be it! At least being a woman, I'm not glared at as a man might be. Crazy indeed.

  4. Baino - You're right, physical contact between teacher and pupil has become an absurdly controversial issue too. The slightest touch can now be interpreted as "abuse" so even hugging or cuddling can get you in trouble.

  5. It's such a minefield for teachers, I feel sorry for them.

  6. I have a recently returned from USA niece with a five year old daughter. In our culture, young children are given a cuddle and a kiss as a routine. My niece will have nothing of that even from close male relatives. I agree with Grannymar that the world has gone crazy, but, this I think is ridiculous. On the other hand, not a day passes without the papers reporting on some pervert molesting young children. I do not know what to make of all these things as, I cannot relate to such behaviour from either side.

  7. Hulla - You're right, it's a minefield. They have to worry about anyone who comes in the classroom, and worry about their own behaviour. Who'd be a teacher?

    Ramana - Good to know that where you are cuddles and kisses are still okay. Yes, there are regular reports of child-molesting but is this new scheme really going to stop it?

  8. a family member of mine was forced out of his school admin position because he blew the whistle on a couple of high school teachers using the schools computer for porn,etc. No it wasn't the big city either, it was a small town. He stands by his decision to get them removed from school, but the price was high. There needs to be accountability, but at what cost, another beauracey.
    Parents need to Raise their children, be involved with their children, talk to their children, love their children.

  9. Follow the money, as always Nick,brand new bureacratic entity raking in the dough from suckers (much like airline 'security') and if I were a child molester last thing I'd do would be go through the test, right? I'd lurk behind the trees in the park or cruise in my car.
    I get incensed with this nonsensical child protection stuff. No amount of these 'laws' will protect one child.

  10. Brighid - Unfortunately it's still often the case in the UK that the whistleblowers get penalised and not those they've exposed. I'm glad he still thinks he did the right thing.

    www - Indeed, it's another stealth tax, as they call it here. Lots of extra cash for a penniless government. And you're right, abusers will just find another way of contacting children.

  11. Interesting discussion here as always, Nick!

    My sister and I were just talking about this the other day, after she read the news item to me from the NYTimes--we both agree with you.

  12. Leah - Glad you agree. There's been such an outcry, I predict the government will soon be backtracking on this one.

  13. We already have the Criminal Records Bureau check for anyone working with children, which is sensible, but it does seem silly that one-off guests to schools, such as writers, have to be so rigorously checked.

  14. Liz - What puzzles me is why so many marginal people only loosely connected with schooling have to be so exhaustively vetted, even if a teacher's going to be present anyway. It seems completely over the top.