Posts Tagged ‘child protection’

I grow weary. Apparently, and despite being thoroughly CRB checked, I will need yet another check under the newly introduced Vetting and Barring scheme. I have yet to find any credible reason for this decision and find it utterly bizarre especially as the Criminal Records Bureau will oversee these new checks.. The necessity for a new CRB check to be carried out every time someone works for a new organisation already seems nonsensical. Despite already having a recent enhanced CRB for work the Local Authority still insist I have another one if I want to be a parent volunteer at the children’s school. I needed a fresh CRB check when I had a 20 year old student do a family placement in our home and have just been informed I need a further check if I want to continue in my role as treasurer for a small branch of a voluntary organisation. One can only presume the accounts have some sort of at-risk status that needs protecting. The fact that CRB checks are not transferable within a given time frame is absurd and the mind boggles that why after several clean bills of health to my integrity I need to submit myself to further vetting.

Midst all this red tape and procedure let us remember why these new safeguards were introduced ; to prevent another Soham tragedy. Yet many believe many believe these precautions would not have prevented that tragedy from occuring and it is simply penalising the innocent. There has been much outcry from voluntary organisations about the impact of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme with fears it could sound the death knell for volunteering. It will have consequences for other sectors too. The media is littered with stories about health cuts yet millions of health workers who have current CRB documentation will need to register with this new agency. Times are lean, is duplicating paperwork really a good use of the public purse?

I remain befuddled why after being well acquainted with the CRB form I need to jump through further hoops to register with this new body. Is this another example of the current Labour administration’s propensity for mindless bureaucracy? Is this simply a money spinning exercise under the guise of safeguarding to generate coffers for the Treasury? Or are we simply becoming more paranoid in our pursuit of a no-risk society? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments section!) please


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I read the harrowing case of Khyra Ishaq just before I cuddled my own daughter (3) to sleep last night.  As I wrestled my arms out from under her, I held my face next to her podgy cheek.  My thoughts turned to Khyra and, inevitably, food.  My daughter loves breakfast.  In the morning she takes herself off to the sofa and snuggles under a blanket while I make it for her.  She usually has two slices of buttered toast or porridge and a bowl of fruit.  Today she had mango and strawberries (sorry environmentalists) as a treat because it’s Saturday.  If she’s still hungry she’ll ask for a yogurt or maybe an extra slice of toast.

I’m not the perfect mother.  I shout, I tell her ‘in a minute’ too much, sometimes she has beans on toast more than once a week – I am positive that one day I’ll forget to pick her up from nursery.  But my daughter’s life could not be further removed from the life of Khyra who had to share a bowl of food with six siblings and would be caned if she ate too much.  I find the idea of not feeding a child in the western world totally unfathomable.  In fact it’s so unusual that experts had to look back to records of concentration camp victims to get a proper idea of what had happened to her.

Poor Khyra was taken out of school when staff there got concerned about her welfare.  Her parents said that they were home schooling her and both Social Services and the Local Education Authority were happy with the arrangements for her education at the time they visited.  In fact, Khyra was dead within 12 weeks.

While I think anything, anything, should be done to prevent this happening to even one more child, I am so sick of knee jerk reactions (and subsequent legislation) coming out of extreme cases.  Baby P – calls to sack ALL social workers in Haringey (because there are SO many waiting to take their place), Soham murders – calls to CRB check everyone who has to look at a child ever, MPs taking the mickey with their expenses – put them on bread and gruel.  Khyra’s legacy seems to be to make all parents who chose to educate their own children at home come under the spotlight.  What’s wrong with a considered approach, eh?

Just as most people who send their children to school are not abusing them, most people who are educating their children at home are not abusing them. From what I can gather, the existing legislation for parents of home educated children was not followed through.  Should two education welfare officers have accepted that they couldn’t see Khyra when they visited – especially bearing in mind that the Deputy Head of her previous school had expressed grave concerns for her welfare?  Similarly, should a social worker carry out an assessment of a child’s welfare on the doorstep of their home?

In the judge’s words: “On the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability, had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died.”  That doesn’t sound to me like we need new legislation, it sounds like we need the existing legislation to be implemented properly.  Instead of spending time and money on new legislation, attract good social workers and education welfare officers to the professions, make their case loads manageable so that children and vulnerable adults don’t slip through the net like this and then see what tweaks or overhauls need to be made.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all about the Khyra Ishaq case is the fact that the police investigation identified at least 30 witnesses who could have intervened on Khyra’s behalf.  Many people living in her community had concerns for her, but didn’t share them with agencies who were there to protect her.  None of us want to live in a nanny state, so why don’t we look out for each other, and especially for the children living in our communities?  We all know, really, don’t we, when we see children who are happy and well looked after and when we see ones that aren’t being cared for?

I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I lived in a downstairs flat years ago and above us lived a couple with a baby.  Did I hear the baby screaming for hours at the same time as his mother begged her partner not to hit her?  Yes.  Did I notice that after these episodes there were always piles of empty cans of extra strong cider next to the communal bin?  Yes. Did I worry about it?  Yes.  Did I do anything about it?  No.  Why?  I didn’t want to put extra stress on the poor mother.  Do I worry about how that baby is now?  Yes.

Part of the problem of the individualistic culture that we find ourselves living in now, is that we end up with more state interference and become over-reliant on statutory agencies to do the things we should be doing ourselves.  If we’re not keeping an eye on our own communities, then the state will have to do it for us and they tend to do this by rushing out legislation to cover all eventualities.

Please, let’s try and learn from this case, because how many more can there be before someone spots the bleeding obvious and sorts out morale and workloads for those paid to protect our children?  We need existing legislation to be implemented properly by people who have the time to do their jobs properly and we need (yes, that’s you and me) to keep our eyes open and take some responsibility for the well being of the children around us before it’s too late.

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In last night’s Panorama , Jeremy Vine examined the role of the new Independent Safeguarding Agency. Anyone who works or volunteers with children once a week or more will need to be checked by the new agency. Let me state at the beginning that of course convicted paedophiles should be barred from working with children, but I have doubts that this system will make our children one iota safer and may in fact have very negative consequences. Firstly, of 12,000 calls to Childline last year about sexual abuse only 13 of those accused would have been picked up by this system. The idea that someone is safe to be around your children because they have a clean CRB check clearly doesn’t always work. Statistically a child is more likely to be abused by someone they know well, so where do we draw the line? And if we cannot decide where to draw the line, why stop anywhere? Children are sometimes abused by their parents, so why not check everyone when they book in for ante-natal care? And everyone else in the family? One woman who called into Jeremy Vine’s radio show on the subject said that she wanted everyone who ever came in contact with her child checked: the postman, shopkeepers, bus-drivers.

Not only would that be madness but I truly believe that that level of paranoia risks our children’s safety and mental well-being more than having someone who hasn’t been checked by the ISA in contact with them. What happens to trust? What happens to community? Who does your child turn to for help if they need it if they have been taught that *everyone* is a risk? Men in particular are too scared to approach a child who may need help. My husband has worried that people will suspect him because he is friendly to other children. He worries that people will think our pale-skinned mixed race daughter is not his and he is going to hurt her. And this system seems too ripe for abuse. Unsubstantiated rumours, anonymous tip-offs and stories in the press will all find their way onto your file as soft evidence and it could be down to an office worker in a business park to make decisions that will impact your whole life.

I think they have it backwards. You cannot protect children from the outside in. You have to protect them from the inside out. Give them the tools, as much as it is possible, to defend themselves. How much autonomy do you allow your child over their own life, over their body? Ever made them wear a coat when they insisted they weren’t cold, made them finish their dinner when they said they weren’t hungry, tried to get them to take a nap when they are not tired? Give them some control over their body, let them know they own it and no-one has the right to make them do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Last week my daughter’s trampolining instructor picked her up and threw her despite her protests that she didn’t want to. I could have told her to stop being silly, but I didn’t. I told him that she had said no and she had the right to do that. This week he asked first. She is more confident in her right to say no to anything that makes her scared or uneasy. Then make sure that if anything does happen they know where to go, who will listen, who will act on their behalf.

We should be building community, not tearing it down. The well-being of your children should be everyone’s responsibility not just yours. The number of people who might want to harm them is still very small compared to the number of people who mean well and would act to help and protect them.

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