Protect the Children!

This world is weird. Not only do a few hundred nutty puritans decide that two men kissing is so offensive that they have to complain that it’s ‘inappropriate’, but:

A mother who wanted to give a birthday cake to her son featuring a photo of him as a baby was forced to have it censored because it showed his bottom.

I want to stress that he’s 21, yet the staff at the Asda where she tried to get the cake made said it would be ‘pornographic’. Excuse me? Has the world actually shifted on its axis? That makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s hardly an isolated incident and it illustrates sociologist Frank Furedi’s new report ‘Licensed to Hug”s claim that British society no longer trusts adults to interact with children.

Dominic Lawson suggests that this mentality went out of control after the 2002 Soham murders, but it was prevalent long before. Remember newsreader Julia Somerville getting arrested for getting photos developed of her daughter having a bath? Complete madness on the face of it, but Alan Levy, QC said at the time:

“This tests the law as to what we consider indecent. What it must really rely on is common sense. If you are taking naked pictures of a seven-year-old, which seems older than usual, you are playing with fire – not because you are necessarily doing anything indecent, but because it might be construed that way.”

Does this then presume that there needs to be common sense on both sides of this question? Lawson is quite right in implying that the main danger of going down the path of having to security check literally everyone who might have unsupervised contact with a child, is that we deny our own judgment, our own responsibility for risk assessing who is a danger and who isn’t. And Tim Gill points out:

I think people want communities where, by and large, trust is assumed – where children naturally have everyday encounters with a diverse group of adults, and where they in turn grow up feeling confident and capable, and that they have a place in the wider world. So we should be very wary indeed of systems that foster mistrust, anxiety and fear and that over-regulate interactions between children and adults.

And his implicit other point is equally valid – that we aren’t teaching children and young people to risk assess with any amount of skill themselves. However, a CRB check on Ian Huntley would have stopped him getting the job which gained him the trust of the two girls he murdered. But most children are most in danger from people they already know – chiefly family members – normally far removed from the Criminal Records Bureau. Lawson adds:

They (CRB checks) have increasingly become a sort of badge of reliability and even respectability, taking over from the normal human processes of judgement, intuition and common sense.

Indeed. And they of course won’t pick up anyone who might already have been guilty of abuse, yet not convicted of it, and Frank Furedi reminds us that:

The alleged protective effects of a system of vetting are largely illusory. Aside from the fallibility of record-keeping and technical systems, vetting takes into account only what somebody has done in the past. The most sophisticated system in the world cannot anticipate how individuals with a clean record might behave. Thus, the CRB provides little guidance about people’s behaviour in the future.

He goes on to say:

The most regrettable outcome of the new child protection policies associated with vetting is the distancing of intergenerational relationships. They foster a climate where adults feel uneasy about acting on their healthy intuition and feel forced to weigh up whether, and how, to interact with a child. Such calculated behaviour alters the quality of that interaction. It no longer represents an act founded on doing what a mentor feels is right – it is an act influenced by calculations about how it will be interpreted by others, and by anxieties that it should not be misinterpreted.

And that’s how we get to the stage of tourists getting threatened by police for taking photographs involving children in public, where a mother of a 21 year old gets told her photograph of him as a baby is ‘pornographic’, and where we now have the Independent Safeguarding Authority on top of the Criminal Records Bureau. From next October

Instead of just having their records checked, all teachers, nursery staff and youth workers will be required to register with a new agency, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) at the cost of £64.

Ministers have also decided that thousands of other adults should pay for the ISA ‘seal of approval’ including, most recently, parents who have overseas students to stay under school exchange programmes.

In total, 11.3 million adults will have to be vetted, according to the latest estimate from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and contained in the new report.

This is just ridiculous – it’s a moral panic freed up to the point of paranoia. I agree with Furedi that this is borderline insanity. The benefits of keeping what few Ian Huntleys there may be remaining, who pose a significant and measurable threat to children and young people, are surely outweighed by the yet deeper institutionalisation of this alienation between generations. Even Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the Executive Director of volunteering charity CSV says:

“CRB checks are already reducing people’s willingness to volunteer through their intrusion and delays. Checks of any kind are only part of the process, moreover, most child abusers have no criminal record. Eternal vigilance is needed to protect vulnerable people.”

The days of common sense, teaching kids to risk-assess and indeed relying on ‘eternal vigilance are out of the window with New Labour, whose solutions here are yet again authoritarian. Furedi says:

“While you do not yet need a licence to parent your own children, you certainly need a licence to interact with anybody else’s. Before they can be counted on to lay a positive role in children’s lives, adults today have to be in possession of a piece of paper showing they are not likely to be a malign and dangerous influence. Implicitly, the licensing of adulthood undermines its authority. Adulthood no longer possesses authority over children — it requires the legitimation of a security check.”

I wish his analysis were wrong.

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2 responses to “Protect the Children!

  1. Ohhh you’ve picked the all-time number one thing which gets me more wound up than anything. This, I believe, is this government’s all-time worse piece of legislation and it utterly stinks. But they won’t do anything – despite reports like this they are careering ever further into a state of paranoia rather than putting the breaks on.

    Of course I experience all this on a daily basis in my job – as you’d imagine. It absolutely brings me down sometimes and it’s all set to get worse. You’ll see something on my blog soon. I’ve written a long post but I’ve held it back because I’ve been posting rather allot lately and I don’t want it to get lost.

    Good post.

  2. Pingback: Introducing…the Blog Police! « Cosmodaddy

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