Monday, September 14, 2009

CRB checks – overkill or overdue?

Last week on the front page of my local paper (The Argus) I saw a face I recognised, as I had met him at a dinner some time back. He was an Assistant Head at a local school, quiet guy, but now suspended after child porn was found on his computer. In fact there’s been a spate of this in Sussex, with a teacher in BHASVIC (local sixth form college) installing cameras in the girl’s toilets, a maths teacher at Longhill School charged with 22 counts of possession of child porn, Bewbush Primary School teacher who abused three boys under the age of 13, a teacher at the CE Bishop Bell School having sex with young girl pupils and a lesbian PE teacher having an affair at Hillcrest School – and this list is far from exhaustive. Quite worrying really.

This is directly relevant to the current debate on CRB checks, which some regard as overkill and others as overdue. A total of 3,850,000 checks were made in 2008-09 and the total cost so far is an astonishing £600 million. It’s amazingly inefficient with people having to reapply every time they work with another public body.

On the other hand the system has supposedly stopped 98,000 people from working with children in the last five years. Supporters of the system point to the suffering prevented, rather than the cost. But, at well over £6000 per block, this is expensive. Then again, the deterrence effect will have prevented many more from trying. Interestingly the number of people actually convicted of crimes against children was 616 in 2002 and has risen to 1, 175 last year. A worrying statistic one could say, but as most of those charged were relatives or those known to the children and their families, the CRB checks would have been of little use.

So is this a huge piece of costly public bureaucracy or a valuable public service that really does protect children? My own view is that, despite the fears, the CRB service (ISA) has become bloated and is not looking at simpler and more cost-efficient ways of providing the service. It has become the biggest vetting service in the world, and is heading towards covering 1 in 4 adults living in England, NI and Wales. Bodies like this tend to evolve into having their own growth as an objective, rather than the public good and the costs of a search, through computer databases, seems excessive. It also puts people off volunteering. The tone of voluntary service is now one of guilty until proven innocent. It also increases the distrust children have in adults, normalising a dysfunctional view of adults. This can’t be right. Then there’s the problem of malicious accusations, sometimes used as a weapon by children and others against innocent adults. The ‘false memory’ scandals that have arisen out of the therapeutic industry have been scandalous. Another reason, and a clincher for me, is the support given to the agency by Esther Rantzen!

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