Sunday, February 18, 2007


For readers who are not familiar with the levels of child protection paranoia prevalent in the UK, it must first be realised that all men are potential child rapists and all women potential child abusers (or vica versa). In order to protect children (or vulnerable adults) from harm by predatory adults, everyone who works with children has to be "checked out" against the Police National Computer database. A noble aspiration in itself, until it comes to the implementation.

The scheme is run by an outfit called the Criminal Records Bureau and most of the actual legwork is carried out by the large outsourcing organisations such as Crapita. They produce a document called a Disclosure and there are two varieties of them, the more penetrating version being known as an enhanced disclosure.

Teachers require them in order to stay in a job and if they move jobs, they can't start work again until they are re-cleared- even if their most recent one was indeed very recent. Everyone who works in a school now needs them and it is now a budget line in every education establishment balance sheet.

It isn't just teachers of course. I know someone who does mountain rescue and is involved with the Scouting movement. He tells me that he has four current disclosures as different bits of the movement require their own checks and they don't accept checks made by others. As there is only one database, why is this? Well, the procedure involves producing various bits of personal information as part of the process to prove who you are and an organisation cannot be certain that another did it entirely correctly, better to be safe than sorry and all that.

I'm now on to my third disclosure with "Right to Read" and whilst they are supposedly good for two years, the mileage is more like 18 months (as passports with only six months to go will not get you into some countries). Of course, they are only really good for the day they were issued as you could get convicted the day afterwards...

What does a disclosure look like? It is a green watermarked long sheet of paper A4 width with purple printing. It has an eight digit number and a twelve digit reference as well as stuff about the applicant and the registered body approved for submitting disclosure requests. Further down are five important boxes, headed as follows:

-Police Records of Convictions, Cautions, Reprimands and Final Warnings
-Information from the list held under Section 142 of the Education Act 2002
-Protection of Children Act List information
-Protection of Vulnerable Adults List information
-Other relevant information disclosed at the Chief Police Officer(s) discretion

Fortunately, mine all have the words NONE RECORDED apart from the fourth, which says NOT REQUESTED. Each time I have waited for the new form, I have always had a small doubt in the back of my mind that I may have been convicted without my knowledge and the whole sordid truth will erroneously appear due to computer error...

The back of the form has stuff about the legal aspects, a disclaimer from the CRB about how it isn't actually responsible for the accuracy of police records and how to contest errors.

Why do I think it is such a waste of time? Well, apparently, three million of these things have now been issued, at £45 or so a pop. This is frequently public money in the public sector merry-go-round or often funding that could be better spent in voluntary organisations. There are mechanisms for getting "free" disclosures in the voluntary sector but it isn't straight-forward and at the end of the day someone pays for it.

"But it is all worthwhile if it protects the children..." the bleeding heart liberals cry, but does it? The scouting movement has a crisis of grass-roots volunteers as far too many people just can't be bothered with the hastle and the unspoken implication that you must be dodgy until proven otherwise. (Most Akelas and Baloos in Cubs & Beavers I have come across are women these days which is an interesting turn-around as the converse is not the case in Rainbows & Brownies). The disclosure is seen as a means of delegating potential future blame by those in responsibility, rather than using common sense and instinct. The Disclosures are also occasionally wrong, both in blaming the innocent and exonerating the guilty.

There is also talk of subjecting school Governors to disclosure. School Governors are volunteers from various walks of life who make the strategic school decisions with the management team (as much as the Local and Central Government permits them to within the somewhat prescriptive system in Britain). Currently, Governors are checked on appointment against something called List 99, otherwise known as the sex offenders register. Fortunately, our Chairman of Governors is shrewd enough to realise that this would be a waste of school budget as Governors are not put in a position where they would be left alone with children and would rarely see them anyway outside of assemblies and Year visits. I am a school Governor and found myself doing another four year term recently in order to help out as part of the new Head Teacher selection process, despite wanting to stand down and give Karen a chance. However, if Disclosure becomes mandatory, I am pig-headed enough to tell them where to stick their stinking gringo disclosure, even if I've got another one in the drawer at home (which they probably wouldn't accept anyway...)


Liz said...

A man turned up at our youth cafe a couple of weeks ago and asked if he could volunteer. He wasn't long out of prison after murdering his wife. (Although he reckons it wasn't his fault but the fault of someone else ... who didn't stop him.)

Ian Grey said...

Liz, Did he volunteer this information himself?

When I was a theatre rep, a new technician somewhere told me he was just out of prison within three sentences.