A new vetting scheme for adults who work with children is too draconian and almost certain to be counter-productive. An example of government getting too big for its boots?by Ben Rogers / March 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
A neighbour tells me that, for the last few years, her child’s primary school has encouraged parents to spend 20 minutes every Friday morning reading or drawing with their children and their children’s friends. This activity is valued by parents and is a good example of the parental engagement the government says it wants schools to encourage. But recently teachers began to warn that these sessions might be in violation of the government’s new vetting and barring scheme, designed to safeguard children from dangerous adults. I check with the scheme, and it turns out that it is indeed in violation. From November, anyone who starts in a role that gives them weekly contact with children through a school or other organisation—including parents who read or draw with their children in class—will have to be vetted by the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) which oversees the scheme.
The idea that public servants and volunteers pose a threat to children is a relatively new one. The state only began actively protecting children in the 19th century, and that was against inadequate or violent parenting and exploitative employers. But over the last 20 to 30 years, this has begun to change. The state has become concerned with protecting children from itself—or at least from its agencies and servants.
But the government’s new attempt to shield children has rebounded on itself. The ISA is worthy of George Orwell, says the Guardian. It is an outrageous attack on our liberties, protests the Daily Mail. It is an example of all that is wrong with new Labour’s big state, says David Cameron. And indeed, the controversy is a good lens through which to explore both the charge that Labour’s instincts are too statist, and the perils that lie between us and Cameron’s “post-bureaucratic age.”
To understand why the ISA exists, start with the Soham murders, the public reaction to them, and the subsequent Bichard inquiry. In August 2002, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both aged ten, were walking about in their home village of Soham, Cambridgeshire. They stopped at the house of their teaching assistant Maxine Carr and her boyfriend Ian Huntley, a caretaker at another local school. Maxine was out but Huntley enticed the girls in and murdered them. In his inquiry, Michael Bichard, a former civil servant and permanent secretary at the department for education, showed that Huntley had a long history of sexual…