Why registers do not get my tick

The Home Office’s consultation paper on domestic violence,
published this summer, put forward several measures to better
protect individuals from domestic violence (see “Up in the air”,
page 26, 4 September). More education and awareness training,
making common assault an arrestable offence, and making it a
criminal offence to breach an injunction.

One of the more innovative features is the idea of a domestic
violence register, which would include names of offenders known to
have been violent in the past. Once on the register the offenders
would be required to notify the police when they moved and the
contents of the register might be shared with health care
professionals and social services staff.

The model is based on that of the sex offenders register, and for
those critics – admittedly not very many – who argued against the
sex offender register on civil liberty grounds, it will confirm one
of their fears: “Sex offenders today – but who will be next?”

Whether registers will be used for other forms of offending will
remain to be seen, but registers already form a staple diet for
contemporary social work. Mostly they are accepted without

We register children where there are child protection issues,
childminders, foster parents and private children’s homes. We
register children who are disabled and children and adults who are
blind. We have a National Adoption Register. We register nursing
homes, social care homes, day nurseries and other domiciliary and
day care services in the private sector. The General Social Care
Council is now charged with registering all social workers and
social care workers.

But do registers reduce risk? How many social workers have left a
conference having put a name on the child protection register
feeling that it is not going to make a bit of difference. How many
millions of pounds are spent annually on the upkeep of registers
that hardly anyone consults in the way they were supposed to?

Only the mental health service has been decisive enough to
dismantle a register. The mental health supervision register
hastily designed in 1994 to help track patients in the community
was wound up in 2000, having proved more trouble than it was

Now, yet another register is being proposed. It seems that as long
as we can mark ourselves off from “the others”, we can justify a
new register.

Terry Thomas is reader in social work at Leeds Metropolitan

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