Children’s secretary Ed Balls has announced a review of the vetting and barring scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults following widespread concerns that people will have to register unnecessarily.
In a letter to Barry Sheerman, chair of the children, schools and families select committee, Balls said he had asked Independent Safeguarding Authority chair Roger Singleton to examine whether the government had got the balance right in defining what activities should and should not be covered by the scheme.
From next July, the ISA-run scheme will open for applications from people who work with children or vulnerable adults on a “frequent or intensive” basis, or overnight.
Singleton to report by December
Singleton, who was also appointed as the government’s chief adviser on the safety of children, has been asked to examine the application of the “frequent or intensive” criterion to real life situation, and report by the beginning of December.
Balls took the decision after Sheerman urged him to “get a grip” on how the scheme was being presented to the public, following a spate of negative press coverage about the impact and remit of the scheme, including:-
- Complaints from children’s authors, including Philip Pullman, over having to register to visit schools regularly.
- Concerns from outgoing information commissioner Richard Thomas, over the use of unsubstantiated allegations about people in making barring decisions.
- Warnings that parents who give other children lifts to activities would have to register, and that it would deter people from volunteering.
‘Inaccurate and misleading reports’
In his letter to Sheerman, Balls said there had been some “inaccurate and misleading reports about the operation of the new arrangements”.
He stressed that the scheme’s requirements would only apply to arrangements made by third parties, such as clubs or schools, meaning parents making private arrangements concerning friends’ children would not be covered. Given the “frequent or intensive” criterion, it would also not cover parents who worked at schools or clubs on an occasional or one-off basis.
He said there had been extensive consultation and debate over where to draw the line between inclusion and exclusion from the scheme, and added that this has suggested that “we have got the balance about right”. However, he said it was “tremendously important that we are certain that this is so”.
NSPCC backs scheme
Meanwhile, the NSPCC has voiced its support for the scheme, saying some recent press articles, in which the charity was quoted as voicing doubts over the scheme, had not adequately represented its position.
It said the current system of criminal record checks were inadequate by only providing information at single point in time, and added: “We encourage all those who volunteer or work with children to recognise that such checks are necessary and that they are not intended to cast suspicion over the many who give up their time to help children but to weed out the few seeking to abuse them.”
However, it said the government needed to do more to explain how it would work in practice.