Elisabeth Hoodless warns over vetting scheme form-filling

The head of the Independent Safeguarding Authority was wrong to conclude that additional paperwork and background checks attached to the new vetting and barring scheme would not deter volunteers from providing vital support to the social care sector.

That was the warning from Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, executive director of Community Service Volunteers (CSV), who questioned Roger Singleton’s review of the process, published this week.

From next year onwards, nine million adults working with children and vulnerable adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to register with the ISA if they come into contact with service users at least once a week. Thousands of social care volunteers could be affected by the requirements, including those working with children on the at-risk register, young offenders, children in care, and older and disabled people.

Singleton, the chair of the ISA and the government’s chief adviser on the safety of children, said in the report that he was “puzzled” by the suggestion that volunteers would be discouraged by the perceived bureaucracy involved in registering.

In his review, commissioned by children’s secretary Ed Balls, Singleton said individuals would only have to fill out a short form and suggested that there were other reasons more likely to discourage volunteering than vetting, such as time constraints and the demands of paid employment.

However, Hoodless argued that many potential volunteers would be put off by the time taken to fill in and send off the form, adding that some would also have “an aversion to being checked out”.

“Early research shows eleven million more people would volunteer if somebody asked them, but now we are finding people are more nervous,” she told Community Care.

Hoodless said that, rather than requiring volunteers to register, organisations should be “eternally vigilant” and closely supervise people who are working with children and vulnerable adults.

“The important thing is that references are taken up in the first place, and there should be proper training over a period of time,” she said.

The vetting and barring scheme will require anyone working with children and vulnerable adults on a “frequent or intensive” basis to register with ISA from next year. Registration starts in July 2010 and becomes mandatory for new entrants from November. The scheme will be phased in for the existing workforce over the next five years.

The ISA was established following an inquiry into the murders in 2002 of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, a school caretaker. This recommended the creation of a single agency to vet all individuals who wanted to work with or volunteer with children and vulnerable people.

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