Vetting scheme ‘could damage’ safety of children

A leading social work academic has warned that the stringent nature of the government’s new vetting and barring scheme is “potentially deeply damaging” to the safety of children.

Requirements are to be phased in next year compelling anyone who works with children and vulnerable adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on a “frequent or intensive” basis to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

The scheme is intended to reduce the likelihood of contact between children and abusive adults. But Sue White, professor of social work at Lancaster University, said such stringent arrangements could weaken child protection by limiting the opportunities for children to disclose abuse.

White, a member of the Social Work Task Force, said there was potential for such a regime to become “inherently totally risk-avoidant – one step beyond averse – and there will be casualties”.

She added: “The best way to protect children is to teach them to keep themselves safe and maximise their opportunity to have strong relationships with a range of adults, teachers, social workers, and so on. That way, they have someone to tell if they are threatened or abused.”

The ISA, established after an inquiry into the murders in 2002 of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, a school caretaker, will sift through the police and employment records of nine million adults, including thousands of social care workers and volunteers.

White added that she was in doubt about the effectiveness of the ISA’s rules. Arguing that those with a propensity to abuse who have a traceable history will not expose themselves to vetting, she said social networking and the internet would remain an untouched source for access to children.

“The vast majority of abuse, which is perpetrated by those known to the child, often in anger, will be unaffected by this scheme,” she said. “There are also the workers from overseas in health and social care whose history cannot be traced.

“I do hope someone has the political courage to say this amid the florid imagery of the children who have died and the dangerous adults who perpetrated these crimes.”

Registration with the ISA opens 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.

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