Changes to criminal checks

11 February 2011 — 8 Comments

'Caution' by rknickme on Flickr


This morning brings us news of the government’s Freedoms Bill being unveiled later today, which proposes changes to the overly complicated and bureaucratic criminal record checking system:

The new bill calls for a merging of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority to form “a streamlined new body providing a proportionate barring and criminal records checking service”.

That body will provide what ministers say will be a more “proportionate” checking service for about 4.5m people who work “closely and regularly” with children or vulnerable adults.

Teachers will continue to be vetted – but those who do occasional, supervised volunteer work will not.

Critics of the current system which has been accused of treating the public as criminal suspects, are welcoming the news, but others have concerns for child safety by relaxing the amount of people who need to be vetted.

Personally, I’m pleased that the process is being simplified. At times I have had up to 4 separate CRB checks for different agencies simultaneously, and regularly have to do checks on fully supervised volunteers who only do a few hours in a whole year. Under this new Bill, these volunteers would be exempt. It does however place more responsibility on organisations to ensure volunteers are properly supervised and appropriate procedures are in place.

How will this change affect your work? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

8 responses to Changes to criminal checks

  1. Caution- the picture above completely sums up this Bill! This is simply a cost cutting measure. It really seems to me that it is all about scrapping any ideas that the Labour government previously had and making it their own. The frustration for me is that the vetting and baring system was put in for a reason; it was introduced after the murder of the two girls by the caretaker Ian Huntley in 2002. He didn’t have any direct contact with the children and therefore didn’t have to have a CRB check, he previously had been cautioned on many occasions in different constabulary, none of whom shared the information. Due to this the vetting and baring system was introduced. Now that the government are ‘Streamlining’ the system I am concerned that we are leaving a gaping hole in the protection of our young and elderly like before. Volunteers who ‘being supervised’ will no longer need to be checked, however as a manager or senior youth worker would you really want to have to deal with the situation if something were to happen? Putting the cost aside protecting children and young people is my top priority and the top priority of any youth worker, I just feel that ultimately they young people are being put at risk because of this change. There is no harm in filling out a five minute form in order to check the background of your volunteers, I completely agree that the system needs to be changed I just don’t feel this is the correct way to do so.

    • Brilliant Rosie, thanks for the counter-argument!

      I would agree with some of what you say, particularly with regard to being cautious. This is by no means a full solution; it is undoubtedly a cost-cutting exercise in an environment where everything is being slashed, and it does smack of political games against the previous government.

      However, I do disagree too! The Vetting & Barring scheme, while sound in theory, was going to be incredibly intrusive and unwieldy for most people and took the approach that everyone was guilty (of some unknown crime against children) until proven innocent. Backing off on the legislation helps most organisations working with volunteers while everyone else can carry on as usual (paid workers will continue to be checked). As an aside, the sad fact is that however tight the regulations become, there will always be people who slip through because they haven’t yet committed any offence.

      You’re right that “volunteers ‘being supervised’ will no longer need to be checked” but that doesn’t mean they can get away with anything! As an organisation, we still have application forms and an interview for every potential volunteer including a probationary period. While that obviously won’t stop anyone intent on harm, it is still a deterrent and would pick up many who are unsuitable for voluntary work with children and young people.

      I also disagree about the ease of applying for a CRB. I’ve spent the last 3 months working with a 19 year old young man to find enough paper evidence to complete the application. Due to various house moves, situation changes and circumstances, he doesn’t have what is required. I can tell similar stories for many more individuals who don’t have or can’t get passports, birth certificates, etc. It’s OK for those who live structured, orderly lives, but there are many who don’t fit this pattern.

      The huge benefit of this new bill is that CRB’s will be portable, meaning that once you get a CRB you don’t have to apply for another one with each organisation (I expect there will be some kind of caveat to this though).

      I also would challenge you on your top priority as a worker: protecting young people. Of course, we must do everything in our power to insure young people are not abused in any way (so I understand what you mean), but I would not class myself as their “protector”. Rather, I would see that part of my role would be to expose young people to difficult or challenging (not dangerous) experiences that would allow them to learn and develop as individuals. Anyway, I know this isn’t really what you meant but it was worth mentioning!

      So what do you think now? Have I convinced you? 😉

  2. I want to see the details of the final bill before coming down too strongly on one side or another, but…

    To a certain extent I share Rosie’s concerns, specifically because the original system (whilst flawed) was a response to a very specific set of circumstances. To drop it (or hugely scale it back) will simply open up those areas of concern.

    It appeared to me that the proposed CRB & ISA system finally addressed the flaws of the original system (as far as they could be). If it had also included CRB portability, I think it would’ve been a huge step forward.

    Jon said:
    :: The Vetting & Barring scheme, while sound in theory, was
    :: going to be incredibly intrusive and unwieldy for most
    :: people and took the approach that everyone was guilty
    :: (of some unknown crime against children) until proven innocent

    I disagree. It doesn’t assume everyone is guilty, it simply looks into their backgrounds to double-check that’s there’s nothing to cause concern before allowing them to work in certain situations.

    When someone applies for a job and has to provide references, the potential employer isn’t assuming they’re a no-good, lazy, untrustworthy bigot who is out to rob the company and insult their new co-workers. But they still request the references to see if there’s anything which is likely to cause a problem with any potential employment.

    I hear what you’re saying about some of the difficulties in applying for a CRB, particularly for younger volunteers. Personally though, I think that’s preferable to a more open system which will potentially put young people at risk.

    Whilst it’s good to finally have a report on the progress being made and the measures being considered, it has been pointed out that the ‘Freedoms Bill’ (such a poncy title!) of which this is part isn’t going to be debated/progressed until early 2012. Disappointing there won’t be any progress before then.

    • Hi Ricky, thanks for the comment. I think we all agree that’s it too early to really know what these changes will mean in practice, but I still welcome the idea!

      I like your analogy of a CRB check being like job references, and agree to an extent (where people are looking to do regular work in a specific role). Where it falls down is for the volunteers who simply want to do something kind or helpful every now and then. Examples cited in the media like parents not being allowed to sit in class and read with a child, or grandparents not able to take their grandchildren and friends out, seem to stretch the concept of a CRB to ridiculous levels and this is where the change in the “Freedom Bill” appear to be sensible.

      I’ve been talking with a few people about CRB checks over the last 24 hours and I think it’s an incredibly difficult thing to get right. Many people (due to high profile media stories) are very apprehensive about adults (particularly men) working with children and young people. A number of parents I spoke to want “everyone” checked due to fears of abuse. Tragically though most abuse is committed by friends and family who have access to children aside from clubs and organisations, so a CRB check will never stop these cases.

      Ideally we need a stringent and secure system that thoroughly researches someone’s background when they apply for a position, BUT is easy to apply for without people having to jump through too many hoops and hurdles!

  3. I personally think the removal of the Vetting and Barring  for occasional volunteers is a good thing. I take Rosie’s point about it being a response to the Ian Huntley case and that was a horrific scenario where he hadn’t been checked at all. He may not have been working with children, but he was a caretaker to a school and that being the case should have been CRB checked. There are also the obvious holes in communication and availability of information not being available as Rosie pointed out. Nevertheless as Jon pointed out, there will always be those who fall through the cracks and the Vetting and Barring was intrusive.  I also don’t think said case should lead to all volunteers being put through Vetting and Barring.  Such incidents were not happening every day before nor are they happening everyday after.  It was a tragic case.  The CRB system is by no means perfect. I at one point had six “active” CRB’s, filling out one new one within a month of receiving my previous. Even after filling in many forms, still each time they could be picky about the ID and information provided. Now in one sense it was great to know they were doing their jobs, but it was also extremely frustrating.  The news of only having one CRB is a relief to someone who has done a lot of constant volunteering with different organisations.  The issue with the Vetting and Barring is that rather then making it simpler it was another layer to work through.  Plus if a volunteer is supervised constantly, why should they need to be checked? Maybe that seems naïve, but there contact is visible, they are under someone’s supervision and never alone with a child. There are always going to be “worse case scenarios” but should a Mum have to be put through it when she’s just helping out at a cake sale after school for example? Several high profile authors also protested against it .

    (See BBC News 16/07/09 http://tinyurl.com/4n9qgca).  Phillip Pullman said:

     

    “Children are abused in the home, not in classes of 30 or groups of 200 in the assembly hall with teachers looking on.”

     

    Pullman and several other authors were threatening to boycott school visits, though in fairness The Home Office did say that the Vetting and Barring bill was only applicable to those visiting once a month or more. However we all know that these bills can get abused or even exaggerated in use. A prime example of this is the case of two police women (See BBC News 28/09/09 http://tinyurl.com/49hytjl)  who babysat each other’s children in the day time. The claim was that they were getting a “reward” from looking after each other’s children – in this case free childcare so they could work. The Childcare Act of 2006 talks about “reward” but makes no distinction between “financial” or “beneficial”.  In the end I believe the case was overturned although I cannot find the ruling on it, but still, although this may not be related to the Vetting and Barring directly, it is a prime example of escalation and abuse of legislation.  The natural escalation of the extra layer could have ended up being the Mum who takes a group of her children’s friends to the park once a month getting charged because its deemed as regular contact with a group of children.  I’m not saying I believe the new bill to be perfect, but I do believe a rethink and removal of the Vetting and Barring is a good thing in the long run so a new process can be brought forward.

  4. Yeh sorry it turned into a mini assignment! Haha!

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