Computer says no? Vetting, barring and child protection revisited

Saturday 18 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Frobisher 1-3, Barbican Defending Everyday Liberties

Four years ago, the government resolved to scale back criminal-records vetting to ‘commonsense levels’, following concerns that excessive checks were causing unnecessary expense and even putting people off volunteering to work with children. But a recent report argues little has changed – criminal-records checks are still being required for everyone from parents listening to children read at school to flower arrangers in churches - and the fundamental assumptions of vetting and barring policy remain, including that everyone who has contact with children must be vetted.

How do we decide who is a danger to children? Child protection decision-making has undergone a fundamental transformation over the past decade, with an increasing reliance upon standardised and bureaucratised procedures. Criminal-records checks have become the basis of decision-making: a clean check means somebody is ‘safe’, an offence or other piece of information means they were not. Meanwhile, barring has become highly automated, with ‘case-workers’ carrying out formalised ‘structured judgement procedures’ to decide whether somebody should be barred from working with children. Standardised procedures may appear to be free of bias and predilection, but are they necessarily better? Does the culture of box-ticking mean professionals have stopped using their judgement and considering particular individuals and contexts? And what about the effect upon those who are declared ‘unsafe’ - because they don’t have an up-to-date check or because their check includes an unproven allegation?

Is there any role for everyday vigilance, with adults using their common sense and intervening when they see suspicious signs rather than deferring to a computer? Has the spread of vetting made people more aware of child-protection issues - or has it made them less vigilant, trusting too much to professionals?

Listen to the debate:

Josie Appleton
director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State

Jan Cosgrove
national secretary, Fair Play for Children

Christopher Stacey
director (services), Unlock

Jennie Bristow
senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges and Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict; co-author, Parenting Culture Studies

Produced by
Josie Appleton director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State
Recommended readings
Vetting scheme 'would not protect children as paedophiles operate online'

Children would not be protected by Labour’s controversial anti-paedophile database, according to experts, because sexual predators are more likely to find victims online rather than in their workplaces.

Martin Beckford, Telegraph, 29 June 2010

Vetting and Barring Scheme – new and improved or still old and useless?

Why the government's reported

Zach Woodham, Our Kingdom, 20 December 2009

Where were the vetting critics three years ago?

The politicians and children’s charities now questioning vetting regulations are the same people responsible for their creation.

Josie Appleton, spiked, 16 September 2009

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