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Better Safe Than Sorry

The scrapping of the vetting for people who work with children in the UK is a tragic mistake, Eyewear feels. While authors, like Phillip Pullman, claimed lofty indignation, the Soham murders established that the person next door can be - and sometimes is - a dangerous, even murderous, predator. To deny otherwise is not very literary - writers and poets, of all people, should be aware of the depths of human behaviour, and especially sensitive to the risks of child abuse. Many poets and writers I know have had such abuse experiences themselves. What would have been a cautious, but sensible, tracking of all those who sought to work closely with children in positions of trust has now been removed - and while civil libertarians can rejoice, sadly, and ominously, so will those with more sinister interests. The recent history of priests, and boy scout leaders, established, I think, that society needs to guard against institutional laziness around child abuse and predation. This government just erred on the wrong side of being Liberal.


Ms Baroque said…
Todd, they haven't eliminated the checks for everyone, have they? I think Pullman et al were objecting to the checks for visiting writers, who would be working with a teacher in the room...

And love the picture of Sara at the top! It looks great.
Tom said…
But the majority of victims of child abuse are abused by members of their own family. And when a writer or other creative practitioner visits a school, he or she is always under the supervision of a staff member anyway.
Todd Swift said…
Tom, but as writers and poets we must not presume to claim we are above such things as illness, criminality or aberrant urges, surely? Anyway, this applies now to all people working with kids, not just writers in schools. And, as many writers will attest, when in-school, they are often left alone, if only for a few minutes. Pullman is naive or mischievous to claim that people wanting to be near children always or usually have proper intentions. One thinks of Lewis Carroll.
Todd Swift said…
ps Katy, glad you liked the photo, but I had to pull it. She only wanted it up until her cover was blown. (-:
Sheenagh Pugh said…
"And, as many writers will attest, when in-school, they are often left alone, if only for a few minutes."

Well.. only if by "alone" you mean "alone with a class of 30 kids". Bit difficult to start anything in those circumstances! I've always been too busy looking out for my own personal safety. And I would never allow myself to be left alone with one child, for fear of false accusations.

There's a balance to be struck between safety and paranoia. It isn't great for children to think of all adults as dangerous; neither is it desirable for many men to opt out of working with children lest people question their motives (or, again, for fear of being falsely accused). And they do opt out; it is particularly hard now to get any man to coach children in sport.

As for "Pullman is naive or mischievous to claim that people wanting to be near children always or usually have proper intentions", of course adults wanting to be near children don't "always" have proper intentions, but it surely isn't naive to think they "usually" do? In fact it strikes me as paranoid to suppose they "usually" do not. No wonder men are embarrassed to teach in primary schools if people really think they "usually" have evil intentions!
Todd Swift said…
Sheenagh, experience has taught me to err on the side of amiable caution - to hope for the best, and prepare for the worst, of human nature.
Sheenagh Pugh said…
So do you want there to be no male teachers, activity leaders or sports coaches for young children? Because that's surely the logical outcome of assuming the worst in this case. Vetting alone won't eliminate those who do have bad intentions, not if they have been cunning enough to avoid a criminal record (like the Soham guy) and it will merely confirm the worries of those who know how many people look askance at any man who shows an inclination to work with children. A while ago, there was a big drive in kids' athletics to try to find female sports coaches, not for fear that all the men were pervs but because so few men were now willing to do it in case they were seen as such. There are also, of course, authenticated cases where men, seeing a child in obvious distress in the street, have feared to intervene - these days you might notify the nearest police station that there's a child lost nearby but you don't take it there, lest anyone should accuse you of abducting it. That strikes me as quite sad.
Todd Swift said…
Sheenagh, I appreciate the thought you're putting into this matter. My concerns merely echo those of Barnardo's the child welfare charity. Women, too, can be predators, sadly. But really, my point was not restricted to writers - nor was it to limit volunteerism with draconian vetting. I do think though that having to submit to a background check for a previous criminal record (or being on an offenders register) is a small price to pay for the chance to protect children. The Soham killer did, in fact, have a record of uncomfortable behaviour, and had he been vetted, he would not have been employed at the school and gained the children's trust - the very reason for this proposal, now scrapped.
Sheenagh Pugh said…
I'm not sure the Soham man's "uncomfortable behaviour" would or should have shown up, given that he'd never been convicted of anything. Indeed if we're going to note everyone's employment records with incidents of people feeling uncomfortable around them, you open the door for a lot of malicious unfounded accusations. Might be simpler to educate young girls not to go home with men they don't know all that well - now that would have been a sensible rather than a paranoid precaution.

I don't agree with everything in this article but she's right about "the dishonest, unworkable idea of telling children that all adults are bad unless they've been certified good". Also about "It's all based on the fear of damage, without considering the damage of fear."
Anonymous said…
Sheenagh, thanks for putting it so clearly and sanely. I actually know a teacher who temporarily lost his job because of what was perceived as 'uncomfortable behavior', even though the non-incident took place in a room with other adults present, who apparently missed the moment. The school's attitude was extraordinary; he was not given any opportunity to challenge and/or discuss the accusation, while they carried out an internal enquiry which (after several weeks) finally exonerated him. But no written apology was forthcoming, from the school or parent/s involved, presumably for fear of legal action. I've given some workshops for children (with teachers present, which suits me). In fact, if I were teaching full time in England in the current system, I really think I'd prefer to have CCTV in the classroom (and corridors, etc.) rather than risk some paranoid parent misinterpreting what they or their child (who has suffered their indoctrination) thinks they witness. A very sad state of affairs.

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