Stand Up & Cheer for the Flower Ladies!

Hi Readers! This is a story that’ll give you heart! Over in England, in Gloucester, there’s a cathedral. In this cathedral, a group of about 60 ladies volunteer as flower arrangers. They make the place beautiful. But, apparently, just by being HUMAN, they also make the place DANGEROUS. According to The Telegraph:

At issue seems to have been a bizarre fear that because the women shared a toilet with choirboys, there was a risk that paedophiles could infiltrate the flower guild. A vetting system that was set up to protect children and vulnerable adults thus appears to have mown down a cohort of mostly retired women, average age 70, who represent the backbone of Britain’s voluntary movement.

Yes, the fear is that someone among them might molest the boys with whom they share a bathroom! (Or with whom they WOULD share a bathroom, except the ladies are there during the hours when the choirboys are usually in school.) But anyway — to safeguard the boys, the ladies were told to undergo a background check, to make sure they weren’t convicted pedophiles.  This check was not legally required (see this follow-up story), but the church demanded it anyway. And the chairwoman of the guild, Annabel Hayter, refused.

RIGHT ON.

After she went public with her refusal, she was forced to resign.

FOR SHAME.

As she told The Telegraph, “It is offensive. The people who forced me to resign have had dinner at my house. They know me well. They are showing an incredible lack of trust and common sense… It is terribly sad but it’s also quite pathetic.”

It’s worse than pathetic. This deep distrust of any and all human beings is tearing at the fabric of society. For real. When we regard every adult as a potential child molester, we can’t trust anyone. We have to watch our children every second. And, by the way, whom DO we trust? The folks with papers?

After Annabel Hayter resigned, other flower ladies followed suit.  Now the country is taking note. According to The Telegraph, “The row has highlighted growing concern about the ‘overzealous’ use of Criminal Records Bureau checks, which critics say are deterring and demoralising volunteers across the country.”

I’m sure they are. It’s pretty demoralizing to say, “I’ve come to arrange the peonies,” and hear, “Not so fast, you possible perv!”

And so Annabel, I salute you. This could be the start of something big. Something that we all long for, but are increasingly told is unattainable, even dangerous. It’s called community — a group of people held together by trust and responsibility. A group of people not naive, but not hysterical either, working together, all different ages, to raise a new generation. Same as you’d raise a garden of flowers. — Lenore

51 Responses

  1. Good for them!!
    The best thing I heard all year was when I went to my son’s kindergarten orientation and the pricipal of the school (who I adore!) spoke about volunteering and said that she does not believe in CORI forms, and since they are not required by the state, that she will not ask parent volunteers to fill them out. “The name of our school is COMMUNITY School. We’re all friends and neighbors here, and I don’t think background checks are necessary.”

    Hopefully what these flower ladies are doing will catch on. I mean, great googly-moogly, they are volunteering their time to do something positive for the community!! They have every right to be offended! Maybe when people stop volunteering, the background checks will end.😦

  2. Amen! I personally find this much more offensive than the airport pat-downs. Not that I care for them, no, not at all, but I’m willing to endure them when necessary. Largely, I suspect, because I am usually travelling for my own benefit. But when I am voluntarily, sacrificially, giving of my time and energy — and who has an abundance of that? — to benefit people through an organization, and that organization pulls a stunt like this? Well, goodbye! I’ll find some place where I’m welcome.

    Have you noticed, as I have, that organizations aren’t all that happy with volunteers anymore? Volunteers used to be high on the list of what made communities work, but nowadays I find institutions prefer to have people they can fire, people who will put up with almost anything for fear of losing their paychecks. To be fair, it’s not entirely the institutions’ fault — it’s also a way of trying to protect themselves from lawsuits. But it’s ridiculous. Go, Flower Ladies, Go!

  3. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “Flower Power.”

    You know, Lenore, I host an awards for my field of interest every year. Maybe you should give some kind of Free Range awards and have categories for best and worst of the year.

  4. Good to hear that they are standing up for themselves. I am unclear as to how a group who does not directly interact with children could be remotely considered threatening. This really is an accusatory situation and they can’t hide behind the idea, like a couple posts ago, that if checks are done across the board it is just due dil and not singling out any group.

    While it can be awkward to share bathrooms with the opposite sex – it is really not threatening. The “scary” part for me is the bar here in Chicago that has separate bathrooms but the sink area is common. I really don’t need to see ladies primping and I’m sure they don’t need to see guys doing the same. I really think privacy is a good thing!

  5. and what’s the profile for molesters of young boys, anyway? last time i heard, it wasn’t (presumably) middle-aged women.

  6. How many female sex offenders over the age of 70 are there anyway? Even if the choirboys were there during the same hours, I doubt the chances of this fear becoming reality is infentestimally small.

  7. I hope ther is a backlash against background checks. I recently said no to a mentoring program at our church because of the required checks. I have nothing to hide, but I personally resent that they’ll take my money with no problems but not my time.

    If enough of us say no, maybe they’ll have to reconsider when they can’t find anyone to do the work.

  8. In the follow up article was this common stance of the authorities who demanded the background check:

    “Cathedral officials remain unrepentant, claiming that Mrs Hayter’s ‘campaigning activities are incompatible with her role as chairman of the guild’. ”

    And also this point:

    “One campaigner accused cathedral officials of ‘worshipping procedure and the idea that if you fill in a form or give someone a badge everything will be OK.’ ”

    WORSHIPING PROCEDURE seems to be what it’s all about.

    I came across this problem in an evaluation report regarding a specific school discipline program. Teachers tended to put more emphasis on following The Procedural Structure than whether or not their efforts made any difference in discipline.

  9. Bruce Schneier blogged about this today, too:

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/12/crb_check_backl.html

    And here’s a link to what he has to say about those background checks:

    http://www.schneier.com/essay-277.html

    Summary: There are a lot of baddies it misses. a lot of good guys it misidentifies as criminals, and a lot of not-very-evil consensual sex cases between teenagers of almost the same age:

  10. Hey, Lenore! I like “oncefallendotcom’s” idea about giving “some kind of Free Range awards and have categories for best and worst of the year.”

    That would raise the visibility of Free Range Kids even more and be a great way to point out stupid and irrational behavior in our society. You could present your awards on a prominent TV show, and the entire show could be about the winners. Recipients could appear and talk about their circumstances. Winners of Negative Awards such as “The Award for Irrationality in a Public School”
    or “Fear-Monger In Media Award” would probably not show up, but that wouldn’t mean you couldn’t talk about them. And if they did appear – that would just make a more entertaining show.

  11. Hey; have any of you noticed this related story on “The Telegraph” page for this topic?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8078846/Anti-paedophile-vetting-scheme-to-be-ripped-up.html

    Sounds encouraging. Can we do some ripping in the States as well?

  12. Wow, and they call themselves people of God. Bunch of hypocrites I say. Did these church authorities submit to a background check themselves? I highly doubt it. He who casts the first stone.

    Good for the ladies. Hopefully others will follow suite. Then all ignorant churches will have no one left to volunteer, they’ll have to pay for the same service and and the same fears. They can also look at it as, just because someone has a clean record doesn’t mean they’re clean. Men of the cloth have been charged with sexual assault on young boys.

    He who casts the first stone.

  13. Frlm the above article referenced by Edward, they want to develop a system in which “no one should be deemed a danger to children unless there is very strong evidence that they are.”

    It’s a world gone mad!! (sarcasm)

    (This might be good advice for the woman with her very limited “safe list” too.)

  14. Wow, the lady refused to cave, was forced out–and she has drawn support, not “that’s what you get for not going along?”

    Right on! That’s something which seemingly never happens. It must be my birthday or something.

    Oh wait–it is! (I’m 42 today.)

    (Yes it’s a shameless plug I’m doing, so be it, ha ha.)

    LRH
    Blackberry Bold 9000

  15. This is really stupid. So someone who uses the same bathroom as someone else at a completely different time of day is a potential threat?

    *Even if these ladies were convicted child molesters that would make no sense.*

  16. This makes me sad, not happy. I know how it feels to quit an organization when you actually believe in the work, but the “powers that be” care more about – well, power.

    That said, I think they did the right thing on many levels. Nobody should feel coerced like that, least of all an elderly volunteer who has done nothing wrong. Disgusting.

    If someone suspects one of these women of “grooming” or whatever (how exactly that would look, I don’t know), what is stopping them from running a background report without even approaching the individual first? Is that not allowed over there?

  17. “… just because someone has a clean record doesn’t mean they’re clean.”

    True. It’s the ones who haven’t been convicted you need to worry about – they’re smart enough to know how to get away with it.

    Oh noes! This means we can’t trust ANYBODY!

  18. Funny, they are so worried about the volunteers but not the clergy? Maybe they are so paranoid because they’ve spent so much time hiding Priest pedophiles and sending them to new parishes? They want to look like they are “tough on pedos” when everyone knows about their complicity on decades of cover- ups!

    Here’s an idea- why not BUST the people actually DOING the crimes, and leave the rest of the communiy alone? Imagine that!

  19. Frankly, the main danger in the Flower Ladies using the same toilets as the choirboys is to the Flower Ladies. Specifically to their shoes. Bleah.

  20. Stacey, doesn’t the church “take care of” the molestation stuff internally? Not sure those who actually have been caught committing these offenses actually have a criminal record.

  21. These ladies are not taking on a volunteer position directly dealing with children so it is incomprehensible that they would need to be sent through the process required of people who otherwise would be.

    In cases where it is standard for staff working with children to have a full background check – I guess I still don’t understand why volunteers should be held to a different due diligence standard. If children are more likely to be abused by friends/relatives wouldn’t it follow that volunteers should be subjected to a HIGHER due dil standard? I’m not advocating it but if our teachers and staff have to go through a background check shouldn’t volunteers? I realize that I am in the minority in that I find them minimally invasive given that google and freedom of info act requests could lay bare my whole life story – I just don’t feel as violated about it.

    I would not allow a background check to stand in the way of being involved in my child’s activities – I would, however, let it stand in the way of flower arranging or whatever they are doing here.

  22. “If children are more likely to be abused by friends/relatives wouldn’t it follow that volunteers should be subjected to a HIGHER due dil standard?”

    Most kids are abused by relatives in private. I haven’t heard of a single case of a child abused by a relative/friend in the middle of Ms. Smith’s 5th grade Christmas Party. That’d be one ballsy pedophile. Unlike teachers and staff, classroom volunteers are not generally left alone with any one of the children. Unlike teachers and staff, volunteers (at schools anyway) are usually parents of the children in the school, therefore, the default belief should be that they are volunteering to benefit their chidlren’s education and not to score with their child’s friends – children that they’d have much better access to outside of the classroom than in.

    One of the main problems with background checks is exactly what this shows – it stops good people from volunteering. I have nothing in my history but what about the person who got a DUI 20 years ago when he was in college? While I assume an ancient DUI would not prevent him from volunteering, not wanting the school to know about the ancient DUI may.

    And they are completely worthless. The convicted pedophiles are already identified on the sex registry, a copy of which is probably in the school or easily accessed online. Look up the volunteers if you must. The unconvicted pedophiles would not show up on a criminal background check.

  23. I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t have to dig too deeply into this story to find an insurance company. Because of the scandals w/in the Catholic church, insurance companies that write liability policies for churches –Catholic or other–will often simply refuse to write a policy if a church does not have strict, written procedures in place to prevent any possibility of abuse by church staff and volunteers. Often the insurance carriers strongly recommend or require that part of that written procedure is background checks on anyone who might come into contact with children.

  24. @SKL: exactly. Always the other person, never them. If they are requiring others to get a background check, they shouldn’t object to doing one themselves.

  25. ‘Cathedral officials remain unrepentant, claiming that Mrs Hayter’s “campaigning activities are incompatible with her role as chairman of the guild”.’
    I can’t help but be in awe of the smug pomposity of that statement.

  26. Donna – I think your response is completely rational. I do wonder however, why if we generally feel that parents should not be the target of suspicions why then is it ok to be suspicious of teachers/staff? I would expect the the number of times a teacher could end up completely alone with one student would be similar to a volunteer, if not lower because of extra responsibilities teachers have. By saying that parents are to be trusted but teachers and staff aren’t it blows tons more holes into an already largely flawed due diligence process.

  27. I am going to presume there are different levels of background checks – there are in Australia.

    I have had numerous working with children checks – they are to determine if I am violent or a rapist etc. In Queensland this is made easier through a Bluecard (one check, one card, many uses). In other states it was a different check with each organization. I have never had to pay for these checks.

    I have also had a police check for my job. Kind of relevant I believe – who wants a paramedic in your home if they have been convicted with a string of burglaries? I did have to pay for that one in Queensland, although in other states I did not.

    I do believe there is a place for these checks.
    The process should be free and streamlined though, and only bring up charges which are relevant. I don’t give a damn if you have a charge for public urination when you were 18, so why should it appear on a working with children check? No, I only care so far as to make sure you are not a convicted molester. They are rare, but they are out there. And a simple search should be sufficient to determine if the teacher (for example) has a past that included dabbling in child pornography.

    (Having said all that, I fail to see why the flower ladies in this story should have to undertake such a check – I am just trying to point out there is a place for the checks. I probably go through more of them than most people on this site, and I have no problem with the specified working with children checks, the police check on the other hand is excessive in most circumstances)

  28. @ Matt L –

    Teachers and staff are employees, not volunteers. Many (most?) employers require criminal background checks be done for potential employees pre-hire. Everyone from government agencies to Walmart. I work for a county government and I had to have a criminal background check (on top of the fact that I’ve had a moral character investigation in 2 states to be a licensed attorney). The background check is not unique to teachers but part of the county policy not to hire people with certain convictions on their records. The guy picking up trash would also get a background check and would not be hired if there is a child molestation conviction (although he would have no direct contact with children at work).

    A parent volunteering at their child’s school is not an employee and, therefore, not subject to the pre-employment background check. The parent is HELPING the school by taking time away from their own life to take some of the burden off the overworked and underpaid teachers so that their child can get a better education. Since the best way to insure a students success in school is parental involvement, I think we should actually be encouraging participation not throwing up road blocks and discouraging involvement. The fact is that most teachers and most parents do not molest children so let’s not treat them like they do.

    And I also dispute that teachers are not alone with children any more than the volunteer parents. I’ve never seen a volunteer left alone with a single child (not their own). I remember frequently being alone with the teacher in school. A word after school about something. Being held in at recess for some behavior. Extra help with a subject. I had a tennis coach who gave me a ride home from matches sometimes. If a teacher wants to be alone with a child, he or she can manufacture a way for that to happen. Further, teachers are alone with the kids 7-8 hours a day, every day. A parent volunteer is there for maybe an hour or two at his or her own schedule and is generally working under the supervision of an actual school employee.

  29. At long last, we have unveiled the secret plan of pedophiles everywhere.

    1) Spend 70 years in a community doing volunteer work and participating in church.

    2) After such a long wait, the church lets heir guard down and foolishly allows access to a bathroom small boys may use at some point.

    3) Um, OK. Now what?

    This is insane. Even IF you did all the background checks, this would miss that vast majority of offenders. So all you’ve done is humiliate and annoy some of your best congregants for nothing.

    Beside, we all know that it’s men who are 100% child molesters.

  30. “By saying that parents are to be trusted but teachers and staff aren’t it blows tons more holes into an already largely flawed due diligence process.”

    What holes in the due diligence process are you talking about? Maybe things are wrong in the schools in your area but we haven’t had a local teacher arrested for molesting children in my school district in over 10 years and the one before that was about 10 years prior. To my knowledge we’ve never had a reported case of molestation by a school volunteer. And there are no criminal background checks required for volunteering. While a few bad apples have slipped through the cracks as will happen, there does not seem to be a wholesale failure of the system.

  31. If there is any way we can show our support for them–a place to send letters, or some such–please post a follow-up so we can all do it.

  32. I live in the state of Washington. To volunteer at school, I have to fill in a form to have a background check done by the state police checking (as I recall) the state records. Which as we moved here last year meant that I could have had a record in the other state and they would not have caught it.

    When I worked with daycare and later teens in Maryland, the background check included my finger prints, but again, I am not sure if they checked records out of state or not.

    To be a Big Brother or Big Sister in Montana (and probably most other states) a background check had to be done. It was about the biggest cost of the mostly volunteer organization.

    But ladies (and maybe even perhaps a man at some point in the future) arranging flowers? Why not just have them there at different times, or keep the boys in another area? Or tell the ladies (as would be more befitting) to use the cleaner staff bathroom?

    Our school (a combination of public schooling and homeschooling) has classes two days a week and is located at a church. A very cool use of a building that otherwise would not be used, IMO. Church staff are there while my kids are there. I would not think to insult them by asking if they had background checks. I would rather tell my kids to use the bathroom with one toilet and one door, so no chances of anyone else being in there.

  33. I think it’s more likely the choirboys would molest the old ladies. Maybe the kids should have the background checks!

    Ridiculous.

  34. Happy Birthday, Larry!
    You go with your shameless plug! LOL

    And go flower ladies! This is a truly ridiculous use of background checks.
    As to checks in a certain state checking other states… here in Michigan, several years ago I did some substitute teaching for my kids’ school, a public, for-profit charter. I’ll not get started on that… it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anything was better than GRPS. Anyway, my arrest at the age of 18, which was 1984, in San Francisco did come up on my background check. Interestingly, through this check I learned that marijuana possession was on that arrest. I had no idea, as I was never even arraigned, let alone charged. I though for all those years that it was a simple trespass. That was my one and only arrest (thanks idiot boyfriend), and at the time the check was run, I was 38.
    They did let me continue to sub. It was our last year at that school regardless, but now I know!

  35. <>

    Bingo! There’s the problem, and it’s the same problem that exists with the zero tolerace junk in schools. It removes any influence of situational judgement and/or common sense from the equation.

    And I have to tell you, all this talk of pedophilia shocks me personally. That’s just plain not the first thing I’d think on my own in the vast majority of circumstances, but I’m a bit concerned that this omnipresent danger is in the forefront of the minds of so many. What’s up with that?

  36. In my post above I’d copied a quote from an earlier commenter about worshipping prcedure. Dunno why it went away–But that’s what I was responding to.

  37. Good for you, ladies!!! It’s time we take back our world from all those who inject fear and fear-based products into it!

  38. I am single and childless, at the rate we are going its going to be singles verbotten very soon. How despressing to know that people like me who are not interested in other people’s children will be considered dangerous just because we haven’t had kids.

  39. The publishing company I work for applied last year for a contract to produce the annual reports for a charity or government body (can’t remember which now) that worked with children. We were told that in order to be able to produce the reports, every single employee would have to undergo a Disclosure check. So that we could read, edit, typeset and publish words about children.

    We decided not to bother.

  40. Lori, W., that’s a good point. When will they start requiring schoolkids to have background checks just to be allowed to play at the park? It sounds ridiculous but at the rate we’re going, it honestly would not surprise me.

  41. Donna – the flaws I was referring to are that many organizations get a false sense of security from conducting background checks. There are people without records who could do harm.

    My only dispute is the idea that a criminal background check is a road block, I have usually given my info for work, volunteering etc and they have performed the check and it was no inconvenience to me. The fingerprinting however, was another matter. I get fingerprinted for every new job I take (financial services) and its annoying. I had to get finger printed as well for a local big brothers/sisters program that was odd…

  42. it is really ridicolous…

  43. The wisdom and power that comes with age. Good for them. Let’s draw courage from them and follow in their footsteps.

  44. @EricS, AKA “Enemy of God” – How dare you suggest background checks for church officials, you secular humanist you? I mean really, who is your pre-teen boy safer with – a 70 yr old flower lady or the parish priest? Oh, wait a minute…. Never mind…..

  45. Ian Huntley passed his criminal background check as the under age girls he had sex with denied it to the police. As there was no way to prove it there was no record and he killed two girls.

  46. “My only dispute is the idea that a criminal background check is a road block”

    It’s probably not a road block to people with no record – at least as long as the organization is paying for it. It is likely a road block for people with a record. If I had some old college conviction, I would probably not volunteer at my child’s school if a background check was required. I know how gossipy and judgemental people can be and I wouldn’t want my child discriminated against due to me getting a DUI when I was 21. With the way parents are today, I could definitely see this leading to a situation with some where their children were not allowed to come to my daughter’s house or go places with my daughter because I got a DUI 20 years ago. (For the record, I don’t really have a DUI).

    Especially when there is an easier, non-invasive, way to check for the information that you want. Look up the name to see if the volunteer is on the sex registry for the state. If he or she is not there, then you don’t need to know anything else about the criminal history because it’s not going to be relevant to his or her ability to cut snowflakes with his or her child under the supervision of the teacher.

  47. Linda Wightman: I think part of the bit about organizations preferring to have paid employees rather than volunteers comes from a desire to have bodies on the payroll in order to get bigger and more grants. As bottom-line business values infiltrate non-profits, they come to see their primary mission as maximizing revenue and their secondary mission as serving their original constituencies.

  48. How about the mettle of those petals! Go Flower Ladies, Go

  49. The more I think about this, the more I think that someone must have sat down, listed all the possible solutions to this problem (which someone evidently perceived as a problem) and deliberately chose the stupidest.

    If there really is a concern about them being in the bathroom together, what about just telling the ladies and the boys not to use the bathroom while the others are there — to check that it’s free before entering? What elderly lady or pre-teen boy WANTS to be in a bathroom with the other? In most settings I’m familiar with where both sexes shared a multi-stall bathroom, that’s what people did voluntarily because they didn’t WANT to be in while the other sex was there.

  50. I agree. My husband has been on a list of volunteers to shovel the walks around our church. This year, they asked all of these volunteers to submit to background checks. We’ve been attending this church for 17 years. My husband would not do it. The good news is that he’s still shoveling the walks. We’ll see if they give him the boot.

  51. Horrible privacy issues aside… why can’t someone with a criminal record arrange flowers at a church? It seems like a harmless way for this person to do a small amount of good in the world.

    Next you’ll be telling me that they are running background checks on parishioners. “If you’ve sinned, please, don’t bother showing up. We’re not in the forgiveness game anymore.”

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