SANITY! England Recovers from Background Check Mania!

Hi Readers! This story is almost too exciting in its implications. England had been requiring background checks for anyone who had any contact with kids once week. (And the original proposal over there would have covered folks having any contact with kids once a MONTH. Sheesh!) The assumption, of course, was that predators are everywhere. Also, that predators all come with a rap sheet clearly labeled, “PREDATOR” and thus could be easily weeded out. The result? Any mom or dad who wanted to volunteer at school, or help out at Scouts, couldn’t do that unless they underwent “vetting.”

But over the summer the government halted the program to study whether it was doing any good or simply driving all adults away from all kids. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, actually called the program “draconian.”

And now it its being repealed! Employers will still be expected to screen their staffs, but that’s about half the people who would have been background checked under the old system.

Why is this such welcome news? Because as a society we have been so gripped with predator panic these past 20 years or so that we have stopped treating human/child interaction as anything other than pedophilia waiting to happen. As our fear for our children grew, we went beyond sensible caution over to rank paranoia. The result was to see all adults through the lens of, “Get away from my child, you creep!” Adults grew scared of kids, kids were told to distrust adults.

I’m hoping that Britain’s re-evaluation will be their shot heard ’round the world, making the rest of us stand back and say, “Wait! Maybe it is time to stop thinking the very worst of all adults, all the time.” Hail Britannia! — Lenore

Land of Monty Python and newly discovered sense!

55 Responses

  1. Yay, Go us!

    I can’t stand this current government. But i am still grateful for stuff like this…

  2. It remains to be seen whether this signals a turn of the tide. England is actually somewhat ahead of us in this hysteria. So hopefully coming to this point: “Yes, there is a point at which the benefits outweigh the risks, even when it is the minuscule risk of an adult committing a crime against a child,” will really start a more rational discussion.

  3. I have nothing against background checks for employees. But if someone actually wants to take time out of their busy scheduale to supervise/ferry kids then by all means be my guest. They shouldn’t be almost persecutted for it.

  4. […] See the rest here: SANITY! England Recovers from Background Check Mania! […]

  5. Still awaiting US Little League to stop requiring background checks in order for a parent to go on the field (at any time – even practices).

    (I can’t begin to understand this requirement, as all of the kids are under the view of at least 6 if not 12+ parents at practically all times.)

  6. Even if this isn’t reflected around the world, it still remains the greatest news I’ve heard all month. Well done, Britain.

  7. Can we replace “human/child interaction” with “adult/child interaction”? Children are humans too🙂

  8. Wow, the proposal was for background screening if you interacted with kids once a month or more?

    So who would not have had to have a background check? I am having a hard time coming up with more than 10 jobs! If you work as a checker at the store, you have contact with kids. Librarian? Contact. Bank teller? They still have those lollipops on the counter here. Car salesman…maybe…but parents sometimes bring kids. Trash truck driver. (But those trucks appeal to little boys!) Accountant. Oh, and what about offices that have the “take your child to work day?”

    Thank goodness someone has some common sense!

  9. And miraculously, we didn’t have any press wailing that it would be a ‘charter for paedophiles’. But I suppose the most paedo-manic press has always been the right wing press, and they’ve also been historically opposed to that level of government interference, so luckily the latter overruled the former.

  10. Finally, some sense in the world!

  11. It’s a sad thing, to create a social condition that encourages so many sensible people to just give up on the idea of interacting with children – just too much bother, trouble, or indignation involved.
    I read an interesting book a few years back that posed an astonishing thesis: that the very heart of our established society actually hates its youth.
    The way the book went about proving that thesis was fascinating.
    Starting with the generic “Dink” mentality (double income, no kids) which explores a particular kind of selfishness, all the way through extreme “control” of kids, as if they were livestock, or pets of some strange species – on toward the ah, “beast that swallows its young” thing (let’s saddle the innocents with enough educational debt to strangle a Brontosaurus)….but that’s older “kids.”
    Moving through the draconian and extreme punishment mentality – into the more profoundly unhealthy and child-unfriendly choices we have made in setting up our society as it is now…

    But you know, keeping kids and adults apart is a profoundly unhealthy thing for a society, anyway.
    When my son was a baby, I used to wheel him around the corner in my neighborhood, just so he could hobnob and socialize with the old folks in the old folks home. They adored him. He thought they were a hoot (somewhat toothless, just like him.)
    And of course, that interesting meeting ground between the ones on the way out, and the one just arrived, on the way in……
    When he was 8, I volunteered one Christmas to deliver goodies to the aged and shut-in, and took him along.
    The looks on the faces of those lonely people, when they opened their front door and saw a kid….was almost too precious to describe.
    And it did him a lot of good too.

    The need to protect children – is a powerful one.
    We have to remember what for, and what from, though.
    We protect them from possible, or very real, danger and harm.
    We don’t protect them from life.
    We don’t have to.
    They should hate us if we were so stupid, no?

  12. I have to say, although I am raising my child with the Free Range philosophy, and she has more freedom and independence than any of the other kids her age around here, I don’t totally understand why anyone would have a problem with background checks. I have mine run at least twice every year (for work, and as a volunteer soccer coach). There have been years that I’ve had it run 3 times (can’t remember why, but I think it was when I was volunteering at school, as a girl scout leader, and a coach). I wish there were a way to promote cooperation, so when one organization checks someone, the results could be shared with other non-profits rather than them paying for to run it again. But I certainly don’t find it invasive – I fill out a form, which takes less than 20 seconds (takes longer for me to fill out the emergency contact form at work, or the “what are you willing to help with” form for school).

    What am I missing? I have served as a leader of several volunteer groups, too, and I’ve never found that the background check requirement made people change their mind about volunteering – it was more often the time commitment (either the volunteering itself, or training needed), or feeling like they didn’t have the skills. I don’t not help in my daughter’s classroom because they’d run a background check; I don’t do it because I’m working during school hours. THAT is how we’re losing volunteers in schools, more parents working full time.

  13. Sorry Lisa, but if I am going to bring cupcakes into my birthday child’s classroom and need to undergo a background check to do it, I’m out.

  14. There are background checks and background checks. Not all are created equal. I am working towards more checks on volunteers in the Netherlands, because there are virtually none. Even if you go camping overnight with kids on summer camp. A background check will soon be possible to be started online (by the person being vetted). And the results are yours, so an organisation may choose to accept your vetting report even if it was issued for another volunteer job.
    However, we ask the organisations to determine which jobs should and should not be vetted. They should do a short risk evaluation of what sort of activities a volunteer does, where and with what sort of children (are they extra vulnerable).
    I want to learn from the UK example, both what to do and especially what not to do. It is not as ridiculous as it is described here.

  15. I’m very happy about this news and do hope the Americans start following the Brits’ example. I live in Britain, although I’m from Kentucky originally. I was visiting my mother recently when she mentioned something called Safe Sanctuary, which is a program the United Methodist Church is promoting. Basically it calls for everyone who’s going to interact with children to have a background check — Sunday school teachers, pastors, etc. I told her I thought it was unnecessary and intrusive, and I told her about the big public outcry in Britain when a similar thing was put into place. She was shocked that I found anything wrong with it and gave me to understand that anyone who cared about children would want these background checks. After a long conversation trying to get her to understand why, even though I love my child, I don’t believe that someone who says hello to him in church needs a criminal records check, I gave up to avoid ill feelings. But I’ll definitely send her a link to this article.

  16. Well I never had to do a background check to help out at my kids school, not for one-on-one reading with individual kids (which is the only volunteer work I did). This was in public school. Is this sort of thing common for simple parent volunteer work in the school? (I live in the U.S., Virginia.)

  17. Our church does run some background checks, particularly on paid staff and ministry leaders, but volunteers go through an in house Child Abuse Prevention Training. The focus is on protecting kids from potential environments that could leave room for abuse and protecting volunteers from potential false accusations. For example: we have a two adult rule. There will always be two adults in any classroom, to protect both the children and the adult. Most legal teacher to child ratios require two adults anyway, at least in this state. Most volunteers don’t mind going through the training, it’s one or two short sessions. We want to protect children, but we also don’t want to make volunteering too difficult or no one ever will.

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  19. Lisa –

    I assume you have no criminal record. What about the guy who had a DUI or some other minor conviction years before? He probably would be prevented from volunteering but may very well choose not to because he doesn’t want people to know and his kid get treated differently.

    The fact is that kids do better if their parents are involved in their schooling and activities. Anything that discourages that participation should be strictly scrutinized. And background checks are fairly worthless. The person volunteering would have to actually be a convicted pedophile for it to reveal anything and that could be determined by looking the person up on the sex registry without needing to stick your nose in the rest if their criminal history.

  20. That should say “would NOT be prevented from volunteering …”

  21. That’s great news. Here in Australia we have a similar thing called a ‘Blue Card’. Every person that wants to work in a field that comes in direct contact with children and is regularly aimed at children needs to have one (basically it is to say that you have had your criminal history checked and there is no nasty predator stamp there).

    I work for a tour company who run regular ghost tours. We have always wanted to open up under 13 tours which have less gorey content and more fun stories for the huge amount of kids who want to come on our tours. Unfortunately this would mean having to get all of our staff a Blue Card which is an incredibly expensive process. They are also only valid for a limited time so we would need to have them renewed every couple of years.

    This is an expense and inconvenience which has put us offering such a fun product as children’s ghost tours since we first started talking about them 5 years ago. I really hope this change in Britain turns the tide in Australia as well.🙂

  22. @Lisa, there are two primary problems with background checks.

    The first is the fallacy that they make our children safer. Not every child predator has a record, and many people who do have records have them now for minor things like having had sex with their 15 y/o girlfriend after turning 18. Our culture is a little quick with the ol’ Dymo Sex Predator auto-labeler these days. It raises the possibility of ruling out worthy volunteers, while failing to do any effective job of keeping out real dangers.

    Second is that it’s over-used. I think it’s reasonable to check on teachers, youth pastors, scout leaders, and the like – who have a position of authority over children, and access to them regularly without another person present. If I’m volunteering in a youth organization or school in a position of lesser authority though, I think it’s a needless invasion of my privacy that (as noted above) does virtually nothing to keep the kids safer. It’s really only done so that if, in this over-litigious society we’ve made, some volunteer hurts a kid, the organization can say “see, we did everything possible to protect them. It’s not our fault.”

  23. In Victoria, Australia, we have a centralised ‘working with children’ check. While I once knew the law very well I’m rusty on it at the moment, but I think it basically applies to people in a supervisory capacity of children ie. childcare staff, teachers, coaches etc. Whilst it involves a police check, it’s more specific. You are not disqualified from obtaining a WWC Card on the basis of a criminal record, but for crimes specifically relating to children or violence. Someone I know in a very senior position in children’s services has a record because of protest activity when she was younger and she doesn’t have any problem getting a check.

    I, for example, don’t need a Working with Children check to volunteer in my child’s classroom or in activities at the childcare centre – essentially no activity that my child is directly involved in. It is also possible to run activities without Working with Children checks if there is a parent in the room agreeing to be in a supervisory capacity. For example, a couple of years back I helped organise a program of children’s art and culture classes at the local community centre. None of the local artists who took the workshops had, or were required to get, working with children checks as long as one of the parents agreed to remain and ‘supervise’, which wasn’t at all onerous given the classes were for under 5s and most of us intended to stay anyway.

    The checks are a cost, certainly, and they do have to be renewed every five years (I think), but at least they’re centralised and specific.

  24. I used to work as an environmental educator in the UK and had the original proposals been put through they would probably have put me out of business. In my case, as I was paid to come into the schools etc it was ME who had to pay for the CRB check at a cost of £60 a time. But I would not have had to pay for just one check, NO – the original proposals stated that I needed a specific check for EACH school or organisation that I worked for even though the check was exactly the same each time!! Over a year I may well have worked for 50-100 different schools/organisations. I’ll leave you to work out the maths but I can assure you the amount I would have had to pay and the time lost in bureaucratic red-tape would probably have been too much for my business to have remained viable.

  25. […] posted here: SANITY! England Recovers from Background Check Mania! « FreeRangeKids Posted in Online Predators Tags: a-rap-sheet, benefits, clearly-labeled, crime-against, […]

  26. Massachusetts banned asking the ol’ “Have you been convicted of a felony?” question starting last November. It is a very small step in the right direction.

    http://www.4nannytaxes.com/blog/2010/08/massachusetts-bans-criminal-history-questions.cfm

  27. @The Laundry Lady, when you say ” Most legal teacher to child ratios require two adults anyway, at least in this state”, are you talking about church Sunday School classrooms, or schools?

    If it’s schools,does there have to be two teachers in every classroom? If so, what a horrendous waste of limited resources, and what an awful assumption that every teacher is a potential pedophile and needs to be watched.

  28. Sky, Buffy, I had to have a background check done on me so that I can volunteer to help the teachers of my children. I am in WA, and they apparently only do the check of WA, which was pretty useless because I only moved here last year. Also, I have to sign a form agreeing to this each year. What a waste of time and money, although it is probably just plugging my name in to see if it matches someone on the Megan’s Law list.

  29. Sanity, indeed.

    Lisa The problem is it’s overkill. It seems innocent enough, since it’s a quick process apparently & once can easily be persuaded towards the “if you have nothing to hide what’s the problem” thinking.

    Among many other things, the problem is this–sometimes, a person makes a mistake, not necessarily a “point of no return” mistake (eg., molestation), but something relatively minor–and they want to just start over & do things right from here-on out. But how is one supposed to do this when your past follows you everywhere you go–because other people keep bringing it up long after you’ve processed it & learned from it–and especially when there’s no statute of limitations on any of it?

    At the same time, too, if you’re clean and know you’re good-to-go, at some point continuously having to remind people that you’re not Jack the Ripper gets tiring. And that does matter. Safety for the children, while that’s obviously paramount, isn’t the only thing to consider.

    The U.K. has gotten one right here.

    LRH

  30. This reminds me of an incident a few years ago in NYC where a young-ish woman sitting alone on a park bench that was on or near or faced a playground was considered kind of a “threat” or pervert even. I don’t recall what happened ultimately, but I remember seeing her interviewed on the news. She was I think just basically on her lunch break or something. Probably not “watching” the children at a all. It was so sick….

  31. I live in South Florida and down here if you want to volunteer in your child’s classroom, even ONCE, you have to undergo a background check and file your fingerprints with the state. A little insane, in my opinion!

  32. Lisa – I think it also depends on how often you are required to pay for a background check, I know when we lived in the South, I was required to have a Background check, and pay for it myself, just to walk my son to school. And even then it was a hassle because I was the only parent walking their child to school. I wasn’t even allowed to walk him to school, I had to walk him to the street before his school and wait for someone from the school to come get him, or until there were no parents dropping off their students. That is when it crosses the boundary from being normal to rather paranoid and insane.

  33. Kimberly — I’m absolutely flabbergasted. That, IMVHO, is when you move out of the school district. Even homeschooling or non-public school doesn’t solve the problem of the school authorities treating EVERY PERSON IN THEIR JURISDICTION like a criminal.

  34. Excellent news! Now if we can have some of that sanity shipped over here, that would be great.

  35. What a coincidence that this rare event of good news took place on my birthday!

  36. @Lisa- it’s all fine to do background checks all the time when the organization pays for them. My mother is a high school band director. Rather than lose four loyal chaperons who couldn’t pay, she did. These chaperons: another teacher’s wife and three parents. If you had to pay $60 for the privilege of others granting you permission to do those things, your opinion may be a bit different.

    As for many schools requiring two adults to a classroom, while I don’t know if it’s the law, it’s very common, especially in elementary schools. In first grade, while the main teacher did story time, a group of five (including me) were drawn aside as the ‘weak readers’ and given special attention. It also helped immensely if someone had an accident, allowed children with special needs into the classroom for certain lessons (because someone could help them) and many other things.

  37. […] Link: SANITY! England Recovers from Background Check Mania! « FreeRangeKids […]

  38. The other day, our waitress, a college student kept coming by our table to go goo-goo over our 5 month old. She kept telling us how cute she was and how happy she was, etc. We didn’t think anything of it other than how nice the compliments were and we were glad our child was making someone’s day. Toward the end of our meal she stopped back by and said, “Well, this might sound weird but I just LOVE kids.” I said, “I don’t think that sounds weird at all. I think that’s wonderful.” And she said, “Well, I never know if I should say that or not because some people automatically think PERV.” I assured her that I didn’t think that at all, but it made me so sad to think that there are probably a ton of people out there who love kids but are so afraid to say anything to anyone for fear of being thought of as a pervert. The irony is that most true perverts probably wouldn’t go around announcing how much they love kids anyway.

  39. […] Follow this link: SANITY! England Recovers from Background Check Mania! « FreeRangeKids […]

  40. Like the first poster, I am no fan of the current government in the UK, but I agree that this end to the ‘Vetting and Barring Scheme’ is wonderful news.

    The whole perv-parent thing has been going on for years around here. About seven years ago I volunteered to drive a car-load of kids on a ten minute trip and because I had no background check I had to take another adult with me (and where was the logic in that? TWO unchecked possible pervs in one car…). The next time one of my kids was on this trip, anyone driving had to give the school a photocopy of their driver’s licence and their insurance docs as well. I decided this was loopy: either people trusted me or they didn’t, so that was the end of me in my helpful mode.

  41. To me this is mainly an invasion of privacy/too much government intervention issue.

    As others have posted, background checks are basically ineffective, set up a false sense of security, discourage volunteers, and are time/money consuming.

    But even worse, they create a society where we accept the government (whether its local, state, or federal) has the right to know everything about our background in order for us to engage in normal day-to-day activities (like helping pass out snack in the classroom or chaperoning a trip to the zoo). The government is supposed to prove a strong need in order to invade our privacy.

    The “safety of our children” may be an appropriate need when working at a day care or having one on one time with a child in an isolated situation. But in circumstances where an adult is not going to be alone with a child, or the times that they are alone with a child in a place full of other adults and children (basically full of other eyes and ears), there is no “need.”

    It should not be commonplace to have a background check in order to interact with your children and their friends, classmates, or Sunday school companions. And we shouldn’t accept it as commonplace, especially as free range parents. Allowing the government to treat helping the teacher with a special project at school or teaching Sunday school as activities requiring governmental supervision and legislation is a slippery slope. Don’t go there.

  42. Ahhh, good news indeed!

    Just a small persnickety point to Lenore from an Englishman living in Scotland, though – any chance you could watch out for the England / UK / Britain confusion? It stands out praticularly when the flag gets involved!

    A totally understandable oversight, I’ll admit (we make the same mistakes all the time) but they ARE different entites – honest!

    Cheers!

  43. Emily – as a member of the Methodist church, we had to adopt the stupid Safe Sanctuary policy at our church.

    I have nothing in my background to hide, but I will not volunteer for anything that requires it. It’s my way of passively asserting my dislike for the whole “guilty until proven innocent” aspect of the policy.
    And if they are checking only for sex-related crimes than if I have previously killed someone then it’s okay for me to be near kids?

  44. […] Readers — Just as we were rejoicing about sanity across the sea (see below, regarding Britain’s re-evaluation of its excessive background checks), comes this story, from […]

  45. […] Visit link: SANITY! England Recovers from Background Check Mania! « FreeRangeKids […]

  46. There is some sensibility in the modern world. I hope it goes through, and others follow suit. If society can drive themselves to their current paranoid state, I’m sure they can drive themselves out of it. Back to the good ol days.

  47. Stevie–great words! I totally agree. And each time I bring it up (at our school, which makes ALL volunteers even those who just hand out popcorn at a carnival or make photocopies in the school office or work from home doing committee work pass a background check; or at a boy scouts meeting where EVERY parent is required to pass a background check. Woe to the parent who actually has a criminal history–I guess his/her kid can’t be a scout, regardless of the crime, or how long ago it was….., or church where I may help lead Kids’ Worship with several other adults in an open area of the church, or for community soccer where every assistant referee for a game attended by tons of parents needs to register and pass a background check), I’m looked at with suspicious as to a) what I have to hide and/or b) why I’m not concerned about the safety of our children. Makes me want to scream!

  48. The local ISD has this about their process (emphasis mine):

    “If the Texas Department of Public Safety returns an apparent criminal history for anything other than a minor traffic offense, individuals will not be placed on the “Approved” list until they are able to provide official proof that the record is clear or until an appeal is successfully processed

    The appeal process they refer to is basically a chance to prove that what they pulled up is incorrect.

    This means *anything* other than a “minor traffic offense”, anywhere on your record, can keep you from the approved volunteer list. My daughter’s father (my ex), due to some youthful indiscretions involving being a little too intoxicated in public somewhere back in his college days, was not able to get approved, in spite of the fact that they desperately needed his help to keep the chess club going. At least, that’s the best we can figure, since they don’t actually let you know the results of these checks, even once you realize you are still not on the list and try to inquire as to why. I do know of a lot of parents who either cannot volunteer because of minor things on their record (not a one having to do with any sort of child-endangering issue), and parents who won’t because they don’t feel comfortable with having their lives poked at like that. (Then again… this is Texas; there are a lot of people out here who feel strongly about their privacy and about government “busybodies”.)

    While I was volunteering pretty much daily at the elementary school she first attended, I learned there was a lot about the policies that made no sense, but that our school at least *tried*. I discovered that, according to some interpretations, unapproved parents were not supposed to be allowed to interact with their *own* child during school events (some schools only allowed approved family members to come in and have lunch with the student). Our schools have not held to that take on things, thank heavens. The old school also benefited from the greater paranoia of another school (the one she now attends, I think it was, actually), because they turned away a bunch of volunteers willing to go through the checks and jump through the hoops from the retirement community/community center nearby. They only allowed volunteers who actually had a child/family member attending the school, so we invited them to come help us out. The just wanted to give something back and work with kids, and the kids loved having them come in and read with them regularly.

    And all of this for something that doesn’t work, anyway. That false sense of security is dangerous, because it also helps justify taking the “better safe than sorry” worst-first thinking even farther so that it leads to even more stupidity.

    And I agree… it is another case of too much interference and setting yet another precedent for privacy invasion. Stevie got it right by calling it a “slippery slope”.

  49. @MsEssex the two (usually unrelated) adults rule is for the adults safety. The idea being you have a witness. Basically it is CYA.

    Our school insurance will not cover kids in personal cars. My insurance will not cover a student, who is not related to me, in my car because I have noncommercial insurance. So I refuse to put a student in my car. There are staff that do though and they always take a different staff member as their “escort”.

    I am now required to have another staff member go with me to do home visits. This is because other jurisdictions have had teachers doing home visits assaulted. (We do them when we can’t get hold of parents).

  50. So now not only is every adult a pedophile, but in the rare (sarcasm) event that an adult is NOT a pedophile, every child is a false accuser? So the adults to have to protect themselves by staffing classrooms with TWO teachers?

    I think I just had a small stroke.

  51. Yes, Beth. Try to tape your head back together, I’m sure it just exploded. But here’s more – where are the kids learning to use this as an accusation in the first place? From the parents who are so worried about the pedophiles! Round and round we go…

  52. @Melanie…

    Accurate description of our “working with children check”.

    The UK situation has come about only in the past couple of years. It occurred as an over-reaction to the discovery of a female paedophile ring led by Vanessa George.

    It came to light during this case that the UK equivalent of Victoria’s WWC gave a full pass to women merely on the basis of gender. Extraordinary given that women are far more likely to be sexual abusers in child care or school setting.

    Unfortunately the over-reaction led to rules requiring checks even for parents who were co-operating to get kids to things like soccer matches.

    I’m heavily involved with the Centres Against Sexual Assault network in Victoria. Myself and many others in that network view the recent UK rules as absurd. Way over the top.

  53. […] Parents who volunteer at school won’t need to hold back until they’ve completed a police scan. [Free-Range Kids] […]

  54. […] about child abductions.  Neighbors can’t even babysit for each other without a permit and a background check.  It was the first company to jump into war with us in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And it seems to be […]

  55. […] Readers — Just as we were rejoicing about sanity across the sea (see below, regarding Britain’s re-evaluation of its excessive background checks), comes this story, from […]

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