Want to Help Out at a Class Party? All You Need to do is Get Fingerprinted!

Hi Folks! Here’s a school memo one of you sent in from the Brave New World that thinks somehow every time any adult encounters a child — even in a classroom filled with other adults and a gaggle of kids — the kids are in grave danger:

Wiggle those digits

If you attended volunteer training last spring in order to be able to help out at school (in the classroom, on field trips, at parties, etc.), there’s one more step you need to take.

The school board recently added a fingerprinting requirement for all volunteers to accompany the existing background check. New volunteer training this year will include fingerprinting opportunities.

If you completed the training last school year, you need to get in touch with volunteer coordinator. The district is paying for the fingerprinting.

How kind. Is the district using money that is not coming from anything else, like books or field trips? – L

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And now it its being repealed!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!

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

Perverted Kindergarteners?

Hi Readers — Got this note and had to vent. I am SO SICK of everyone thinking of everything in terms of perversion. It is a perverted way to think!! Here goes. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This isn’t strictly a Free-Range issue perhaps, but it illustrates the nonsensical trend of treating inappropriate but harmless behavior with fear and suspicion.  The following is a quote from the training module that every parent who wishes to volunteer at our school must endure, even simply to serve cupcakes to a class.
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The policy of requiring training and background checks on all parents is odious in itself, discouraging parent involvement and wasting precious money which could be used for actually educating children, but the message the training conveys is even more sinister:

The first step to preventing sexual abuse between children is to know that it can and does happen.  It’s hard to believe that a group of kindergarteners would take turns urinating on the playground and daring each other to play “stinky butt.”  From then on, you will need to pay particular attention to these children, since you now have warning that they may be at risk for further inappropriate interactions.

Good grief, that is beyond ridiculous. First of all, it isn’t hard for me to believe that a group of kindergarteners would do such things.  I wouldn’t like it, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly dangerous or rare.  I could easily imagine such a story being related with exasperation and, yes, even humor.  But simply beginning the sentence with “It’s hard to believe…” leads the audience’s perspective to consider it something so outrageous as to warrant deep, dark concern.
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I don’t know what to say about the implications of the last sentence.  What next?  It chills me to think that a registry (lifelong?) for such deviant kindergarteners is not outside the realm of possibility.

Thank you again for providing a rowboat against the tide! — Noël in Houston

Maybe Everyone in England DOESN’T Need a Background Check

Hi Readers — Things are roiling in England where it seems the powers that be are finally reconsidering their bizarre policy of requiring background checks for ANYONE having ANY contact with kids. That included authors coming to speak in schools, moms (or “mums”) volunteering to work as class parents, field trip chaperones — in all, 9 million people were required to get checked. Or they were about to be, anyway, until a few days ago when the “Home Secretary” made remarks to the effect of: What a paranoid policy! Let’s get dump it!

This unleashed a flood of comments, pro and con. So here’s where we pick up the story, via The Guardian:

Headteachers also said the checks would “ruin school life” by putting in jeopardy foreign exchange trips and affecting parents who help out with school plays and sports teams.

The home secretary said she had halted the implementation of the scheme because it had become clear it was a draconian measure.”We were finding the prospect of a lot of people who do very good work up and down the country, were actually saying: ‘I can’t be bothered to if you are going to treat me like that’,” said May.

“You were assumed to be guilty, in a sense, until you were proven innocent and told you could work with children. By scaling it back we will be able to introduce a greater element of common sense. What we have got to do is actually trust people again.”

How I wholeheartedly agree with the home secretary! (And how I NEED a home secretary…but I think that’s another story.) Anyway, inevitably her remarks prompted a backlash, including the usual, “It’s a good day to be a predatory pedophile!” Also inevitably, the story ran with the adorable photo of two English girls who disappeared in 2002, and whose fate prompted the whole background check mania.

I can’t figure out exactly where things stand now, but I am very glad the “scheme” is getting a second look, rather than just steamrolling forward. The idea behind the checks is very much the same idea as in the post below this one, about the 14-year-old boy arrested for trying to help a toddler find her mom: Assuming the very worst motives of ANYONE involved with children in ANY capacity.

Makes for a dark world of suspicion, fear and false accusations. But I guess it’s good for the background checking companies!  — Lenore

All Gardeners are Perverts, Part I

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest “help” on the way for kids threatened by those terrifying thugs: community gardeners. In Denver, people can rent small plots on school grounds to grow what sound like “victory gardens.” But now — after 25 years of this program — suddenly anyone who plants on school property is required to undergo a criminal background check, or get out.

Said one participant, quoted by the Denver Post’s Mike McPhee, “Where  did we go so wrong that if you potentially have contact with a child you have to have a background check? ”

Where indeed? That is what Free-Range Kids examines all the time: How we came to distrust almost everyone, and fear for our children almost all the time, and discourage the very thing that keeps us all safest: community-mindedness. This gardening story is just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). — Lenore

No Parents on the Playground! (They Might Be Predators)

Hi Readers — Take a Valium  THEN read this: Two “adventure” playgrounds in England  have BANNED PARENTS. After all, parents are adults and so are sexual predators,  so from now on, in the land of the Magna Carta, only playground workers who have passed a background check will be allowed in. Why?

Councillors in Watford claim they are only following Government guidelines and cannot allow adults to walk around playgrounds “unchecked”.

You know, I never thought of myself as walking around “unchecked” before. Anyway, more bureaucracy:

“Due to … regulations we have a responsibility to ensure that every authorised adult who enters our site is properly vetted and given a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check by Watford Borough Council.”

Council Mayor Dorothy Thornhill argued they are merely enforcing government policy at the play areas, in Vicarage Road and Leggatts Way .

She said: “Sadly, in today’s climate, you can’t have adults walking around unchecked in a children’s playground and the adventure playground is not a meeting place for adults.

“We have reviewed our procedures, so although previously some parents have stayed with their children at the discretion of our play workers, this is not something we can continue to do.

“There are other places in the town for parents with small children to go.”

Yeah, like “to hell.” — Lenore