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And now it its being repealed!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! — No√ęl 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

Trust No One — Especially Not a Parent Volunteering at School

Hi Readers — Here’s a round-up of Providence, Rhode Island-area¬†schools that are making their parent volunteers get background checks, sent in by a gal named Rema. I know a lot of folks will say, “This makes sense! Can’t hurt — can only help!” but let’s consider whether that’s true.

*First of all, if there are¬†any studies that show kids are getting molested right and left by parents who volunteer at recess duty¬†or on field trips, I haven’t seen them.¬†It seems kind of hard to molest a kid in the middle of a trip to the petting zoo. (To read how children are being discouraged from actually petting animals at the petting zoo — for health reasons — click here. But then don’t forget to come back! The bus leaves PROMPTLY at 2:15.)

*Secondly, the idea behind these background checks is that everyone who is innocent should be happy to be checked, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that now we are treating everyone as GUILTY of unspeakable crimes against children, until proven otherwise. That is a strange view to have of humanity, not to mention a depressing¬†one. It’s also wrong: Most people are not child rapists. (Something tabloid TV forgets.)

*Thirdly, and this is a topic I hope to get deeper into on a¬†later post: even most of the folks who are ON the¬†sex offender lists do not pose a threat to children. I know that sounds shocking, which is why we’ll revisit¬†it. Suffice to say that if you are a 16-year-old who has consensual sex twice with a girl you think is about¬†your age (who turns out to be¬†13), as was actually the case with a guy named¬†Ricky, you can find yourself registered FOREVER¬†as a “Tier 3 predator.”¬†Your charge will read¬† “lewd and lacivious acts with a child.” ¬†

Any parent reading¬†that description¬†would think,¬†“Keep him AWAY!” But¬†is a teen who had sex with another teen¬†really a threat to our kids? Those sex offender lists are like bad data:¬†They look like helpful information, but a lot of it is¬†just garbage.¬†I’d let Ricky chaperone my kids.

*Finally,¬†this whole “background check” deal falls into the ever-growing category of trying to make extremely unlikely events extremely unlikely.¬† Just as a manufacturer¬†will recall a stroller if 1 child in 36,000 gets his fingers pinched in a wheel,¬† just as a park district will remove all¬†the merry-go-rounds¬†lest some child possibly hurt herself, just as a principal¬†will forbid kids from playing tag because someone could trip,we are now going to excessive lengths¬†to make it harder for helpful parents to help a school,¬† when we should be doing just the opposite.

Anyone who is willing to volunteer for lunch duty,¬†or recess:¬†God bless ’em. (I tried once, and fled.) –Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Background Checks Required for IVF

Oh darn! Just when¬† you thought you could¬† inject yourself with hormones every day for¬†about 2 months, bloat like a beachball, have your eggs monitored and retrieved (after loads of blood tests) to then be fertilized in a test tube¬†and¬†plunged back into your womb¬†at about $15,000 a pop so you could,¬†¬†hopefully,¬†get pregnant, give birth and gradually raise a little boy or girl¬†who would be all yours to¬†abuse in just five or ten years, it turns out it’s not that easy!

Alas,¬†Australia is about to pass a law that will require couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization treatments to first pass a background check. Here’s the link, and here’s a bit of the story, sent in by a Free-Range reader:

WOULD-BE parents are outraged at new laws forcing them to prove they are not pedophiles or child abusers before they undergo fertility treatment.

Victorian IVF clinics have started asking patients to submit to police checks ensuring they are fit to be parents.

The new law will affect about 5000 couples each year.

Briony and Lew Sanelle, who completed police checks three weeks ago so they could start trying to have their second child through IVF, said they were insulted by the discrimination.

Me too — and not just because I’m an IVF mom myself. I’m insulted because it feels like the only reason the government is requiring this¬†check of IVF parents is because it CAN. And if it could force every single post-pubescent¬†citizen to¬†undergo a background check, that would be its ultimate goal.

This requirement was apparently included as part of a bill passed last year that “paved the way for single women and lesbians to access IVF.” Because, of course, those groups really pose the biggest possible pedophile threat to children.

We live in a strange, obsessive¬†era when everyone is¬†suspected of perversion¬†for showing the tiniest interest in chidlren. Even, apparently, before they’re born. — Lenore

Free-Range Kids Outrage of the Week! (Hint: Mom not allowed at school party)

Hi Readers ‚Äď

I’m thinking of starting a new feature, Free-Range Kids Outrage of the Month (Or Maybe Even Week). Like that idea? Let me know. And send outrages!

Meantime, here is Outrage #1, sent by a reader in suburban Texas. This is a note from the local public grammar school about a holiday party:

“Our Winter Holiday parties will be Friday, December 19, with K-2 celebrating from 1:00-1:45 and grades 3-5 will celebrate from 2:00-2:45 … Please remember that each adult attending the party must have a volunteer background check completed and reported. If you have not completed this process please do this immediately. “

¬†That‚Äôs right ‚Äď you need a background check to ATTEND YOUR CHILD‚ÄôS CLASS PARTY.¬†¬†One woman apologized on the neighborhood‚Äôs message board for not being able to¬†help out at her daughter‚Äôs kindergarten shindig. And why was that?

¬†‚ÄúBy the time I decided to go, there was not enough time for the school to do a background check on me. And their policy is if you want to be a volunteer, you have to go through the background check, it usually takes two weeks. The teacher told me I could still go to the party, but I cannot help or interact with any children except my own. I was supposed to just stand back and watch.‚ÄĚ

 Clearly, even if you are the mother of a child in the class, you are out to molest all the other students (in public) and cannot so much as hand them a cupcake, you disgusting perv.

Great message to send kindergarteners: Most adults are out to get you! There isn’t just ONE boogey man. There are about 27 per classroom! Or actually, about 54, since moms and dads are BOTH suspect!

Now kids, no long faces! Throw out your paper plates and go make a maximum security prison with your blocks. That’s where most mommies and daddies belong.  

— Lenore