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

“What Fantasy World Does Lenore Live In?” (And An Answer)

Hi Readers! As you know, one of the reasons many folks are too scared to let their kids go outside and play, or walk to school, or breathe without a bodyguard, is that they assume “times are different” — and worse. Here’s what a lady wrote to her local California paper yesterday:

What fantasy world does Lenore live in where kids can play in a park unattended?  I live in a very nice neighborhood in Whittier and I won’t let my 10 year old granddaughter go get the Daily News off the driveway without me watching her.

In fact, in a lot of places — including America, and England — crime is going down. How can we get that message out to help calm people down and return life to the streets? (Which, in turn, makes those streets even SAFER?)

Here’s what one community across the pond came up with! A great and simple idea! — Lenore

Parents Fear Abductions More than Kids’ Actual Health

Hi Readers — Here’s a study done in England that says 30% of parents fear for their kids being kidnapped — a 1 in 1 million chance — versus the tiny number (1 in 20) who fear “severe health problems” for their kids in the future, brought on by a sedentary and possibly overweight life. A life that begins in childhood, with the kids driven to school and stowed indoors the rest of the time, out of…fear.  The article says those “severe health problems” have a 1 in 3 chance of occurring.

Slightly off-kilter fears, wouldn’t you say? — Lenore

A Story You Will Read Aloud (I Did), About A Cheese Sandwich

Dear Readers: This is not only an incredible story — a boy’s cheese sandwich is confiscated by the food police — it is also the best writing I’ve read in a long time. That’s why I just read it out loud to my husband. It begins:

A Britain in which the cheese sandwich is subject to intolerance and abuse is a Britain that no right-minded rennet-lover would ever care to inhabit. It is a Britain that no one could have imagined possible.

Yet the impossible has happened: staff at a nursery in Pemberton, near Wigan, have confiscated a cheese sandwich belonging to a two-year-old pupil, Jack Ormisher. Its failing was to contain neither lettuce nor tomato.

Enjoy! (With cheese sandwich in hand!) — L

British Kids Being Mummy-fied

Hi Readers:  Just in case you were wondering what America may to start look like, in terms of helicoptering, check out this story from ahead-of-the-craziness-curve England. It notes:

The survey of 6,099 people commissioned by LV= Streetwise, a charity that educates children about safety, revealed that nearly a quarter of children aged 15 or under were not allowed to sleep at a friend’s house, 60 percent were forbidden to travel on public transport alone and 43 percent can’t go to the park without a parent or guardian.

It said more than 60 percent of mums and dads think the world is more dangerous than when they were kids.

…In contrast, just four percent of today’s adults say they were banned from sleeping-over when they were 15 or younger, only two percent were forbidden to use public transport, and the same number couldn’t go out on their own in familiar surroundings, such as their local town or park.

Got that? Just one generation ago, 98% of children were allowed to go, on their own, to the local park (not to mention the bus)!

All the more reason to get behind May 22’s “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day,” say I.  (Of course, I would.) Kids are being coddled, crippled and caged thanks to overblown parental fears. While most parents think the world has gone to hell in a handbasket filled with predators, kids today are actually SAFER than WE were when WE were kids — at least here in America. Crime is lower today than it was in the ’70s and ’80s (and not just because the kids are inside).

England is ahead of us when it comes to parental hysteria. It is time for us to declare our independence –again! And if you want to celebrate with a cookout and sparklers, go right ahead. (Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.) — Lenore

Don't Tread on Kids

Outrage of the Week: Pet Shop Owner Fined for Selling Kid a Goldfish

Hi Readers — You read that headline right. Apparently in England it is now illegal to sell a pet to anyone under age 16 who is not accompanied by an adult. (England? Are you feeling okay? Something bump you in the head?) Anyway — this granny did! And she was fined 1000 pounds (about $1500) and given a curfew and forced to wear an “electronic tag.”

Even more unbelievable: It was a sting! The kid — a 14-year-old — was working for the police! And the authorities had targeted this particular shop because on another occasion the granny ostensibly sold a gerbil to a 14-year-old girl with learning disabilities, and there are unsubstantiated reports that the girl unwittingly allowed it to die.

The Free-Range issue here, besides just plain jaw-dropping, head-scratching, don’t-you-have-any-crimes-besides-underage-goldfish-peddling-to-worry-about disbelief? Children and pets go together. I can see where I’d be a little peeved if my sons came home with a hamster one day. (Tickled, too.) But that does not seem like a legal issue so much as a parenting one.  Just another instance of  officially “protecting” us from things we don’t need protection from. If I were a gerbil, I’d go over there and bite some lawmakers. (Hey, I may STILL do that.) — Lenore

Can we keep it, Mommy?

Lady Helps Boy Down from Tree, School Accuses Her of “Trespassing”

Dear Readers: This one just proves what monkeys we become when we refuse to use our brains (or tails). A 5-year-old boy in England climbed up a tree at the end of recess. Fine. But rather than helping — or even ordering — him down, the teachers followed their “health and safety” guidelines…and left him there. Their rules apparently say they are supposed to  “observe from a distance” (lest they distract the child) rather than actually DO anything.

Well they observed from such a distance that it wasn’t until about 45 minutes later that some lady passing by saw the boy, still up the tree, and helped him down. Then she walked him back into school whereupon she was reported to the police for trespassing.

As a school official put it, “The safety of our pupils is our top priority and we should like to make it clear that this child was being observed at all times during this very short incident…. To protect children we cannot assume that people who enter the school grounds without permission have innocent intentions and must act accordingly.”

Yes, let’s not judge their intentions by the fact that they are showing up WITH a child, rather than running off with one.The “trespasser” herself put it best: “I am a mother myself and I find it a bit ridiculous that the school’s policy is to leave a child up a tree.”

As you know, Free-Range is all for kids climbing trees. It also very unlikely that the boy was in danger (as the Samaritan worried) of being “snatched.” Nonetheless, we are all for kids coming down from trees when it’s time for school to begin again. To go by “rules and regulations” rather than common sense when a kid is stuck up a tree makes as much sense as leaving a family in a burning building because the sign on the door says, “Authorized Personnel Only.”

Actually, what this whole incident comes down to, as so much Free-Ranging does, is this: When we rigidly adhere to oppressive, catch-all rules — rules that are sometimes only in place for legal reasons, or “cover your rear” reasons — we lose the great thing that makes us human: our ability to think and reason and do what makes sense.

It’s enough to make you climb a tree. — Lenore

The root of the problem.

Outrage of the Week: Wings “Too Dangerous” for Kids to Wear in Nativity Play —

You know, every time I get one of these stories, a reader-angel earns her wings — in this case, a gal named Chrissy McKnight. The story she sent hails from nervous ol’ England, where a Catholic primary school has banned kids from wearing angel wings because the “health and safety of the children is paramount” and these wings these catch on fire. As a wing-supplier noted with justified self-interest: Isn’t the risk around candles that ANYTHING could catch on fire?

Perhaps next year’s nativity play should be performed in dive suits.  — Lenore

England Getting Battier

Hi Readers — Here’s the news from across the seas. Or sea, anyway. Or ocean, really. Anyway, a reader writes:

If you want more UK stories – a couple below:

I noticed a warning in a store here (see photo) that it is now illegal to sell crackers to people under the age of 16.  Crackers are a traditional British novelty at Christmas and celebrations – they’re little surprise parcels that two people pull apart and that usually contain a (generally poor quality!) gift and a joke.  They also have a small amount of explosive that creates the “crack.”  It’s tiny – not like a cap guns, not like Chinese firework crackers – a tiny little pop. Under 16?  So you can’t now send your 15 year old daughter out to get another box when unexpected guests turn up.  She also couldn’t buy them for a party for friends, or just because they’re fun.  It’s absurd.

In other news, from the Times Online today a piece about Ofsted (Britain’s schools standards body) inspections: a “school was judged to be inadequate because inspectors deemed the fence around the playground low enough for child snatchers to reach in and grab pupils”.

Child snatching from British schools must have become a new pass time while I was out of the country.

Cracker warning? Or cracking up warning?

OK, Now: When Is BOWLING Perfectly Safe? (Hint: Never.)

Yes, Readers: That was the conclusion over in less-than-jolly, indeed, downright macabre England. According to this article, a  group of safety experts was assigned to assess the sport’s dangers:

After two years and £250,000, they found that ten-pin bowling alleys up and down the country could be a ‘very dangerous’ environment for families.

They concluded that it was too easy for children or teenagers to run down lanes and get trapped in machinery that sets up the pins – even though there was no record of any such accident having happened.

I love this study,  not just for its conclusion, but for its classic “what if?” reasoning. And by the way, “what if?” kids playing jacks start eating them? And “what if” kids playing baseball start hitting each other over the head with the bats? And “what if” all the runners in a race decide to tie their shoelaces together at the starting line? They’ll fall down and possibly suffer life-threatening brain injuries!

Start thinking “what if?” and absolutely no activity is safe — not even blogging! Because “what if,” using my chin, I slam this laptop shut on my wrists? Yikes! I’m signing off — Lenore