Child-protection measures: Churches welcome first phase

21 October 2009

by Pat Ashworth

Catalyst: a policeman holds an order of service at a memorial service in Ely Cathedral in 2002 PA

Catalyst: a policeman holds an order of service at a memorial service in Ely Cathedral in 2002 ...

CHURCHES have welcomed the first phase of new national child-protection measures that came into force on Monday last week.

The Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) is rooted in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which followed the inquiry into the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at Soham in 2002. The single regulation scheme provides for continuous monitoring and the replacement of the standard Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks with a full enhanced disclosure.

All those who work with children will have to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) from November 2010.

The scheme has been opposed by children’s authors, who believe it will poison relationships between children and adults. Philip Pullman, who regularly visits schools, has called it “outrageous, demeaning, and insulting”.

The Revd G. P. Taylor, author of the Shadowmancer series and a retired parish priest, visits 200 schools a year. He sympathised with authors who would feel vulnerable, but could also see the need of any establishment to protect vulnerable people within it. Nevertheless, he believed that the increase of vetting systems was promoting a culture where children knew that if they accused an adult of something, that adult would be investigated.

The Revd Pearl Luxon, joint Safeguarding Adviser for the Church of England and the Methodist Church, said that there had been a “complete overreaction” in many of the news reports. Although the legislation was complex, there was not much difference between this scheme and the current CRB disclosures already required from those working with children and vulnerable adults.

“What poisons relationships between children and adults is where there isn’t good practice in place, and children don’t trust adults enough to go to them when they’re in trouble,” she said. “The vast majority of abuse occurs within a family or home setting. There’s so much we need to say within churches about listening to and hearing children, and creating a safe environment for them to come forward with these issues — far more important than the bureaucracy around registration, which is just a part of the picture.”

The new requirements legally define certain activities as “regulated”, and impose sanctions for non-compliance. Bell-ringers must be ISA-registered if they give children under 18 face-to-face teaching on a regular basis (defined as three or more days in 30), or in an overnight residential situation.

Chris Mew, who is on the Tower Stewardship Committee of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, said: “Contrary to some disparaging exchanges in the media, the 2006 Act, through registration and continuous monitoring of those dealing with children, should make for tighter and safer control.”

The Scout Association has corrected reports that such UK-based events as Scout Jamborees would be at risk. The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) has welcomed the new regulations.

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