THE Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) has said that the Government’s plans to scale back the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) “will make it easier, not harder, for unscrupulous sexual predators to abuse in churches”.
Proposals in the Protection of Freedom Bill, which was introduced into the House of Commons last week, would mean that only those in sensitive posts, or who have intensive contact with children, would have to be vetted and have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.
The CCPAS said that the Vetting and Barring Scheme Remodelling Review, which was published by the Government last week, recognised that “removing barring arrangements for some activities could give rise to an increase in safeguarding risks”.
The review gave Sunday-school helpers as an example of those for whom employers “would not be required to obtain criminal records checks”.
The chief executive of the CCPAS, Simon Bass, said that this was “a major loophole” that “will be exploited by those determined to abuse children and vulnerable adults. It means, for example, that an abuser who is banned from working in a ‘regulated activity’, such as teaching, may, without any checks, alternatively gain access to children through becoming a Sunday-school helper, with potentially devastating consequences.”
Mr Bass said that the changes showed that “the Government is prepared to tolerate a level of risk in churches that we — with long and painful experience of dealing with abusers in church — find unacceptable. We think it inevitable that potential predators will see children in churches as soft targets and will act accordingly.”
The CCPAS did, however, welcome as “eminently sensible” proposals in the Freedom Bill to allow the sharing of CRB checks between employers.
The Children’s Society responded more positively to the proposed changes to the VBS. Its chief executive, Bob Reitemeier, said that the Society “welcomes the Government’s new approach”.
“This new scheme places a greater responsibility on employers and voluntary organisations to keep children safe, as they will have responsibility for making sure checks are carried out,” he said.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, told BBC1’s This Week programme last week that, since his retirement at the end of 2002, he had been asked by four dioceses “to be an assistant bishop. Every time I had to have a CRB check.” Lord Carey described the situation as “crazy”.
Last year, the former chairman of Gloucester Cathedral Flower Guild, Annabel Hayter, said that she had been “forced out” of her position by cathedral authorities, after refusing to have a CRB check (News, 17 December).
Five other flower-arrangers at the Cathedral also resigned over the requirement. Mrs Hayter said that a CRB check was unnecessary because the flower-arrangers did not have any contact with children during the course of their voluntary work for the Cathedral.