Alison Shepherd: Children need love and trust – not another quango

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The Independent Online

Let's suppose, just for a minute, that unlike the rest of the adult population (all of us closet paedophiles, it seems), ministers have the best interests of our children at heart: that they genuinely believe that the creation of another quango will help keep children safer.

From next month all employees or volunteers who have any contact with children, however brief, will need a certificate from the newly minted Independent Safeguarding Authority to prove their intentions are honourable. ISA officers will check not only for past criminal convictions but also for indications of "unsuitability to work with vulnerable groups". "Unsuitability" in this context is a scary word. What level of hearsay and suspicion will they be able to take into account? Will a vague "I just didn't like the way he looked at my son" be enough to blight a person's career?

Anyone who has ever worked with children, whether teachers, scout leaders or sports coaches, has heard at least one toe-curling tale of a malicious accusation which, even when withdrawn, followed the victim for evermore. Or the one about how a simple case of mistaken identity at the ISA's older sister, the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), can lead to a Kafkaesque trial to prove that you are not who they think you are. But ministers don't seem too concerned about adults, otherwise they would fight shy of creating a society where every adult is considered a danger until they can wave a government warrant.

But will such a level of suspicion and bureaucracy actually do anything to protect children – particularly the most vulnerable? According to the Government's own figures, when CRB checks were introduced in 2002 there were 616 convictions for crimes against children. Last year that had risen to 1,175, and, astonishingly, given the bureau's remit, 639 of those criminals had previous convictions of some sort.

So even if we can dismiss this rise as being down to more children being taken seriously, and more vigorous investigations, what was the CRB doing when those 639 abusers were allowed near their victims? The answer is nothing, not because it is a failing organisation, but because most of the abusers were undoubtedly known to their victims – as parents, partners/friends of parents, or relatives. None of whom comes under the CRB's remit – yet.

According to the NSPCC, a child in the UK dies every 10 days at the hands of its parents, and there is nothing the CRB nor the ISA can do. The organisations that could help prevent such tragedies – because often these are family tragedies, involving drugs, alcohol and generational abuse – are not the certificate givers, but the social and health services. What could our social workers achieve if they had a bit of the £77m spent on setting up the ISA? Let alone its projected £40m running costs.

For all its professed intention to protect every child, the Government is just tinkering around the edges.

Families and society make a child, and creating a world where every adult is a threat and every good intention suspicious cannot help protect children. There is even a danger it will damage them. Not in the way an Ian Huntley could, but by the slow, grinding erosion of trust. We worry that teenagers have no respect for adults. What chance of that if the Government tells them we – none of us – are to be trusted unless it says so?

The priorities are all wrong. Confident, loved and secure children who feel safe in the world are less likely to be targets for the serial predator. We do not have the most unhappy, alcohol-fixated, pregnancy-prone youth in Europe because parents are driving their children's team-mates to a football match without a certificate.

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