Chris Grayling: Vetting must be combined with common sense

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The Independent Online

All of us agree that we need to check the backgrounds of those in responsible roles working with children. There have been far too many horrendous cases over the years for that not to be necessary.

So teachers, school staff, youth group leaders, scout leaders and others in similar positions rightly are asked to go through a proper criminal record check.

But the idea of checking the background of every parent who is an occasional helper, or driver to a kids football match, or to a local dance club, or going along to help on a school outing just defies that common sense.

Bear in mind that these aren’t strangers. They are parents escorting their own children and their school friends.

Just how far do we want to go as a society?

If a couple of dads with people carriers drive some of the team to an away football match for the Under-10s some weeks, do they need to be checked for a criminal record?

If a school asks for volunteer mums to help with the visit to the local childrens’ farm, do they need CRB checks before they can go?

We’re not talking about people who run youth groups week after week. We’re not talking about paid staff in schools and other childrens’ centres. We’re talking about parents helping out in their own communities on activities that keep their children and their friends busy and not hanging around on street corners.

Our schools are already finding it a real problem to get parent volunteers in to do reading in class with those who are falling behind.

Not alone in class with the children, but under the supervision of professional staff.

Now visitors to the school may also need to be checked. Do we really need to vet well known children’s authors before they can give a talk to children?

What about MPs and councillors visiting local schools. I went to one yesterday, to find out from the Head about their building programme. I didn’t speak to a single child. But should I have been checked anyway?

Those involved in setting up the new system have been quick to claim that the numbers affected will be limited... that it will only be those parents who help regularly who are affected.

But it won’t be like that. The law behind all of this is very wide-ranging in its scope. Every organisation will start looking over its shoulder at the £5,000 fines the Government has been warning us about this week. And it will decide not to take a chance.

So schools won’t ask unchecked parents to help. Nor will clubs. So when the school minibus breaks down before the match on a Saturday, the school will take the safe option and cancel the game – rather than ask unchecked parents to offer a lift.

And is this really the kind of country that we want to create? One where everyone has to be checked before they can do almost anything? One where we no longer trust parents and families to do the right thing? Where the State has to do everything. Where we make it so hard to run a local team that the organisers don’t bother any more – and all we do is leave the kids to hang around getting bored and maybe getting into trouble.

Worse still, the new system may stop former offenders working with some of our most troubled young people to help them avoid a life of crime. There is no better mentor for a young gang member than a former gang member who has found a better life. Charities working with those young people now fear that opportunity may be lost because of these changes.

What we desperately need is a sense of perspective.

This new system wouldn’t have caught Ian Huntley. Nor would it have caught many of our other most horrendous offenders.

But it will mean fewer opportunities for more and more children up and down the country.

Of course we need to take sensible steps to stop predatory paedophiles from becoming leaders of youth groups. But we need to trust the parents of the children who go to them.

So let’s scale back this system. Let’s apply a system that revives common sense. That checks those in key positions. But has faith in our parents.

That’s what the next Conservative Government should do, and will do.

* Chris Grayling is Shadow Home Secretary