An independent think tank has today blamed the government's increasing reliance on "anti-paedophile" criminal record checks for making UK adults scared to have any contact with other people's children.
Civitas' report Licensed to Hug claims the checks have driven suspiscion of all adults, which has led in turn to a breakdown of communities. Afraid to tell off or even talk to misbehaving children, adults have become "deskilled" in dealing with younger generations, it argues.
It's claimed one in four will be subject to checks once the forthcoming Independent Safeguarding Authority, mandated by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, begins work in 2009. It will run alongside the existing Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).
University of Kent sociology professor Frank Furedi, the report's author, writes: "When parents feel in need of official reassurance that other parents have passed the paedophile test before they even start on the pleasantries, this indicates that something has gone badly wrong in our communities."
The CRB yesterday trumpeted that it had blocked 20,000 "unsuitable workers" from 3.4 million checks in 2007*. The CRB says its capacity is "in excess of 300,000" checks per month, which means that when it processes 3.6 million requests in 2008, it will be working at its maximum.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, passed in the wake of the Soham murders, greatly extends the number of jobs that require a criminal record check. Estimates say 11.3 million will be vetted by the Independent Safeguarding Authority database, over a quarter of the adult population.
This, argues Furedi, will only intensify the atmosphere of suspiscion and fear. He writes: "We should question whether there is anything healthy... in a response where communities look at children's own fathers with suspicion, but would balk at helping a lost child find their way home."
CRB checks have also had a chilling effect on children's sports and social clubs, where potential volunteers are put off by the assumption that they might be a child abuser. Earlier this month the CRB sought to clarify who it says needs to be vetted, but Civitas cites a survey last year that found 13 per cent of men would not volunteer as a result of the process. The think tank sympathises with that hesitance, given a culture that has made all adults "in the regulatory and public imagination into potential child abusers, barred from any contact with children until the database gives them the green light".
Furedi calls on the government to accept that most adults aren't paedophiles, to trust parents to protect their own children and to halt the "juggernaut of regulation". More frequent contact and openness between adults and kids would benefit everyone, he concludes. ®
*The Home Office press release also announces that in almost 9 out of 10 cases where the applicant had a criminal record, it did not stop them being employed.