CRB checks are regrettable – but necessary

Martin Narey on the painful dilemmas of child protection

Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow highlight some of the current suspicions around adult-child relationships which worry so many of us.
Over time it can affect our own behaviour. I am likely to usher my wife forward if a child falls over in the street, lest my picking up the child be misinterpreted. We need to address that. Adults – particularly men – should not routinely be seen as potential child abusers. And we need urgently to expose the nonsense of “stranger danger” and convince parents that, although the risk of a child of theirs being abused at all is small, that risk comes not from lurking strangers, but from people known by their children – often relatives – who are able to exploit a child’s trust.
The truth is that people who find themselves, or negotiate themselves, into positions of trust sometimes abuse that trust. Some of us have had colleagues who have done so almost under our noses. I once worked with a prison caterer who was subsequently convicted of, and served a long sentence for, abusing young offenders. He was a rotten cook (had I been told he was seeking to poison prisoners I would have believed it), but the news that he was being charged with sexual abuse profoundly shocked me and others who knew him.
Regrettably, such incidents are not uncommon. Frank Furedi’s regret that criminal record checks have to be applied to adults, including Scoutmasters, “simply because their work or voluntary activities bring them into contact with children”, ignores the terrible reality that as long ago as 1994 an American report (Scout’s Honour: Sexual Abuse in America’s Most Trusted Institution by Patrick Boyle) profiled the backgrounds of 2,000 child-molesting Boy Scout leaders.
Such dreadful statistics erode parental confidence in such institutions and unfairly caricature the thousands of utterly dedicated volunteers working with the Scouts. That is why we should applaud the establishment of the new Independent Safeguarding Authority whose work, I believe, will restore parental confidence in the people in such positions.
The introduction of the Independent Safeguarding Authority follows the Bichard inquiry, which examined the circumstances that allowed Ian Huntley to murder two young girls in Soham, Cambridgeshire. Huntley was just one example – if a uniquely evil one – of where a very dangerous man was able to have access to children in an environment where parents assumed their children would be safe.
Of course, retrospective checks and intelligence cannot give us any guarantees.
But not to run checks that can expose the sort of past behaviour that points to the greater likelihood of abuse would be scandalously reckless. As Bichard concluded:
“For those whose job it is to protect children and vulnerable people, the harsh reality is that if a sufficiently devious person is determined to seek out opportunities to work their evil, no one can guarantee that they will be stopped. Our task is to make it as difficult as possible for them to succeed.”

Martin Narey is chief executive of Barnardo’s

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Thou shalt not hug