As the new government continues to unpick the legislation put in place by the old Labour administration, today it is the turn of the vetting and barring scheme (VBS).
When the government unveiled its policy plans last month, it said that it would be launching a review of the VBS, with a view to scaling it back to “common sense levels”, whatever that means.
Now, with the scheme set to roll out in 6 weeks time, the government has postponed it until after the review is completed – when this will be has not been announced.
I suspect that this move will be warmly received by those involved with children and vulnerable adults at all levels, because the scheme has never garnered much popularity.
When it was first announced, there was outcry in the national media, with concerns that authors visiting schools and even parents who give lifts to their children’s friends when going to football practice would have to register. It was said to be disproportionate, overly burdensome and infringed on civil liberties
Sir Roger Singleton, head of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and – as of today – the ex-adviser to the government on the safety of children, completed a review of it and watered down measures such as those mentioned above, to widespread approval, although many felt there were still other problems that were not addressed.
For example, I spoke to Sue White, professor of social work at Lancaster University, who was concerned that decisions about whether or not to bar someone were down to 200 case workers based in Darlington, who would be using ‘soft’ information about the applicant, such as work history, arrests where no charges were bought, and any unfounded allegations in their judgement process.
Prof White didn’t believe that those case workers could make such important decisions – which a forensic psychiatrist or experienced social worker could struggle with – based on information on pieces of paper.
Others, such as Andrew Holman from Inspired Services, an accessible information provider, were worried about the potential effects on employment, especially of people with learning disabilities. He said the VBS did not make clear whether employers or employees working with vulnerable adults had to register with the scheme. As a result, he believed most employers would err on the side of caution and not employ someone with learning disabilities.
This matter was further complicated because there is no concrete definition of what constitutes a ‘vulnerable adult’. Indeed, many people with learning disabilities would refute such a negative label.
That was just 2 of the concerns I have heard about the scheme. I suspect those 2 issues will be addressed in the review, although with no concrete detail (as yet) on what the review will focus on, this is just speculation.
In addition, I think the review will play to the populist vote, so it will look at scaling back the numbers involved, currently said to be 9 million, so the definition of ‘frequent’ contact – currently once a week – will be revised backwards.
Any measure that involves parents registering – such as those who help out at a children’s centre – will also go by the wayside.
But whatever is involved, the reviewers will have their work cut out to devise a scheme that does help to keep children and vulnerable adults safe, but isn’t seen to be too draconian or too lenient – it is a fine balancing act. Imagine the outcry if there is another Ian Huntley.
But whatever the review comes up with, while it will stop people with a history of abuse getting jobs that allow them contact with children/vulnerable adults, it still won’t stop then – they will just find other ways to access them.
So, allied to the VBS, surely there is no substitute for teaching children how to keep themselves as safe as possible as well as old-fashioned vigilance from parents and carers, as well as, as former rugby star Brian Moore, who suffered abuse himself as a child, called for in the recent Panorama programme Are You a Danger to Kids?, mechanisms to ensure abused children can come forward in confidence to report what has happened?