A perversion of safety

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
Disclosure checks go against the principles of rehabilitation and have worrying consequences for a free society, says Stuart Waiton

t is often difficult to argue with those who promote the child safety industry today. "If it saves one child then it's worth it" has a perverse logic that is hard to beat. However, with the arrival of the Disclosure Scotland vetting procedures, surely the time is right to say enough is enough.

Chatting to a couple of female council workers recently, I discovered that, when they applied for other jobs in the council, they were forced to attend an interview with their superiors about criminal acts they had carried out more than three decades ago.

This was, as it turned out, the new checks in action. Both women had omitted these offences from the disclosure form they filled out, but the new checking procedure had unearthed their past misdemeanours. Humiliated, embarrassed and worried about whether or not she would lose her job, one woman involved the union, but as Unison had endorsed the checks, little could be done.

This particular woman had a drugs charge against her name from 35 years previously, and because as a librarian she might come into contact with children she was viewed as a potential threat. As she explained: "They kept saying this was because of the Soham murders - apparently I'm being judged by that murderer's standards".

Councils, it seems, having received information from the disclosure checks, have to decide what they think is a potential threat to children and act accordingly - and thankfully for both these women, neither was deemed a threat. However, as it turns out, one of these women would probably not have got the job if they were not already working for the council. Which begs the question: who else will be affected by these new procedures?

Unfortunately, disclosure really does appear to mean disclosure in every respect and by the tearful and angry reaction of these women they clearly felt that they had been stripped down and exposed. Regardless of the outcome of the disclosure checks this time round, it is surely unacceptable that these women were forced to justify themselves and be humiliated about a time of their life that is in the distant past, and about criminal acts that should be seen as spent convictions.

If these individuals can be seen as a potential threat to children and interrogated in this way, the mind boggles at what is going to happen to others. Having discussed this with a number of people in the community where I work, it appears that there are already adults who are no longer applying for jobs in the council because they assume their distant criminal past may mean they won't get past the police checks.

What then is going to happen to people who have a criminal record and apply for teaching jobs, jobs in the NHS or just about any job in the council, when contact with children is almost an inevitable outcome? In youth work in particular, it has often been reformed offenders who have been able to engage with difficult young people. But will councils now be prepared to take the "risk"?

The decision about whether or not you are suitable to work with young people appears to be at the behest of council employers who arbitrarily decide what they think defines a risk to children. The past understanding of rehabilitation has been thrown out of the window, even when there is no clear connection between long-forgotten offences and child safety. What where they thinking - that this 55-year-old mother of two with the drugs charge from 1970 was about to start dealing to children in the local library?

Despite the difficulties in opposing the child safety industry, in the new year Generation Youth Issues hopes to launch a campaign to challenge these authoritarian developments.

Stuart Waiton is a director of GenerationYouthIssues.org.

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