Adults are not the enemy

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
t does not require full agreement with all of Frank Furedi's comments (page one) to recognise the central truth of what he is saying - that the efforts to ensure child protection have created an atmosphere of suspicion, even paranoia. Nobody is suggesting these efforts are not well-intentioned and everybody is well aware of the recriminations that follow the death of a child, whether in the care of a local authority or not. The Rory Blackhall murder in Livingston illustrated that point only too tragically.

But the concern about a "police state" is a well-founded one. Of course, it is easy to find examples of loopy extremes to which some authorities go, in imposing bans on photographing children for instance, and to suggest that this is representative of what Dr Furedi and others pejoratively describe as the child protection "industry". But the existence of such extremes is not an argument for being content with the present situation. There is little doubt that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of excessive protection. No less an advocate than the Children's Commissioner herself has made this observation.

As Dr Furedi cogently observed, the strait-jacket now restricting adults'

relationships with children is essentially a victory for paedophiles. They are dictating the agenda, and that cannot be healthy. This is not to avoid acknowledging the dangers that do exist or to ignore the corrosive effects of abuse on young people; one only has to read the harrowing accounts of such experiences to know that even the passage of time is no healer.

But it is a commonplace observation that children are more at risk in their own homes than from strangers. That requires vigilance, of course. But the panoply of Pavlovian panic which greets every child's death at the hands of an adult can be counter-productive. If adults cannot any longer have fulfilling contact with children, whether in schools or sports clubs, that is a sad indictment. It is certainly richly ironic that sport and music, which bring teachers in particular into close and regular contact with pupils, should almost be seen as off-limits - given the value attached to these disciplines as vehicles for learning. A sense of balance and proportion has to be restored.

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