Children are 'living in a security state'

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Child protection measures have been equated to the Government's anti-terror laws by Frank Furedi, one of the UK's leading sociologists, who warned of "a new security state around children".

In an outspoken, and so far unreported, speech at a child safety conference in Glasgow on Tuesday, the author of Paranoid Parenting protested that, while many people on the left were concerned about the loss of civil rights, such as free speech in the wake of the war in Iraq, nobody was prepared to raise a murmur when it came to "ritualistic" police checks on individuals in contact with children.

As child protection forms an increasingly central role in the work of education authorities and the inspectorate, Dr Furedi told the conference, entitled "Cotton Wool Kids" and organised by Generation Youth Issues, that he did not accept that disclosure investigations were worth while if they saved one child from abuse.

"By introducing these measures, we are destroying childhood. More importantly, it redefines childhood from the vantage point of a paedophile and the whole world is now seen through their eyes. How can you not say that they have won a moral victory in these circumstances?"

He suggested that police checks "diminish our humanity by making us more suspicious of each other. Freedoms are being taken away because they are to do with children. But they are not good for children, for us or for society."

Dr Furedi issued a stark warning that the "child protection industry" would target sports activities next. "It can't resist the temptation of going anywhere where there are children. If you have this idea of vulnerability and children being vulnerable then everywhere is seen as a risk area."

He recalled being ridiculed after warning on BBC Scotland in 2001 that Edinburgh's decision to ban parents from videoing their child's school nativity play would start a trend. "Parents can't take a picture of their child playing football on a Saturday morning," he said, "because the head coach will say: 'No one can take a picture of any child because that's the law.'

"When you go to a local authority swimming pool, there is a big sign saying that you are not allowed there with a camera if you are an 'unaccompanied adult'. Increasingly we are creating a new security state around children.

Anyone who has anything to do with children has to have a security vetting.

That has only one possible consequence - it breeds mistrust."

Dr Furedi went on to warn that children were learning a "narrative of therapy" and were using words like "stress" while still very young. "By the time they are 12 or 13, they have internalised it and begun to play the part," he said.

Alex Hughes, an officer in a West Lothian Youth Action programme called Active Stepps, which uses sport as a learning tool for children, said that many clubs were closing their doors to children because there were "too many hoops to go through".

David Fagan, a North Lanarkshire councillor, said that the authority had introduced a swimming policy - which he voted against - which laid down a ratio of adults to children.

He himself had to have three police checks on separate occasions. "The final one was as a councillor, on the basis that I might be responsible for making a policy decision that impacts on young people. Yet I might not have been among young people."

Jenny Cunningham, a paediatrician in Glasgow whose work involves assessing children who may have autism, told the conference: "The reports we get back from schools are worse than useless because teachers in Britain can no longer write anything negative about a child.

"All parents get back is eulogies about their child. It is destroying our ability to assess those children who may have problems."

Making sense of child safety 4

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