Marshall warns of paranoia over child protection

5th May 2006 at 01:00
The Scottish Children's Commissioner has again thrown her weight behind concerns that child protection measures are making children "too hot to handle".

A consultation by the commissioner's office uncovered concerns that health and safety rules are behind the refusal by staff in some schools to move or handle children with disabilities.

Kathleen Marshall said it appeared "children are becoming almost the pariahs of our society because people are afraid to have any contact with them".

The commissioner added: "That is not good for us or them."

Adults are put off from working with children and young people because of strict criminal record checks, Professor Marshall says, and because they fear false allegations may be made against them.

Young people themselves are not being given opportunities to play and take risks because of fears about what might happen to them, or because of health and safety or insurance reasons.

Professor Marshall launched her first action plan yesterday (Thursday) and said her office would spend the next two years trying to make Scotland a "safe, active and happy" place.

Two consultations involving 16,000 young people and organisations that work with them found that children's priority was to find "things to do". The organisations' priority was to find a better balance between protection, fun, adventure and healthy relationships.

Maire McCormack, the commissioner's head of policy, comments in the foreword to the action plan: "While we welcome efforts to ensure children and young people are safe from harm, we are also worried that children have become 'too hot to handle' and that some of the protective measures are creating new problems."

The commissioner's office will ask youngsters to use "detective kits" to map out activities in their area and carry out research with police on the impact of the availability of good or bad facilities.

Professor Marshall said: "Our starting point is that everyone wants children to be safe, but when you introduce child protection systems you have to consider whether they will protect children in a proportionate way and not at the cost of all freedoms."

Issues she will address include whether some child protection mechanisms are focusing on things that are really dangerous, because "sometimes children feel other things are more dangerous".

"What is putting people off and what would it take to get them back?" she asked.

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