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Adults 'too afraid' of youth work

BBC UK, 2007/10/16

Adults are often too scared to work with young people for fear of being branded a paedophile, according to a new report.

A survey by Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People revealed that the fear of being accused of harming young people was the main deterrent.

Kathleen Marshall's study found a shortage of adults prepared to take work roles and volunteering posts.

More than 1,100 people took part in the detailed survey.

Some 48% of adults surveyed said fear of being falsely accused of causing harm was a barrier to contact with children and young people.

This same fear also made adults much less likely to help when they saw a young person in danger or distress.

The report also revealed that adults who work with young people in structured environments tend to have positive attitudes towards them, and enjoy seeing children and young people develop through their involvement. However, people reported much more negative attitudes to meeting young people in informal groups, especially in large groups on the street.

According to the report, fear was largely fuelled by media reporting rather than people's personal knowledge of young people.

Other concerns included fear of young people themselves, and concerns about bureaucracy and the culture of litigation.

Women are almost twice as likely to have formal contact with children and young people, either as a volunteer or through work, the survey showed.

'Social behaviour'

Men in particular reported being afraid of being falsely accused of being a paedophile which they described as "the worst thing imaginable".

Men are also disproportionately less likely to approach a lost child and try to help.

Ms Marshall said: "Young people consistently tell us they want safe and fun things to do and that anti-social behaviour is a result of a shortage of opportunities for 'social behaviour'."

"The activities they want to take part in need adults to volunteer and support them and this report shows exactly why that isn't happening."

"We need to help bridge the divide between the generations and establish a framework for attractive activities that are stimulating, safe and fun for all involved."

"I hope this report will start a full public debate about how that should be done, and everyone who has ever worked with young people or considered doing so has something to contribute to that debate, as do Scotland's young people themselves."

Potential volunteers

George Thomson, chief executive of Volunteer Development Scotland, said that potential volunteers needed greater support.

He added: "We must now have the conviction and courage to overcome the challenges and find ways to take up the offer of voluntary help from adults in a way that benefits everyone."

John Loughton, chair of Scottish Youth Parliament, said that both adults and young people should feel safe, without "wrapping either of them in cotton wool".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We understand that some people are put off by checks - that's why we are simplifying it to cut down on multiple checks."

He said a new system would be in place in 2009.

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