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Laws to keep children safe 'getting out of hand'

Kevin Schofield, < >, Scotsman, 16 Nov 2006 

NEW child-protection laws introduced in the wake of the Soham murders are "creating a climate of social distrust" between adults and young people, according to a parents' group.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) says many adults are deciding not to volunteer at events such as school discos because they will need to have their backgrounds checked to make sure they do not pose a risk to children. The council also claims Parent
Teacher Associations, Scout groups and school foreign exchange visits are suffering.

The comments came as MSPs scrutinise the new Protection of Vulnerable Groups bill, which will further strengthen the child-protection regime.

According to the SPTC, the measures are "over-burdensome, costly and bureaucratic" and would not prevent a repeat of the Soham tragedy, in which schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were murdered by school caretaker Ian Huntley. They say background checks should be carried out only on individuals who are regularly in contact with young people.

The new bill was introduced after the publication of the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders, which raised concerns that existing child-protection measures didn't go far enough. Under the proposed legislation, a new vetting system will be introduced to identify individuals deemed unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable

But in its written submission to the parliament's education committee, the SPTC says it will make adults even more scared to work with children.

It says: 

"We accept that there is a need to be very vigilant when people are appointed to work in children's homes and in situations where adults have a close, regular, one-to-one relationship with children, particularly when the child is dependent on that adult for care.

"However, the same does not apply to the school-based mums who turn up to help several other parents run a disco for the pupils."

The SPTC says that foreign exchange visits are among the activities being placed under threat by the new measures, because the need for parents to undergo background checks "is enough to stop many from bothering".

Some worried parents have also contacted the SPTC to find out if they have to undergo disclosure checks before watching their children perform in end-of-term plays.

The group's submission goes on: 

"The legislation, which assumes adults are potentially paedophiles until proven otherwise, is building up a climate of social distrust and destroying the natural and healthy relationship between adults and children. The converse
of this situation is that children are being taught to fear all - not some - adults are a danger to them."

Judith Gillespie, the SPTC's development manager, said attempts to protect children from dangerous adults were "getting seriously out of hand".

A spokeswoman for the Executive said: 

"We're doing this to try to prevent children from being hurt or killed, and we make no apologies for it."

Two lists aiming to protect the vulnerable

IF IT becomes law, the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill will create two lists - one for those disqualified from working with children and another for people banned from working with vulnerable adults.

The legislation builds on measures already contained in the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act and follows the Bichard Inquiry's recommendation that all those who wish to work with children or vulnerable adults need to be registered.

Those wishing to be registered must request an application form from Disclosure Scotland, or apply online.

The new bill will make it easier for self-employed workers whose job will bring them into contact with young people, such as child-minders or music tutors, to prove they are not on the barred list. It will also reduce the need for multiple disclosure checks - at the moment adults must be checked every time they take up a post
which involves them working with children. A Central Barring Unit will assess whether someone should be on one or both lists.

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