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4a. Adults 'scared to go near kids'

BBC News, 26 June 2008

The law says that adults must be vetted if they want to work with children. But have we gone too far and created a climate of suspicion. Professor Frank Furedi of Kent University has written a report that says we have. Many adults are afraid to interact with children for fear of being labelled as paedophiles, a report has claimed.

Think-tank Civitas said the "escalation of child protection measures" had made everyone from sports coaches to Santas seem like "potential child abusers".

The Home Office said there was no evidence that vetting had deterred volunteers or eroded trust. It plans to tighten the rules further, so all parents hosting foreign exchange students will face background checks.

In its report, Licensed to Hug, Civitas said that child protection regulations had 

"succeeded in poisoning the relationship between the generations". 

While in the past, adults would have helped children in distress or rebuked those misbehaving, there was now 

"a feeling that it is best not to become involved", it said.

Report author Prof Frank Furedi, of Kent University, said: 

"From Girl Guiders to football coaches, from Christmas-time Santas to parents helping out in schools, volunteers - once regarded as pillars of the community - have been transformed in the regulatory and public imagination into potential child abusers, barred from any contact with children until the database gives them the green light."

Instead of relying on Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, adults should be allowed to use their "discretion and professional judgment" to decide who should work with children.

Foreign exchange

A Home Office spokesman said the number of CRB checks on volunteers had grown year-on-year and in 2007, they stopped 20,000 unsuitable people from

"gaining work with vulnerable individuals". "There has to be a way to identify and weed out unsuitable people, but such checks do not mean an end to common sense," he said.

Civitas called for child protection regulations to be relaxed, but the Home Office said that from October 2009, a new Independent Safeguarding Authority would be created to tighten the rules even further.

Beverley Hughes, minister for Children, Schools and Families, said it would become a criminal offence for a parent to let a child stay at their home on a foreign exchange visit without having a CRB check. If I'm not with my wife, I don't even look at a child, let alone smile at one steveL-G, United Kingdom. 

"We also recommend that host families are given basic awareness of child protection issues and the contact details of the designated senior person within the school with responsibility for safeguarding issues," she said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen said there were some examples of child protection legislation descending into "politically correct madness". But she said the correct response was to take a more "sensible" approach rather than change the law.

"I am a volunteer counsellor for ChildLine - I want checks," she said. "I was delighted to be checked. There is nothing wrong with it. It doesn't affect my approach to children, my feeling of empathy for children."

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