Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The role of the Independent Safeguarding Authority

When I started this blog I promised myself that I would not become sucked into wider safeguarding issues. But the mess that seems to be emerging around the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) is more than adequate justification for a short diversion.

This week the ISA's chair, Sir Roger Singleton, has been widely reported as having predicted that registration with the ISA will become usual not only for those who work with children and vulnerable adults, but also for those who don't. The argument seems to be that plumbers, electricians, hoteliers and even undertakers will see that being able to declare their organisations free from undesirable employees confers a commercial advantage. ISA checks may become a bit like ISO 9000, the Kite Mark or Investors in People.

This is so far from what was originally envisaged by Bichard that it is breathtaking. And the argument can be pushed even further. If hotels gain competitive advantage from employing only ISA-checked employees, then why not have hotels which only allow ISA-checked guests? They would be really safe for families with children, or would they?

The truth of the matter is that criminal records and related checks are fairly crude defences against child abuse. The nursery worker recently sentenced for abusing and taking obscene photographs of children had a previously clean record. And sophisticated child abusers can always find ways to deceive complex bureaucracies.

So widespread checking can only encourage a false sense of security. It will not make children any safer and it is likely to consume time and resources that are best devoted to other things. And it will upset and alienate the general public from the cause of safeguarding children. Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph writes this week that the ISA is turning the entire adult population into a collection of suspects. Sadly he may be right. The best way to safeguard and protect children is by educating, engaging and motivating people; not by alienating them.