Malcolm Underhill, partner, IBB Solicitors
Freedom law leaves kids at risk
3 December 2012
20 February 2014
7 April 2014
9 November 2013
4 April 2014
31 March 2014
Children are still being harmed in schools and legislation means we are not doing enough to protect them
Following the Soham tragedy of 2002 the Government took steps to bolster existing legislation (Police Act), to protect children. This was achieved by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. The consequence of all this legislation was that anyone working with children, paid or otherwise, would be subject to Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and detailed vetting.
Over the past 10 years, as a father, school governor and solicitor representing victims of child abuse, I have considered from different perspectives the impact of those measures taken. Unfortunately, I have had cause to question whether the legislative steps taken have had the kind of beneficial effect that we all hoped for.
IBB decided to commission [from legal research company Jures] some research – Safe from Harm? – to determine whether or not my concerns were well founded. Freedom of Information (FoI) requests were sent to all 152 local education authorities in England where we asked about the number of allegations of physical or sexual abuse against teachers and others working in schools; and how many of those allegations resulted in suspensions or dismissals.
The results are shocking. They reveal approximately 9,000 allegations of physical or sexual abuse over a three-year period, by teachers and those without qualified teacher status. Just as disturbing is the wide variation in the number of allegations across the authorities, from no allegations against teachers, to over 200 allegations of abuse. Of equal surprise was that over 30 local education authorities failed to even acknowledge our requests for information.
The results of the FoI requests and from the Safe From Harm report should cause this Government to question whether diluting the level of checking for those that work with children, is sensible. The Government has already decided through the Protection of Freedoms Act, introduced this year, to scale back the number of CRB checks and to return, what they say are hard-won British freedoms back to the people.
This scaling back means that those who are supervised when working with children will escape the checking process. Unfortunately, through this legislative change, there is a real risk that inappropriate individuals will continue to gain access to children. They will hide under the cloak of supervision, using their manipulative ways, to groom young people.
The new act should raise alarm bells. Children are still being harmed: we are not doing enough to protect them. It is absolutely essential that we identify the gaps in the processes that schools deploy. The concern is echoed by Ofsted, as a report from last year talked of many schools in need of considerable improvement in their safeguarding procedures. Therefore, the Government must carry out a detailed review now, to understand the results of this report and why the safeguarding systems in schools are still failing.
Only by conducting such a review can we prevent child abusers gaining access to the most vulnerable members of society. That review will result in informed advice as to the intelligent steps that can be taken to increase the level of protection for our children in schools.
(IBB’s report is available at: www.ibblaw.co.uk/safefromharm)