CRB loophole remains a concern

Written by: HTU | Published:

A loophole in proposed new legislation could enable adults who have been banned from working with children to take-up voluntary posts in schools and social clubs, a legal expert has told Headteacher Update.

A loophole in proposed new legislation could enable adults who have been banned from working with children to take-up voluntary posts in schools and social clubs, a legal expert has told Headteacher Update.



Concerns have been raised over the loophole in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently in its final stages of debate before it receives Royal Assent.



Safeguarding expert Dai Durbridge has told Headteacher Update that if it is made law in its current form, the legislation would enable adults to work in schools or places such as sports clubs without Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and even if they are barred from working with children.



The government's Bill is proposing that volunteers who work with children do not need to be CRB-checked or checked against the barred list if they are working under supervision with children.



As the Bill stands, a supervised volunteer in a school would not be undertaking “regulated activity" and therefore no checks would be required.



Mr Durbridge, a specialist in safeguarding issues with education law firm Browne Jacobson, claims this will enable “dangerous" adults to build up relationships with children by volunteering to work in schools or other places such as local sports or social clubs.



Furthermore, Mr Durbridge said the changes could mean teachers and school staff find themselves unsure whether a supervisor is suitable to be in close contact with children.



Mr Durbridge told Headteacher Update: “If this Bill is passed in its current form, it puts children at risk in schools and also those children who attend things like sports clubs. A dangerous adult would see this loophole and the teachers, children or parents will never get to know whether the supervisor or volunteer is barred from working with children.



“A predator would see this and believe this is as an opportunity to become involved in sports clubs or volunteer in schools so they could build relationships with children. It is a very serious risk and very concerning.



“It also sends the wrong message across to the general public and the teaching profession that a member of staff can be sacked or barred for an offence but if they still want to they can continue working with children."



In the House of Lords, heated exchanges took place on the issue last week when Lord Bichard claimed that if the Bill is passed in its current form it will enable “dangerous and manipulative" adults to take advantage of children.



Lord Bichard was the author of the 2004 report produced in the aftermath of the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by caretaker Ian Huntley. The report shaped the current system of enhanced disclosure criminal checks for all applications for positions in schools.



He told the House: “We know that checks cannot be fool-proof, but surely we owe it to our children to take reasonable and quite simple steps to prevent those whom we know are a risk from gaining privileged access to children, even if they are subject to supervision.



“They must do that because children assume that adults who are trusted to offer guidance or instruction to them can be trusted not just in limited circumstances such as the youth centre or playing field but wherever they are encountered."



Labour peer, Lord Harris agreed that children coming into contact with those adults will “assume that they are safe". He added: “The bond of trust, and it does not have to be a very strong bond, will be built up and created. When they see that individual elsewhere, perhaps in the town centre, loitering near their school or wherever it may be, they will assume that that person is as safe for them there as in the supervised context."



Mr Durbridge echoed these fears: “This (the changes) ignores the fact that children see all adults in schools and other settings as appropriate and trustworthy. It allows an adult to build a trusting relationship during schools hours and to exploit it out of hours. In other words, to groom and then abuse a child.



“This will also put a constant doubt in the mind of parents because the supervisors won't be vetted or will not know if they have been barred and could lead to a distrust of all volunteers."



Despite this, Lord Henley, minister for crime prevention, argued that the changes are necessary because the current system contains “unnecessary red tape and discourages volunteering".



The Protection of Freedoms Bill is currently awaiting its third and final reading in the House of Lords.


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