Child Protection – How Far Is Too Far?

From January 1st 2009, anyone hosting an under 16 in their home will be required to undergo an enhanced CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check. The new Home Office legislation aims to increase the protection and safety of children, including minors visiting Britain. But this time the nanny state has gone too far.

The legislation might look great on paper, but it has opened a proverbial can of worms.

Foreign exchanges were once a staple of secondary schools’ modern foreign language teaching. Under the new law, school trips – especially foreign exchanges which are already smothered in parental consent forms and health and safety regulations – may well become a thing of the past as less and less schools spend their limited resources fighting through bureaucratic red tape.

But the new legislation has some unexpected victims.

The internationally renowned Watoto Childrens’ Choir, of the Ugandan Aids Orphans charity, have had their visas withheld until over 900 CRB checks have been carried out on all the adults in the families planning to host the choir on their 6 month tour of the UK.

The choir were due to fly out in less than six weeks to start their tour, hoping to raise over £200,000 for child aids victims in Uganda. Now, with their visas withheld and an additional cost of over £20,000 to carry out all the checks, the tour is to be cancelled.

The Ugandan charity claims the number of checks required in such a short time is “completely unworkable” and while they support the need for child protection they have not been given enough time to comply with the new legislation.

In any case, the charity carries out its own stringent checks on host families, making the checks pretty redundant.

The plight of the Watoto Choir highlights a serious flaw in the government’s attempts to further protect children. Ironically the legislation prevents the Watoto charity doing just that – protecting children.

Surely, in light of the shambolic Baby P case where Haringey Social Services spectacularly failed the children involved, the government would be better off focusing on ensuring current laws in place to prevent child abuse achieves this rather than giving organisations more hoops to jump through.

Once, you could walk past any school playground at lunchtime and see 9 or 10 children hanging off the arms and legs of dinner ladies, sorry, dinner supervisors. Now you can’t put a plaster on a child’s bleeding knee without a form signed (in black ink) by the legal guardians, triplicated and filed alphabetically. Although you’re probably best to give the plaster to the child to put on their own knee so you don’t touch them in any way and risk a lawsuit.

Let the Watoto children tour the UK. If we can’t police the laws we already have what is the point of generating more and further stretching resources? Maybe once we know we can save children in situations like Baby P we can consider implementing such ridiculous requirements. But right now, Nanny has gone too far.

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