Child Protection – How Far Is Too Far?

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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.

Perhaps it’s time to get a life

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Admit it, you’ve secretly wasted hours of your free time on Facebook updating your status and leaving your friends messages on their wall. Maybe you’ve dabbled in Second Life, or have played the online game World of Warcraft. We live in a world obssesed with social interaction, only we’d prefer to talk to the person we’ve never met on the other side of the world rather than our next-door neighbour. We are a generation of infomaniacs.

But when you get divorced in real life after a virtual affair, hasn’t it all gone a bit far?

Amy Taylor and David Pollard are getting divorced after three years of marriage ended when Amy discovered David’s Second Life character, Dave Barmy, having sex with a virtual hooker. Quite surprisingly, this isn’t the first divorce case the couple’s solicitor has dealt with involving Second Life.

This is mind boggling. Virtual interaction is that. Virtual. It isn’t real. There has got to be a limit to how our online activities influence our real lives. After all, it would be insane if insurance companies started to base car insurance premiums on how someone drives in Grand Theft Auto.

Of course there is a line. Certain online activities are policed. Most of us wouldn’t dream of using the internet for such things. Rather the internet has become a major social tool. But such is the power of the world wide web and interactive games that it has surpassed social tool and become a social hindrance.

There is a notion amongst the Millennial Generation of “if Facebook says it, it must be true”. At a party recently I overheard a friend tell another that, “you’re not in a relationship until Facebook says you are.” Have we really become so caught up in virtual social interaction that everything we do is dictated by a screen and a wifi connection? Whatever happened to the old art of letter writing or even face-to-face meeting?

In the case of Amy and David, I can’t help thinking that if they had spent more time actually speaking to each other in person rather than hiding behind their alter egos and living idealistic lives through the internet, their marriage may have succeeded. Indeed, David explained away his infidelity claiming Amy was more interested in her life online than she was in him.

And while Amy speaks of the “ultimate betrayal” in her husband’s virtual affair, it would appear she hasn’t learnt her lesson. She met her new boyfriend through World of Warcraft.

Contradictory as it may be, we live in an age submerged in all manner of communication tools and barely know the people who live in our street. We have lost the ancient human ability of communication while striving to advance the ways in which we can stay in contact with each other.

It’s time to quit Facebook, commit Second Life suicide, turn off your computer screen and go to VA meetings.

The Day America Decides

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(written 4th November 08 – posted 5th November, after the event)

The Presidential Election:

The whole world is eagerly and anxiously awaiting the outcome of today’s voting when America’s polls finally close in just under ten hours.

There is no doubt that today is not only a significant day in American history, but also in the world’s history.

Much like 9/11, the world will not be the same tomorrow in the aftermath of the election.