In other news Frank Furedi and his ridiculous report on child protection has my blood boiling (which is his sole intention, he’s an academic who delights in trying to enrage people). Take this as an example:
Said Stuart: “Someone visited my office to talk about mentoring children in a nearby school and I decided to give it a go. I wanted to give something back, to help children – and I also thought it might look good on my CV. So I volunteered. Stuart had a CRB check for any criminal history. Nothing was found. He said: “My job was to talk to kids who might be at risk or have troubles at home. I was supposed to gain their trust and act as a role model. If I thought the child might be in trouble I could offer advice”. But, said Stuart, he encountered what he says was a “suspicious” attitude from staff at the school. “When I started I was told that whenever I was with children, I had to sit in full view of another member of staff at all times. I also wasn’t allowed to go and pick up any children from the classroom for the mentoring sessions. I was told I had to wait in the school library for them to be brought to me.” After seven weeks, Stuart left St Osyth. He said: “I had been fully checked out but the school still made me feel like I was a potential paedophile. My advice to anyone – especially a man – thinking of helping out in a primary school is ‘don’t bother’,” he said.
So where do I start? Well lets start with this scenario, one of Stuart’s mentees has been abused at home. We know children in building up to disclosure may try partial and incomplete disclosures, they may disclose without naming the perpetrator which leads to people trying to find out. If that happens Stuart may well have been glad of the protection that “in full sight” offers, trust me, I’ve been a mentor, working in full view, and I’ve been glad about the useful interventions other adults have made in terms of praising the students work, informing me of something I didn’t know and (very rarely) asking a student to behave properly. It’s a way of supporting volunteers, especially new ones, who don’t know it all and who can be in a vulnerable and unsupported position.
Perhaps Stuart should have thought about two things 1. how these sensible measures help protect and support him (rather than having the strange perspective that he knew it all already) and 2. how it helps the child (an abused child is often confused by lone adult interactions which can be interpreted and presumed to be further abusive situations, for example). Does Stuart also object to being trained in his role and in child protection?
Stuart complains he was treated as a “potential paedophile” – well he is (so am I). The thing is that paedophiles and sex abusers don’t come with handy forehead tattoos proclaiming their intentions. They don’t come with ID cards. Most often they also don’t come with criminal records. So the criminal records checks are just a single part of a wider system to protect children introduced because abusers were seeking out jobs (paid or unpaid) which gave them access to children. To argue that other people shouldn’t be subject to procedures to protect children because they aren’t an abuser is a ridiculous argument. I’d question why it was such a big deal, personally, it’s perfectly possible to have a private conversation in a public space, we do it all the time.
Furedi, who appeared on yesterday’s Radio 4 news, makes some valid points about CRB checks offering a false sense of security (absolutely, because most abusers don’t have criminal records). But he complains adults are thinking twice about hugging a child they don’t know – absolutely they should, a child has a right to not be treated as a piece of “cute baggage” to hug as adults see fit (fully accepting children need hugs, but they don’t need the assumption their bodies are public property!). Furedi claims that “parental intuition” is enough to spot a paedophile – absolute nonsense – parents must be sensible and not leave their children with people they don’t trust but it implies that paedophiles are easy to spot – it presumes they aren’t the charming, plausible people that being a successful abuser demands.
As Esther Rantzen says thousands of people work with and volunteer with children every week without complaint about the procedures. But apparently “Stuart” is worth more than all their experiences. The way I view it – some people aren’t at the right stage to be successful mentors, however they rationalise their failure it doesn’t provide justification for risking the safety of children.