I read an article in the Observer today by Daniel Taylor, Football Writer of the year.
Mr Taylor challenges the claim made by football clubs, that the game is as safe for children as it can possibly be.
On the 30th November, I wrote a blog about how the rudimentary system of police checks that existed in the 1970's and 1980's, and which was used by social services and other statutory agencies, did not cover football clubs. I also made the point whilst the level of awareness of child abuse was much less than it is today, this was by no means a crime that was invisible to the public.
It is important to realise that checks on new people coming into clubs are only one part of the story in child protection. Clubs need to have robust child protection policies, which are closely followed where a concern arises. Database checks will not stop an abuser with an unblemished record from getting access to children. All too often, reports, disclosure and rumours of inappropriate are disregarded, or an organisation with the care of children, prefers to try and deal with the matter with "the minimum of fuss." This is how abuse continues unchecked.
So what is the present system of vetting in football clubs?
To answer that question, we need to look at the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which was amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2010. The 2006 contains the basis of our modern child protection systems.
Following the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley (a school caretaker) in 2002, the government commissioned an Inquiry by Sir Michael (now Lord) Bichard which reported in June 2004.This report identified systemic failures in vetting and barring systems. These included inconsistent decisions being made by employers on the basis of CRB disclosure information, disclosure information going out of date and inconsistencies between the old databases which were used to identify people who might be a risk to children.
It was also felt that the then barring system was reactive to harmful behaviour rather than preventative and that there were inconsistencies between police authorities in the disclosure of police information. The Inquiry Report recommended, amongst other things, that a registration scheme, administered by a central body, should be established for those wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults.
The 2006 Act provides the present legislative framework for a Vetting and Barring Scheme for people who work with children and vulnerable adults and builds on the provisions of Part V of the Police Act 1997. The new arrangements it introduced, replaced those provided for under the Protection of Children Act 1999, the Care Standards Act 2000, the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, and the Education Act 2002.
The 2006 Act covers England and Wales (although there are provisions for the registration of offences perpetrated in other countries). The provisions of the Act are mirrored in Northern Ireland in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 and in Scotland by the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007.
The original purpose of the 2006 Act was to minimise the risk of harm posed to children and vulnerable adults by those that might seek to harm them through their work (paid or unpaid). It sought to do this by barring unsuitable individuals not just on the basis of referrals but also at the earliest possible opportunity as part of a centralised vetting process that all those working closely with children and/or vulnerable adults need to go through.
The Act put in place a new system for vetting persons seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults, and for barring those considered to be unsuitable for such posts, whether in paid employment or voluntary work. The Act originally established what is now the Disclosure and Barring Service ("DBS") as a non-departmental governmental body sponsored by the Home Office, to consider relevant information about individuals wishing to work in these areas, and to take all discretionary decisions on who should be barred.
Organisations that work with children and vulnerable adults are required by law to use the DBS for people who want to work within their organisations, whether on a paid or voluntary basis.
There are two barred lists - one for those who are barred from engaging in regulated activity with children (the “children's barred list”), and one for those who are barred from engaging in regulated activity with vulnerable adults (the “adults' barred list”). These lists replaced from the 12th October 2009 the lists previously used in England and Wales for protecting children and adults, the Protection of Children Act list, the Protection of Vulnerable Adults list and List 99.
There are four routes to inclusion in one or both barred lists:
(i) automatic inclusion in one or both of the barred lists without the right to make representations or to appeal. Inclusion in the lists on this basis happens only where a person has been convicted of, or received a caution in relation to, one of a list of specified offences, or meets other prescribed criteria (such as being subject to an order, foreign order or direction of a prescribed description, or being included in a specified foreign barred list) that indicate, of themselves, that any offender would pose such a high risk to vulnerable groups that they simply could not make a case as to why they should be allowed to engage in regulated activity i.e. working with children;
(ii) automatic inclusion in one or both of the barred lists with the right to make representations as to why the person in question should be removed and a subsequent right of appeal following inclusion. Inclusion in the lists on this basis will happen where a person has been convicted of, or received a caution in relation to, one of a further list of specified offences or as a result of having met some other prescribed criteria;
(iii) inclusion at the DBS' discretion, on the basis that the person in question has engaged in “relevant conduct” i.e. broadly, that they have behaved in a way that has harmed a child or vulnerable adult, or could have done so, or in a way involving child pornography or inappropriate sexual behaviour. In this case, the relevant individual will have the opportunity to make representations before they are included in a list and will have a subsequent right of appeal;
(iv) inclusion at the DBS' discretion, on the basis that the person in question seems to the DBS to pose a risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults. Again, in this case the relevant individual will have the opportunity to make representations before they are included in a list and will have a subsequent right of appeal.