The Independent Safeguarding Authority

Stephen Gillham, Bournemouth, England

Vetting and Barring Scheme

Reaching out to children and young people has always been a priority in the assemblies, not only because we know that this is the Lord’s command, but also because so many have come to the Lord in their youth. We do recognize that ‘a child saved is a life saved’.

During our thirty-six years of involvement in full-time work for the Lord amongst children and young people things have changed so much. No longer are we in a position to fill our cars with children and bring them to a meeting; no longer can we publicize our meetings with a loudspeaker on a housing estate and assume that virtually all the children on the estate would come to a special meeting; no longer can we assume that everyone who wants to help is necessarily suitable or doing so for the right motives.

Society, culture, and also good practice have changed considerably. In 2003 the Government introduced the Criminal Records Bureau Disclosure system, requiring anyone who is actively involved, regularly, with children to go through a disclosure process to ensure that they were not on any police register or had a criminal record for any inappropriate activity. Good practice has ensured that children’s and youth workers, and those involved in residential weekends, camps, etc., have applied for a Criminal Records Bureau Disclosure, normally through their own church. Those who are involved in the planning of these Disclosures have recognized that this is not a fool-proof system and it is possible that folks have been given a Disclosure even though they could have been involved in some child abuse, because they have never been charged or sentenced for that offence, or that information held by one authority is not available to another group.

This became obvious after the Soham Enquiry and it became clear that the person involved had a CRB Disclosure but information about his criminal record had not been transferred from one authority to another. Because of this, the Government has launched the Independent Safeguarding Authority (Vetting and Barring Scheme) which became law in October 2009.

One of the problems with the CRB Disclosure system was the advice from the Criminal Records Bureau that someone should have a CRB Disclosure for every activity they were involved in, maybe as a nurse, teacher, a church worker, and also if they were involved in a residential activity. This has put a great strain on the CRB System. The purpose of the new ISA system is that once someone has been cleared and put onto a list they will be given a sixteen digit number and if they are prepared to give that to any person or group that they are working with, with their full name and date of birth, that group can check that they are on the list. This should reduce the amount of paperwork considerably.

The current situation is that the new CRB forms will be available in April 2010 and anyone filling in those forms will also have to commit themselves to the Vetting and Barring Scheme. It is not clear at this stage when they will be given their clearance but by November the scheme will be fully operational. The Government is talking about 11,000,000 people needing to go through the scheme. However, they are saying that as long as someone has a current CRB, that is, not more than three/four years old this will be sufficient for the time being. When that expires they will have to go through the Vetting and Barring Scheme, so that by 2015 anyone who works in close contact with children or young people will have to be registered with the ISA and there will be fines for groups who employ volunteers who are not listed. Anybody guilty of an offence against children will be automatically removed from the list and unable to work with children, unless they are re-instated after an appeal process.

The current advice is that CRB’s should be applied for when there are new people involved, or if CRB’S expire, and as the Scheme comes fully into operation they will be given their sixteen digit number from the ISA Vetting and Barring Scheme. At present it is not a legal requirement, for all those who work regularly with children, to have a CRB Disclosure. However, good practice and the good testimony of a church means that it should be a requirement and parents would expect that. By 2015, no one wanting to help in regular work with children, who is not on the ISA list, will be allowed to be involved.

Finally, good practice would ensure in an assembly where there is a work amongst children and young people, there would be in place a Child Protection Policy, and key helpers have not only have a current CRB Disclosure but also have received some basic training in Child Protection.

This does take away from our purpose and focus in our outreach to children as we seek to bring them to the Lord and to help them grow in the Christian faith. However, we have to recognize that in the sick society we live in there are individuals who could weave their way into churches and be guilty of acts of abuse. We have to safeguard those for whom we are responsible.

Good information and guidance is available from the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) via their website www.ccpas.co.uk. There is also the ISA website: www.isa-gov.org.uk

This does pose a lot of work and increasing responsibility to all those who seek to reach children with good, secure, procedures. Those not involved in work with children and young people do well to pray much for our nation’s children and all those who seek to reach them for the Lord.