July 16th, 2009

breaking bad

Complaining about the Soham checks

Author Anthony Horowitz complains that he has to have a criminal records check before he is allowed to work with children.
What I really hate about this database is the way it poisons the very special relationship that exists between children and the authors they admire. What sort of sick mind could whisper that there might be something suspect in that relationship, that children should be wary of all adults – unless they're government-approved?

People on metafilter say this makes them unwilling to enter the UK.
The repressiveness going on in the UK is really starting to scare me, to the point that I don't even want to go there, even to visit.

Get a bloody grip. I had to have a criminal records check last month, because of my voluntary work with Kairos. It was a wee bit challenging for me because the test was administered by the Catholic Church, not my favourite institution (we use their premises). You know how I rant about things on this blog... well, I never complained about that check did I? What makes Horowitz feel he is above it?

I have radically changed my views on this over the past few years. Here is my comment on metafilter which might explain why.
I used to think this was a ridiculous bureaucratic intrusion. For example, a friend of mine ran a little pre-school nursery, and she had to run a police background check on the old man she employed as a cleaner. How ridiculous. Then in turned out he had just got out of prison for raping children. She wouldn't have known - because he lied on his application form (of course).

And another friend was complaining that the employers who offered work experience to the pupils at her son's school had all had to register for criminal record checks. I can remember the two of us sitting in her kitchen ranting about how it would put employers off. Then in turned out one of them had a record decades long of repeated incidents - and he'd actually been abusing boys in her son's class. That shut us up.

I do actually have another friend who was unjustly accused of abuse (not by a child, but by a disturbed teen) and he was damaged by the experience, in a way I will never forget, so I know it isn't simple.

ETA Thanks to ajr who points out that the context of his complaint is a change from the current system of a new CRB check every time you start a new job to a single registration system, the ISA - described here.
We will charge a small fee for applications to register with the ISA as an employee or self-employed worker. This fee covers our administration costs and you will only be asked to pay it once, no matter how many times you change jobs. We do not charge volunteers for ISA applications.

My verdict - hugely better in that it is once-only registration. Worse in that lowly paid employees and starving writers will have to fork out seventy quid. Horowitz and myself are not in that category. None of his histrionic complaints, or the loopy Tory ranting in the comments thread, relate in any way to this change IMHO.
breaking bad

More on the new checks

There is a summary here in the Guardian of responses by author's to the VBA check.
Gillian Cross, author of The Demon Headmaster, agreed with (children's laureate) Anthony Browne, telling the Bookseller that anything that could be done to stop child abuse was worth it. "I understand entirely why people are enraged about the whole child abuse suspicion frenzy, which is particularly hard on men. It is nevertheless true that many children are abused. Theirs is the real suffering, and if checking can help to prevent that, I'm not opposed to it," Cross said.

Authors opposing the check include Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Quentin Blake and Anthony Horowitz.

My feeling is that many people of an older generation genuinely have no idea about what goes on, because when we were growing up it was simply never spoken of.