CHAPTER 11 Continued...

The vetting and supervision of adults working with children and young people

A new system

11.21 These considerations indicate, in my view, that a system should be instituted to ensure that clubs and groups which are voluntarily attended by children and young people for their recreation, education or development use adequate checks on the suitability of the leaders and workers who have substantial unsupervised access to them.

11.22 It is essential that if there is to be such a system it should avoid a bureaucratic approach and should be relatively easy for clubs and groups to work with, and for parents and others to understand and rely upon.

11.23 If there should be such a system, should it be directed to the scrutiny of the clubs or groups or to those who lead or work in them? Should the system be one for compulsory registration or for voluntary accreditation?

11.24 I do not consider that it would be practicable to have a system for the compulsory registration of leaders and workers in clubs and groups. This would involve a substantial overlap with the systems which larger voluntary organisations already operate. It would pose difficulties of defining which individuals were affected by the requirement to register, especially those whose services were given on an informal or occasional basis. There would be a risk of creating a bureaucratic system which would deter many from volunteering their assistance and which would not provide benefits commensurate with the considerable cost involved. It would be possible for someone who was minded to evade the system to do so.

11.25 A system for the voluntary accreditation of leaders and workers would not have all the drawbacks which I have mentioned in the last paragraph. However, it would still involve difficulty in determining the persons to whom the system was directed, having regard to the great variety of access to children and young people which occurs in one kind of activity or another. Further and more importantly, it would achieve only the accreditation of certain individuals. Parents might still know little more than the fact that one or more employee or volunteer was accredited. The system would not do anything to ensure that the club or group as a whole was run in such a way as to have adequate procedures for vetting or training recruits or for dealing with workers about whom there might be doubts.

11.26 I turn next to the compulsory registration of all clubs and groups. If all of them were required to be registered as a condition of being able to operate, there would again be a difficulty in defining the clubs or groups in such a way as to exclude informal or occasional arrangements. In the case of the latter parents should be able to determine whether the person who is providing the service is suitable or not and so there is far less need for such a system.

11.27 It might be possible to place some definite limit on the requirement to register which would be designed to cut out such cases. One example would be to restrict the requirement to cases in which payment was made. If the payment required to be a fee this would be unduly restrictive. It would also cause problems in determining whether a particular payment was a fee. In any event the mere fact that activities are provided at no charge or on an "at cost" basis does not mean there is no case for a protective system. Another possibility would be to exclude clubs or groups which had fewer than a certain number of members. However, it would be difficult to devise a figure which would be appropriate to a wide range of activities. Fluctuation in numbers would cause difficulties in applying the requirement. Further it could be said that the smaller the club or group the greater are the chances of a child finding himself or herself alone with an adult and hence potentially at risk. The task of detecting evasion in the case of such a system would be labour-intensive and expensive.

11.28 It is understandable that it should be thought that the greatest need for some independent system for protecting children and young people exists where parents are not in a position to keep an eye on the conduct of the activity, eg where their children are offered the opportunity of camping or attending residential courses away from home; or where club leaders are not personally known to them. No doubt this approach would seek to draw a clear line between what parents should be responsible for and what calls for independent assistance. However, it does not seem to me that such distinctions can be turned into a workable method of defining when a legal requirement does or does not apply.

11.29 These considerations lead me to put aside the option that there should be compulsory registration, and to turn to the option for voluntary accreditation. This would have the advantage of being much more flexible and certainly simpler to administer. In determining what required to be demonstrated in order to obtain accreditation the body could adapt its approach according to what was appropriate in the case of different types of clubs or groups.

An accrediting body

11.30 What should be the main functions of the body to which clubs or groups would be accredited? Should the body be a national or a local one?

11.31 Firstly, the body would have, in my view, the responsibility for drawing up or selecting guidelines for the recruitment, training and monitoring of leaders and workers who have substantial unsupervised access to children and young persons, with a view to minimising the risk of abuse. It would seek to collect information as to the best practice. For the larger organisations a code of practice at least consistent with the level of protection provided by Protecting Children would be appropriate. For smaller organisations or special types of activities different sets of guidelines would probably be required.

11.32 Secondly, the body would have a discretion to decide whether or not an individual club or group should be accredited to it. This would depend on whether it had suitable arrangements, including a code of practice, to enable adequate and appropriate checks to be carried out in recruiting and monitoring leaders and workers; and had proper arrangements for the reporting and investigation of any suspected abuse.

11.33 The checks which might require to be made could include checks on professional qualifications and affiliations, a check with the SCRO and other checks in order to exclude unsuitable characters.

11.34 As regards the SCRO it would, I consider, be for the body to determine how far, and at what stage in the recruitment process, such a check was necessary in regard to different types of club or group activity. I have already indicated that smaller organisations might have difficulty in obtaining or using information from such a check. In such cases it would be appropriate for the SCRO check to be commissioned by the body itself.

11.35 In the case of organisations which have relatively few leaders - such as clubs of the type run by Thomas Hamilton - it could prove difficult for them to demonstrate that an adequate and independent check had been carried out. For such cases it would be advantageous, if not essential, for the body to supervise the carrying out of the appropriate checks.

11.36 Thirdly, it would also be desirable if the body was able to collect accurate information in regard to any matter which might reflect on a person's suitability as a leader or worker with children and young persons. One of the difficulties which was illustrated by the evidence in the Inquiry was that information about Thomas Hamilton was not readily or fully available in a new area to which he had turned his attentions. If the information about Thomas Hamilton which was known to certain organisations had been available to such a body, other organisations could have been quickly alerted to be on their guard against him. The role which in England is fulfilled by the Department of Health or in Northern Ireland by the Department of Health and Social Services may provide a suitable model for such a function. It would be desirable that not only accredited clubs and groups provide such information but that "non-members" should be encouraged to do so. Great care would, of course, require to be taken in order to ensure that the information which was recorded was accurate. Whether and to what extent the information would be released to a "member" club or group official who enquired about a particular applicant or worker would depend upon what he needed to know. Special arrangements could be made for enquiries by representatives of statutory organisations.

11.37 Fourthly, such a body would also be expected to monitor the conduct of clubs and groups which were accredited, in order to see whether their performance matched the statement of practice. Where there was a significant failure the removal of accreditation could follow.

11.38 The system which I have described would, of course, require to be publicised in such a way that the identity and work of the body was well known, that clubs and groups had an incentive to become accredited, and that parents would be able to find out which clubs and groups were accredited and would have confidence in the reliability of the system. The owners of premises which might be used by clubs or groups, such as local authorities, would be encouraged to make accreditation a condition of any let.

11.39 The functions of the body and the need for its work to be well known clearly indicate that what is required is a national body. It is true that a local authority is readily accessible to parents. However, in the case of organisations which operate nationally or in several local authority areas there would be undesirable duplication if registration had to take place in every local authority area in which they were active. Further, the fragmentation of responsibility among a large number of bodies would make it difficult to achieve the collection of information about potentially unsuitable persons to which I referred in paragraph 11.36.

11.40 As regards the nature and structure of the body I have given some consideration as to whether it should be a private or public body of one kind or another. However, I have decided that I should not make a recommendation as to any particular type of body lest this inhibit consideration of the possible alternatives which are worthy of discussion.

11.41 It may assist, however, if I give an indication of a number of factors which I consider to be of importance and which may be significant in putting my earlier recommendations into effect.

11.42 The governing board of the body should reflect the width of all the interests which are relevant among the voluntary, private or charitable organisations which may seek accreditation, whether their interests lie in the field of recreation, education or general development of children or young persons. This is so as to ensure that the new body has the widest appeal to potential "members". For this purpose some form of consultation on appointments to the board would seem very desirable.

11.43 I do not see any reason why the work of the body should not be self-financing through the charges which it makes on its "members". However, it is obviously very important that charges are kept within the limits of what organisations can afford. There is a case for the Secretary of State being given the power, after due investigation, to supersede the level of charges which otherwise would have been made; and if appropriate, to pay grant-in-aid towards any shortfall arising from the reduction in charges.

11.44 While the body should, as I have already indicated, be responsible for ensuring that its standards for accreditation reflect the best practice, it is for consideration that the Secretary of State should have the right to require it to review these standards; and, in the event of the body's performance being unsatisfactory, have the right to commission that work from another source.

11.45 The body should publish an annual report giving not merely financial information but also details as to its standards and its procedures for dealing with applications and the monitoring of accredited clubs and groups, together with a statement of its objectives and a description of its past performance relative to previous objectives.

11.46 One consideration which underlies the last four paragraphs is that while the body would not be operating a compulsory system, it would be in effect occupying a monopoly situation. It is accordingly right that provision should be made for its public accountability. I leave it to the Secretary of State to determine how and when the new system should be established, as well as the exact details of its functions.


11.47 A number of the submissions which I have considered have supported the development of professional courses for those who wish to lead in children's clubs. I agree with this. Consideration should be given to the development by SCOTVEC, the work of which will be taken over by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, of a Scottish Vocational Qualification on working with children, which would cover the organisation of clubs and child development and protection.

Children's Act 1989

11.48 I was invited in a number of submissions to express a view in regard to the proposals for altering the present scope of the requirement for registration. Since I have not recommended a system for compulsory registration, let alone an extension of the type of system for which the 1989 Act provides, I have not thought it necessary or appropriate to make any recommendation either way in regard to these proposals.

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Prepared 16 October 1996