Speaking Our Mind WSTMINEGbyPLAYFairDeal 3   Speaking Our Mind
An occasional e-letter from Fair Play for Children    fpfc@fairplayforchildren.net

March 2013

To:  Members of the Houses Of Parliament  (copied to media and organisations)



We are pleased to send you the latest in this series - we raise 4 important matters.

MANDATORY REPORTING OF ABUSE ALLEGATIONS


The recent allegations re a leading member of a political party have again put public focus on the issue of reporting alleged abuse.   This is at the same time concerns about former MP Cyril Smith have been also aired again, and the recent  report into the Savile abuse situation re the Met's response shows that those concerns reached back as far as 50 years.  Similar concerns surround the North Wales children's homes scandal, and now there are investigations concerning a boarding house in South London.

One of the key recommendations/themes of both the Cullen Report (Dunblane) and the Bichard Report (Soham) related to SHARING of information - this aspect emerges also very strongly from the Penn State scandal in the United States - indeed, in its aftermath many American states have legislated to require Mandatory Reporting.  It cannot be right for any abuse allegations not to be reported to the proper authorities and instead to be reported internally with the consequence of an issue being covered up for an organisation's 'good name' or to protect a powerful or 'useful' person/celebrity.

We welcomed some features of the recent Protection of Freedoms legislation, but the lifting of mandatory reporting requirements from employers (replaced by an enabling 'may') is simply not acceptable, and we strongly urge legislators to raise this and to ensure an urgent change is effected.   This is not 'common sense' scaling back, it is plain folly.


 PLAY STREETS

The legislation enabling councils to create Play Streets stems from 1939, and has been updated since.   At the height of this provision, there were around 750 such street designations across the UK, they were permanent.   The advent of the car in the residential street, particularly, in our view, the parked car, saw the number decline to about 70.

Now this appraoch is gaining favour again amongst councils.   We estimate that children have been denied up to 3/4 million acres of residential street play space in 4 decades, a huge loss.  The child population now is at the level it was in 1931, and is growing rapidly.   The alternative provision has been fixed equipment play areas - our FoI figures show there are probably 18,000 such areas in England, with a ratio of one acre to 692 children under 15.  To create enough space for 1 acre per 100 children would, we calculate, require a further 90,000 play areas to be constructed on 80,000 acres of open space near to where children live, and we estimate the cost to be in excess of £6.5 billion.   That is, to give children the necessary open space for their health, exercise, and socialisation.

See our Publications:  Stolen Streets, Stolen Childhood   and   Report on FoI re Play Area Provision

Home Zones have grown but slowly - cost being the main issue as one in my own locality cost the council £500,000+.  Our estimate is that it would take 500 years to cover London at the current rate of implementation.

So the Play Street has enormous appeal.  It can be the subject of e.g. street poll, quick and inexpensive implementation, it is flexible (not all day for example), and there can be the (preferable) permanent arrangement or temporary schemes.   Play Streets can also be the focus for creating Local Play Partnerships where children are at the focus, they lead the process with help from parents, neighbours, community groups, councils, local firms, schools etc - this is essentially a civic educational approach where children learn the power and benefit of direct involvement in matters which concern them.

Parents do not like their children straying distances to e.g. parks etc - this is not new or over-protective.   They much prefer the situation of their children being close by, with 'light-touch' supervision shared with neighbours because children have always wanted some degree of both privacy and of assurance of parents being near enough at hand.   Play Streets are being pioneered again by bodies like the excellent London Play who are our friends and colleagues.  They are involved in 10 London Boroughs.  We envisage a great future for adventurous Play Wise buses to provide imput, resources etc for e.g. Street Play Days, Street Parties, and many other exciting activities.   Play Streets could become one of the most popular forms of community volunteering.

We advocate permanent Play Streets - temporary ones may have a useful preparatory value but we are hearing of some schemes which are one day a month if the neighbours don't mind.  That is chocolate teapot tokenism.

Fair Play for Children urges you to promote debate in Parliament on this effective means of ensuring children get out to play and exercise - unstructured play plus walking to school has been shown to burn off more calories than e.g. organised sport or school PE (UCL Study, North Beds).   More money is needed, greater powers for residents to push for Play Street status.  We hope you will support such Streets in your own area and promote their growth nationally.


SUPERVISION UNDER VETITNG AND BARRING

One of the areas we most strongly contested during the Protection of Freedoms Bill debate was around the proposal to remove from regulated activity definition those deemed to be 'supervised'.  This would mean that the fact of a person who was barred would not be revealed to the employer if 'supervised'.  It was argued that employers seeking Enhanced DBS disclosures would still receive conviction information.  However, we pointed out to the Home Office Minister that 20% of disclosures are non-conviction based and thus the Enhanced Certificate would not show a conviction, nor barred status.

The response was to insert a change where ISA/DBS would provide the police with details of barirng in such cases and it would be for an authorised officer to decide whether or not to disclose this to the employer.   This seems to us perverse - the person has already gone through an appealable procedure with ISA/DBS and now a new non-appealable process is added back in to square the government's circle ....

To say we were dumbfounded when a Home Office official wrote to us that a person who was supervised and barred was not barred is an under-statement.   This is a mess which cannot be allowed to remain unchallenged. 

Statutory Guidance was to be issued by the relevant department, a poorly-drafted version was circulated once only, we made comments to DfE especially about the inappropriate second paragraph, but we heard no more.  A recent FoI to the DfE has revealed that the SG was issued last September and it is shown at:
http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/s/supervision%20guidance%20revised%20sos%20sept%202012.pdf 

We are informed that there was no circulation or press release, not to councils, organisations, providers etc and the new DBS application form has no mention at all of it.   Our FoI to English Councils as to how they are treating applications for DBS disclosures show a VERY muddled situation.  One Council only so far has shown it has any idea as to what supervision means, most are quite clearly CLUELESS and ignorant of the meaning of 'supervision' under Section 64 of the PoFAct 2013.  That cannot be an acceptable situation.

Again, urgent action is required to ensure the safety of children.  The Home Office refused to accept our proposition that 'secondary access' would be relevant in determining supervision status - that is, the fact that a relationship made within a regulated activity with a child could be exploited outside of that setting.  The issue is not to have a clean and tidy regulated setting but to protect children from grooming for abuse.

This clause was introduced, it seems, so as not to discourage volunteers - one council thinks it applies only to volunteers but we cannot read it that way.   There are some people who should be discouraged from a) breaking the law by applying and b) from volunteering to work with children.   The current situation, in our view, tacitly encourages law-breaking by a barred person who commits an offence by making such applications to work with children.   It makes employers unwitting accomplices to law-breaking.   It also is grossly unfair not only on children in such situations but on the work colleagues, paid and volunteer, in that setting, not to mention the employer and its business and reputation.

We seek change, we hope you will support raising this in questions, debate, EDM etc.


CONVICTION INFORMATION

Lest it be thought Fair Play has no concern for the DBS applicant, we are relieved the Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal against the Government concerning release of conviction information to employers.  Under the current law, all such information is released as held by the PNC database.   The judgment held that the release indiscriminately of all information, however old or trivial or non-related to the job applied for constituted a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR re privacy.

This squares with the view we put forward in June 2010 in our publication  Out with the Bathwater? where we argued that only relevant conviction information should be released to employers, and that it is ISA/DBS (as it now stands) that should determine this.   They are quasi-judicial in remit and structure, their decisions are appealable, applicants could have opportunity to contest via procedures which would also satisfy Article 6.1 of the ECHR.   We envisage at this stage the process would be:
The result would be fairer, more consistent with the Rehabilitation of Offenders emphasis of the Police Act 1997 which established the CRB system, and would provide genuine and sensible relief to many thousands of people who are embarrassed at the release of often ancient and non-relevant minor conviction information.  'Common sense' (sic) tells one that where an employer has 2 equally well-aspected candidates, the one without any blemish could have a real advantage.   That is contrary to the spirit and purpose of Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation.


I hope you have found this mailing interesting and useful.

JanCsign1

NATIONAL SECRETARY










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