Tag Archives: children

Caron, Charlotte and Costigan are all right about the ISA

I’ve been impressed by the quality of Lib Dem blog posts about the Independent Safeguarding Authority over the past few days. Caron Lindsay, Charlotte Gore and Costigan Quist all make excellent points, albeit from different perspectives. The line in Caron’s post which I thought was most worth highlighting was this one about the Soham case:

The idea is that Ian Huntley, the man responsible for the Soham murders, would have been caught out by this new register because his previous charges or complaints against him would have come to light. But what if he had been identified and removed from the school premises? He’d still have lived somewhere and perhaps on another day a combination of circumstances would have presented him with the opportunity to kill random children he came into contact with.

She’s absolutely correct: displacing the problem is not the same thing as stopping it. Ian Huntley only had to murder or abuse once for it to be too often. Charlotte meanwhile hits the nail on the head here:

Quote, “it is not a punitive sanction. It’s a proactive measure to protect children and vulnerable adults.” Oh, that’s alright then. So say I submit myself to the ISA for vetting and they decide to bar me, and I have to go to all the other parents and admit to them that I’ve been blacklisted so, you know, sorry, I can’t give your kids a lift to footie anymore…. they’ll be sympathetic and understanding to my unlucky run-in with a paranoid, faceless state will they? I doubt it. Rumours will spread that I’m obviously totally dodgy, probably a paedophile, too – I mean, the Safeguarding Authority must have had a good reason to ban me, right? No smoke without fire? Yet smoke is what the ISA are using to come up with their decisions. You see the problem?

One thing I also found interesting about Charlotte’s post is her comfort with the Sex Offenders’ Register. I remember when this was being introduced at the time and the amount of ink (it was ink in those days) used in agonising about it. Back then, one of the big concerns was that an 18 year old who had been caught having a homosexual relationship with a 16 year old would be added to the register (the homosexual age of consent has of course now been lowered of course). Caron gives a similar heterosexual example in her post. It says something about our times when even a notorious libertarian is prepared to concede that such a register is necessary and is an interesting example of authoritarian fatigue (my other favourite being pre-charge detention which has more or less been ceded to the authoritarians in the wider public debate). Finally though, Costigan’s alternative take is also worth remembering:

As the ISA proudly says, this will be the largest system of its kind in the world. Over five years, 11 million of us will be brought onto it. With my permission, an employer or voluntary organisation will be able to check me out online. You just need to do the maths. 11.3 million over five years works out as 9,000 people a day being put onto the system. Nine thousand a day. Approximately one person every three seconds. The idea that experts with gather data effectively and use their judgement to make the right decision on each person is completely laughable. The ISA won’t have enough resources. It will do what always happens in these situations. Corners will be cut, large chunks of data will be imported with little or no checking and decisions based on guesses, rules of thumb and arbitrary thresholds will be the order of the day.

As ever, the threat is not Big Brother but Computer Says No. Our fate is not to be Citizen Smith but Harry Buttle. Within five years, another child will be abducted/abused/murdered by someone in a position of trust and once again the media will be clamouring “why did we let this happen?” Once again, the government solution will be yet another register, yet more checks, yet more expense. And once again people will withdraw just a little bit more into the private sphere, trust their neighours a little less and hope to God that the system will work this time.

Has Labour got two Balls?

Is it me or is there a disconnect between Ed Balls, the stalwart defender of playgrounds and opponent of compo culture, who two months ago was saying this:

“If you don’t want to do something a bit risky, too often people say ‘we can’t do that because of health and safety’.

“It is the risk aversion in some cases which stops things happening which I want to tackle head on,” he said.

The Government’s consultation paper says: “We need to work together as a society to create popular attitudes that embrace children in public space and challenge inappropriate ‘No Ball Games’ cultures.

“This means adults being willing to share public space with children and understand that play can, at times, test boundaries.”

And the killjoy who today was saying this:

“Tougher enforcement powers are needed to tackle under-age binge drinking, but enforcement measures alone are not the solution. We need a culture change, with everyone – from parents, the alcohol industry and young people – all taking more responsibility.”

You could argue I’m being unfair and comparing apples with oranges, but I do wonder. We’ve had ten years of this approach, providing people with more advice while making the law even more draconian at the same time. It doesn’t appear to have helped. It does appear to have gone hand in hand with a rise in anxiety about this issue.

Why do we need screeds of new health advice about safe alcohol limits? It isn’t as if young people are unaware that if they get drunk they lose the full use of their faculties; that’s kind of why they do it in the first place. And parents will either be the relatively responsible type who teach their kids how to drink socially, or the type who aren’t going to be interested in a leaflet giving them advice in the first place. What next? Parenting lessons?

It seems to me that youth binge drinking isn’t a problem in and of itself, it is a symptom. On the one hand you have a lack of facilities, meaning that kids have literally nothing else to do. On the other hand, increased hysteria about youth drinking has meant that instead of experimenting with alcohol in the relative safety of their local, they are doing their experimenting in either vast impersonal drinking halls (if they can afford it) or, more likely, downing Diamond White while sitting around in those playgrounds that Balls is so keen on.

The fact is, those sneaky night time park binges are as much a part of childhood as falling off climbing frames. The same anxiety that leads councils to closing down playgrounds is behind the current anxiety about youths drinking. Even if we had the best youth service in the world, generations of young people will go through that period in their lives. To use Balls’ own language, it is all about “testing boundaries”. Along with all other kinds of so-called anti-social behaviour, the main impact of turning naughtiness into a criminal offence has been to allow adults to excuse themselves of any responsibility for it. The result has been, young people are testing boundaries only to discover those boundaries growing ever larger.

Labour can’t really afford to have both Balls at the same time. To be fair on the man, he has previously expressed scepticism about the whole Blairite approach to anti-social behaviour in the past. His announcement today though just sounds like more of the same.