Secretary of State accepts new ISA recommendations on safeguarding

December 14, 2009

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has issued a press release confirming the Governmentsd response to Sir Roger Singleton’s report on the Vetting and Barring Scheme, “Drawing the Line”. It says …..

I am today publishing Sir Roger Singleton’s report on the Vetting and Barring Scheme, “Drawing the Line”, together with the Government’s response. I am placing copies of both in the House library.

Parliament legislated for the new scheme in the 2006 Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act. The legislation received overwhelming support, within Parliament and beyond. We recognised then, as we do now, that it is essential to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are properly safeguarded and that we do everything we reasonably can to protect them from those who seek to do them harm.

Our aim throughout has been to develop an approach which is proportionate, balanced and effective, with the scheme operating in a way which is neither burdensome nor bureaucratic, or off-putting to potential volunteers in children’s settings, while still meeting the concerns of parents.

I wrote on 14 September to the hon member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), chair of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families; I have placed a copy of my letter in the House library. My letter noted that some concerns had been expressed about the interpretation of one particular aspect of the scheme; that is the degree of contact with children which should trigger the requirement to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).

Deciding which situations should be covered and which should be excluded is undoubtedly a difficult judgement. That is why Baroness Morgan and I asked Sir Roger Singleton to check that the Government has drawn the line in the right place on this issue and to advise whether any adjustments should be made.

We are very grateful to Sir Roger for his very thorough work on this over the last three months, during which he has consulted a wide range of key individuals and organisations, including relevant unions, inspectorates, voluntary organisations, faith groups and local charities and clubs. His work was also informed by a survey of some 1800 parents carried out by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations.

The Government welcomes and accepts all 10 of Sir Roger’s recommendations, which provide us with a strong basis on which to take forward the next phase of the scheme’s implementation. Taken together, we believe these recommendations strike the right balance between the need to protect the vulnerable on the one hand, and the importance of having a scheme which is proportionate and which is based on some fundamental guiding principles, consistently applied, on the other.

Sir Roger sets out two such fundamental guiding principles in his report, and these underpin both his overall approach and all his specific recommendations.

The first principle is that where parents exercise their own judgement about who should care for their children that is entirely a private matter in which the scheme should not interfere. But where parents give that choice to an organisation, such as a school, club or group and cease to be able to make a personal decision about which adult provides the care or teaching etc, then registration should be required, subject to how often the contact takes place between the adults and the children.

The second principle is that the statutory requirements laid down should go no further than is necessary for the safety and protection of children, At the same time, it is also necessary, and appropriate, to recognise that some organisations will choose to require registration in situations of exceptional vulnerability, whether or not the frequency test is met; for example, if the person will be expected to provide intimate personal care for a severely disabled child. This allows for a degree of local flexibility and recognises everyone’s responsibility for safeguarding.

The Government endorses both these principles, which are already enshrined in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. As Sir Roger notes in his report, public misunderstanding has led to concerns that the scheme risks intruding inappropriately into family life. It is not and it never will be this Government’s policy that this should happen. We therefore strongly welcome the first two recommendations in Sir Roger’s report, which make this absolutely and unambiguously clear.

The Government also welcomes Sir Roger’s recommended adjustments to the scheme’s requirements that follow from application of these guiding principles to real life situations, namely:

Changing the definition of “frequency” within the scheme from once a month or more to once a week or more. This covers regular repetitive activity;

Making a parallel change to the “intensive” definition, from three or more days in a 30 day period, or overnight, to four or more days in a 30 day period, or overnight. This covers the circumstances where there is contact over a short space of time which is not necessarily repeated;

Removing the requirement to register with the scheme if regulated activity is carried out frequently in different settings (such as schools) rather than taking place frequently in a single setting;

Raising the minimum age at which young people should be required to register from 16 to 18, where the regulated activity in which they are engaged is organised as part of their studies – for example a community service programme involving volunteering work with children or vulnerable adults;

Allowing workers from overseas who bring their own groups of children or vulnerable adults into this country to be exempt from registering for up to 3 months for the work they do with the children or vulnerable adults they have brought to the UK; and

Regarding school exchange visits lasting less than 28 days, where the overseas family accepts the responsibility for the selection of the host family, as private arrangements which are exempt from the scheme.

We believe that these adjustments to the scheme are proportionate and that they will be supported by parents, employers and by those who work or volunteer with children and vulnerable adults. The changes they will bring about are faithful to the two fundamental principles of allowing parents to make their own private arrangements without interference, and ensuring that requirements set by the state do the minimum necessary to protect children and the vulnerable.

Sir Roger’s report also invites the Government to undertake further work in three areas:

To review the registration requirements for self-employed private health practitioners. As the law currently stands, when a patient attends one of these practitioners it will be a private arrangement and therefore although the practitioners may register with the scheme, there will be no requirement for them to do so. However, the intimate nature of medical treatment may suggest that these practitioners should be registered. The Department of Health will lead on this review in collaboration with my Department and the health care regulators;

To review whether there is a continuing need for the separate class of work with different requirements, defined in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 as “controlled activity”. Controlled activity refers to certain tightly defined ancillary and support activities, mainly in FE colleges, NHS settings and Local Authorities. Far fewer people are potentially covered by “controlled activity” than by “regulated activity”. Sir Roger invites the Government to take stock of whether controlled activity is a necessary part of the scheme. My Department and the Department of Health will take this review forward together, in collaboration with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills;

To review the statutory requirements, and the Government’s advice, for CRB disclosures on those who work with vulnerable groups when they are already registered with the ISA. We had already undertaken to carry out this work once the scheme had settled in.

The Government will take forward these three reviews in the New Year.

The changes recommended by Sir Roger will impact on the numbers of people who will have to register. Initial estimates by the Home Office indicate that Sir Roger’s recommendations will lead to approximately 2 million fewer individuals needing to register with the Vetting and Barring Scheme. This suggests that the new figure of those who will have to register with the Scheme lies in the range of 9 to 9.5 million.  The Government is working to produce more detailed estimates and will include them in a revised impact assessment to be published shortly.

Sir Roger rightly underlines in his report the need for renewed efforts to communicate the details and safeguarding benefits of the scheme. The Government will therefore commission communications activity to help explain the scheme. We will also act swiftly to dispel any myths and misunderstandings about the scheme with updates to the briefing notes that are on our website and which I have sent to hon Members. We will also reflect all of Sir Roger’s recommendations in the full guidance on the scheme that we intend to publish in the New Year.

Full Press Release – no longer available online 23/08/16

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