Sir Roger Singleton, chair of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, outlines more robust arrangements to protect children and vulnerable young adults
Update: The ISA has announced a 'go live' date of 12 October 2009 for the new scheme. Click here for more details
It is the situation we all dread as child protection professionals. A trusted employee whose CRB disclosure had caused no concern is discovered abusing children in their care. Of course, the best organizations do everything they can to prevent this situation occurring, including following safer recruitment processes and taking up references before appointments are made. But as good as current arrangements are, a benign CRB disclosure on Monday will not tell you about subsequent inappropriate behavior or criminal convictions on Tuesday, Wednesday, the rest of the week or the rest of the month. In fact depending on what that person may have done, you may not find out until their next CRB disclosure is due. This is why Sir Michael Bichard, in his inquiry into the Soham murders, recommended that a ‘register’ be set up through which those who have been checked and found to pose no known risk can be identified for employers and volunteer organizers. From autumn 2009, that recommendation will become a reality and the chances of an inappropriate person being employed or volunteering in a position of trust will be significantly reduced. This is when the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) scheme will start, bringing with it a raft of improvements to safeguards to protect children and vulnerable adults. In April 2007 I was appointed chair of the ISA. I consider that the new arrangements will put in place considerably more robust safeguards to protect our children and vulnerable adults from abuse at the hands of those they should be able to trust the most.
The new scheme
When the ISA scheme launches, anyone who is employed to work in certain types of ‘regulated’ activity with children will have to be registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority. This definition covers a range of activity – teaching, training, care, supervision, advice, treatment, transport, fostering, childcare, activity in schools or care homes, certain positions of trust such as school governors or some charity trustees. Any activity of this type which takes place once a month or more often (‘frequently’), or for three days in any 30-day period (‘intensively’) is covered by the new scheme. Employing someone for this type of work without checking their ISA-status will be breaking the law. Anyone who is barred by the ISA but seeks employment in a relevant area will also be committing an offence. Penalties for both may include a fine or a prison sentence. The ISA scheme will cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland and will also link up with a separate, but aligned, scheme in Scotland. If you are barred by the ISA, you’ll also be barred in Scotland and vice versa. The new vetting service will replace the Protection of Children Act (PoCA), Protection of Vulnerable Adults (PoVA), List 99 and court-issued disqualification orders lists. Instead, to establish who is suitable to work with children or vulnerable adults, the ISA will set up and maintain two barred lists – one of those barred from working with children, one of those barred from working with vulnerable adults.
The central improvement in safeguarding will be the way decisions are taken about who should be put on those barred lists. To decide whether to register a person or to bar them from working with these groups, the Independent Safeguarding Authority will consider not just the convictions and cautions contained in a CRB disclosure and other data held on the four current lists. They will also consider information from previous employers, professional and regulatory bodies and the local intelligence that police refer to as ‘soft’ information. This will help to paint a clearer picture of someone’s behavior over time – and over a wide geographical area. Police data about investigations that stopped short of bringing charges, details of disciplinary action by previous employers even if the employee left before a conclusion could be reached, reports of inappropriate behavior – this type of information will be brought together in one place. It will then be reviewed by the ISA’s team of experts. It is these experts – a board of 10 publicly appointed leaders in their fields, backed up by a specially trained staff of some 250 – who will determine a person’s suitability for the work, before either registering them or placing them on one or both of the barred lists. The ISA will be independent of government, so it is the experts and not ministers making these life-changing decisions. As an employer you’ll no longer have to decipher the contents of a CRB enhanced disclosure to decide whether a potential employee’s criminal history means they pose a risk. The decision will come down to a simple choice: ISA-registered? You can employ them. Not registered? You cannot employ them, whether because they are barred, because they have never applied to register with the ISA or because they’ve asked to withdraw from the system following an event like retirement. The latest government estimate is that around 95% of people won’t have any information held on them to suggest that they pose a risk, enabling the ISA to issue their registration within days of application. Once the scheme has been up and running for some time and increasing numbers are registered, you will begin to employ people who have already been assessed by the ISA. To check that they are registered you will simply have to ask for the potential employee’s permission to check their status, their personal details and their unique personal identifier. You’ll then be able to check their status there and then, online, free of charge. The new scheme provides a real opportunity to increase trust in staff and volunteers. It will provide reassurance for parents and carers that they can expect their children to be as safe out of their home as in it. Of course I’m aware that cost could be a big issue and as keen as anyone else to settle the price for application to the scheme. It has to be self-financing and will make no charge for volunteers’ applications. This means that there’s a difficult job to do of working out how many paid applications there will be and setting a price that will subsidize the rest. The government will be announcing this cost later in the autumn. Who pays the fee for an employee to register will be up to you to decide, but if it works like the CRB checks we anticipate that many employers will want to meet the costs on behalf of their staff.
You will also, I am sure, want to know the date by which your employees will have to be registered so that you can plan for the impact it will have on your business and budgets. The introduction will be phased in over a number of years, as the latest estimate for the number of those who will ultimately need to be registered is more than 11 million. Planning is still under way but we are basing our calculations for the phases on prioritizing staff not by sector, but according to how recently they have had CRB checks. The Criminal Records Bureau will continue to operate, providing information that will help in your decision whether to appoint an ISA-registered candidate/volunteer. Some roles will still need to be CRB-checked – for instance for a post which involves driving, a history of speeding or drink-driving convictions wouldn’t necessarily register on an ISA check. A CRB enhanced disclosure would highlight these convictions or cautions and help you to decide whether that person is suitable for the role as a result. Much of the administration for the new scheme reflects that required by the CRB’s disclosure work, and in fact the new scheme will be using the CRB for its administrative arm. We are working to align the work of the two organizations closely, to make it easier for both applicants and employers. We plan to have just one application form covering both an ISA check and a CRB disclosure.
Making it a success
The success of the scheme will depend on the police, employers, professional and regulatory bodies feeding information into the system. Only with input from all of these parties can a comprehensive picture of individuals’ history and behavior can be built up, enabling new information to trigger the ISA to review a person’s registration if necessary. It is difficult to overstate the importance of these organizations in helping the scheme to fulfil one of its most useful features – notifying an employer, as well as the relevant regulatory body, if an employee moves onto the barred lists. I anticipate that employers will particularly appreciate this and recognize it as a significant improvement on the current requirement to carry out repeat CRB checks.
You can find out more about the scheme on the Independent Safeguarding Authority website.
Yes, there are individuals who make it their business to betray the trust put in them to care for our children. But as I know from my own work – and as I’m sure is reflected in your own experience – the vast majority of those working in this field are dedicated, compassionate and professional individuals. Weeding out the small minority who pose a threat to children is crucial to safeguarding those who are least able to defend themselves. It is also hugely important to maintain the reputation of the professions and, of course, to prevent that awful moment when abuse is discovered and we have to start trying to deal with the potentially shattering physical, psychological and emotional damage that may have been caused. I want the new Independent Safeguarding Authority to make big steps forward on all of these fronts.
Sir Roger Singleton CBE is one of the UK’s leading experts in child protection issues and has more than 40 years’ experience of working with young people.
Probably best known for the 21 years that he spent as chief executive of the world-renowned charity Barnardo’s, he is an adviser to the secretary of state for children, schools and families in relation to List 99. Among other charitable and advisory positions, he is chair of the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund