Child safety laws mean adults 'scared to approach children'
Adults are afraid to interact with other people's children because they fear being labelled a paedophile, according to a report published today by the thinktank Civitas.
The report, Licensed To Hug, calls for regulation and vetting to be relaxed because the "dramatic escalation of child protection measures has succeeded in poisoning the relationship between the generations".
In the past, the report says, adults would have routinely helped children in distress or rebuked those who were misbehaving but now think twice about the consequences. Instead, there was now "an atmosphere of mistrust".
The problem is only likely to get worse, says the study, with the introduction next year of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) which will increase the number of adults vetted before being allowed to work with children to over 11 million – a quarter of the adult population.
From October 2009, the ISA will require any adult who comes into contact with children or vulnerable adults through their work or in voluntary groups to be vetted.
The ISA will also provide a constantly updated list of people who are not allowed to work with children or vulnerable adults.
The measures were devised to tighten procedures to protect children after the murders of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by their school caretaker, Ian Huntley, in 2002.
The Civitas report author, Kent university professor of sociology Frank Furedi, believes the new measures go too far.
"From Girl Guiders to football coaches, from Christmas-time Santas, to parents helping out in schools, volunteers - once regarded as pillars of the community - have been transformed in the regulatory and public imagination into potential child abusers, barred from any contact with children until the database gives them the green light," Furedi said.
He added that vetting by the Criminal Records Bureau could lead to a false sense of security because it can only check for offences in the past and cannot predict future behaviour.
"It would be much better if adults could use their discretion and professional judgment - skills that are now becoming redundant".
"If we could encourage greater openness and more frequent contact between the generations, we would all benefit."
Responding to the report's findings, a Home Office spokesman said: "There is no evidence employment checks are a barrier to either volunteering or damage trust between children and adults - in fact the number of CRB checks on volunteers has grown year-on-year."
The Home Office said that last year CRB checks stopped 20,000 unsuitable people gaining work with vulnerable individuals, which its spokesman called, "a success in anyone's book".