Licensed to hug
Who needs protecting?
LICENSED TO HUG
By Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow
Civitas. 64 pages. £5.00
I was driving down a road in Oxfordshire recently when I noticed a pretty little girl, not more than five or six years old, skipping along a pavement by herself. I thought it strange that she should be out alone and near a busy road. Idea number one: I should stop and check that she is all right and knows her way home. Idea number two, close on the heels of idea number one: if I do, will I be accused of some sinister motive? Fortunately for all concerned, before I had time to change gear, I noticed a mother (presumably) running towards the child with outstretched arms. All was well. My moral dilemma was postponed.
There was no such happy ending when in March 2006 a bricklayer drove by an unaccompanied toddler. That toddler who had ‘escaped’ from nursery was later found drowned in a pond. At the inquest the bricklayer voiced his regret at his decision not to turn back and help the child. He said, ‘One reason I did not go back is because I thought someone would see me and think I was trying to abduct her’.
There is, in general, an instinct in all adults that it is right to help a lost child, or comfort a distressed one. Now we all think twice. That is what ‘child protection’ has done. Although child protection legislation and guidelines intended to make the world a safer place for children, it has in some ways made children less protected, less safe, more vulnerable. It has led adults to protect themselves first, to watch their backs. It has led to moral confusion and a widening of the generation gap.
That may be controversial, but it is the thesis of Frank Furedi and Jennie Bristow in this short but well-argued book. They raise the question of whether all those CRB checks are as effective as they pretend to be. There are issues of security and of money and time wasting (and anyone involved in children’s work in church knows how tedious all that can be), but, more worryingly, there is a message behind all these checks. That message is that adults cannot be trusted around children unless they possess a probationary licence. This undermines the authority that adults have over children, an authority (which Christians know to be both biblical and benign) we took for granted. It also corrodes trust. We are effectively training children to distrust adults and adults to distrust each other where children are concerned. Is this in the interest of children? That is what this book asks and the question is worth serious consideration.
Of course, we can all start talking about paedophiles. But do these measures actually deter such evil and criminal behaviour? Or do they rather disempower the good guys, which is most of us, from using our common sense in taking responsibility for the protection and direction of children in our neighbourhoods and our churches? I would not want to discourage those excellent people who volunteer for or are persuaded into the position of Child Protection Officer for their churches. This is a job which would only make most of us emit the very deepest and longest of sighs or even yawns. But a perusal of this book might deliver all those concerned about children’s welfare from a paedophile fixation and prevent us from throwing the baby out and leaving the bathwater behind.