In theory, the Protection of Freedoms Act (enacted September last year) has introduced a 'common sense approach' on CRBs. In theory, nobody need now be checked who is not in sole charge of children, 'frequently or intensively' (defined in law as once a month or for 4 days at a time).
Yet on the ground, CRB checks continue with almost no change. This recent email is from a ski instructor - a UK citizen, resident in Italy - who refuses on principle to be CRB checked, and has lost several jobs with UK schools as a result. This case shows that the demand for CRB checks is continuing to an irrational degree, flying in the face of government recommendations and common sense.
The ski instructor told the organisation that he disagreed on principle with CRB checks - 'I do not want on principle to be part of a system that is not being used to protect children but is being used to take the whole country into a Police state and is against human rights'.
He pointed out the ineffectiveness of CRB checks in his particular situation - he had been abroad for more than 10 years - and suggested that his list of excellent references from UK schools would be more reliable as an indicator of his trustworthiness.
He pointed out that he would be instructing for less that 4 days, so would not come within the current government requirements for CRB checks, and the current exemptions from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
He also pointed out the absurdity of the idea that ski instructing represents an opportunity to abuse - 'The very nature of skiing instruction for children is done in any open place to the public surrounded by hundreds of people and in the open air and the need for layers of protective clothing often in freezing temperatures'.
Yet these arguments were of no avail. He was told that a CRB check was an absolute requirement if he wanted to instruct UK children, not because of law but because of 'company standards': 'Unless you comply with our Company standards to undertake a CRB check as a former UK resident we will be unable and unwilling to engage your services in any capacity which involves the supervision of children or vulnerable adults. Our Company view is that all reasonable and lawful measures are exhausted to ensure the safety and welfare of our students and staff. We will not falter from this position unless required to do so by UK law or we are prohibited from performing criminal background checks by local laws.'
This shows that organisations aren't CRB checking because they are required to by law: rather, they will CRB check everybody they can possibly can, unless they are prevented from doing so by law. The enduring status of the CRB check as an obligatory employment qualification is the result now of organisations, rather than of central government imposition.
Although the work contract had been agreed, the instructor was given the jilt at the last minute.
Another company rep explained to him the fearful consequences of employing him without a CRB check: 'although I have gone back on my word, this is nothing compared with the consequences of employing someone who has not been checked and who subsequently behaves poorly. The consequences include the loss of our business, my and my family's livelihood and even a potential jail sentence.' This shows how the primary role of the CRB is not to protect children, but to protect the organisation from any accusation of wrongdoing if something occurs. If they have the CRB check they can say that they took all precautions and performed all 'necessary checks' - therefore whatever happened is not their fault.
This case shows the difficulties in taking a principled stand on CRBs, and the fact that many organisations are continuing checking exactly as before, whatever the government says, and whatever the actual usefulness of CRB checks. And that this is primarily about fear and back-protection.
The rootedness of CRBs within organisational culture is one of the main challenges to take on, in the campaign against over-cautious child protection regulations.