The Damaging Effects of Child Protection Policies

The report below is a lightly edited version of an email which we received recently. We have not read or reviewed the report as yet, but felt that its observations deserved wider circulation.

A new report by Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, and journalist/social commentator Jennie Bristow, argues that the growth of child protection policies, police vetting and CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks is poisoning the relationship between the generations and damaging the voluntary sector.

Titled Licensed to Hug, the report, published by independent think-tank Civitas, goes on to suggest that in a climate where many adults feel uneasy about acting on their healthy intuition, they are now wary of interacting with any child other than their own. Consequently, the generations are drifting further apart, as adults suspect each other and children are taught to suspect adults.

Vetting Culture

Licensed to Hug also argues that vetting culture encourages risk aversion, thereby giving rise to a feeling that it is better to ignore young people, even if they require help, rather than risk accusations of improper conduct.

It notes that vetting can create a false sense of security as it can only identify those who have previously offended and have been caught – not what people will do after they have been cleared to be near children. (Since the establishment of CRB checks in 2002, millions of adults have had to get a certificate to say they are safe to be near children, and from October 2008 more than one in four adults in England will be vetted.

Professor Furedi, whose general research focuses on the way that risk and uncertainty is managed by contemporary culture, says, “Suspicion of grown-up behaviour towards children has fostered a climate where it has become normal for some parents to only trust adults who possess official clearance.

“Although most of those we spoke to or surveyed in the voluntary sector accepted that unfortunately a system of national vetting was now a fact of life, a significant minority have been discouraged from working with children because it’s not ‘worth the effort’ – which is, in effect, a double tragedy since, given the evidence, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the national vetting scheme represents an exercise in impression management rather than offering effective protection.”

However, according to the report, perhaps the most damaging outcome of child protection policies associated with vetting is the distancing of inter-generational relationships. Professor Furedi says, “Such policies foster a climate where adults are forced to weigh up whether, and how, to interact with a child. One regrettable outcome of this is to estrange children from all adults – the very people who are likely to protect them from paedophiles and other dangers that they may face”.

Licensed to Hug concludes with the argument that a more common-sense approach to adult/child relations would be preferable to a system of vetting and checks, based on the assumption that the vast majority of adults can be relied on to help and support children, and that the healthy interaction between generations enriches children’s lives.

Licensed to Hug: Executive Summary

  1. One of the most disturbing symptoms of inter-generational problems is the erosion of adult authority.
  2. A one-dimensional focus on the risk management of childhood has led to the formal monitoring and policing of inter-generational encounters.
  3. The police vetting of adults has contributed to the fuelling of mistrust towards the way that grown-ups behave with children.
  4. Attitudes of suspicion reinforced by official vetting have put adults off from spontaneously engaging with children.
  5. Inter-generational relations are increasingly regulated through rules and have become increasingly formal.
  6. The vetting of adults is not an effective instrument for protecting children and in practice works as a form of impression management. It provides a ritual of security rather than effective protection.
  7. One of the unintended hazards of vetting is that it encourages a flight from professional judgement about how best to respond to children’s needs. People who expect the system to bring problems to light are often made to feel redundant in the management of intergenerational relations.
  8. The formalisation of inter-generational contact contributes to the de-skilling of adulthood. If adults are not expected to respond to problems in accordance with their experience and intuition, they will have little incentive to develop the kind of skills required to manage children and young people.
  9. The cumulative outcome of the trends discussed is to discourage adults from taking responsibility for the welfare of young people. These trends have fostered a climate where responsibility aversion becomes the defining cultural norm through which many adults respond to the world of children.
  10. On the basis of analysing the available evidence the authors have drawn the conclusion that confronting the culture of responsibility aversion is a precondition for reconnecting adult authority with the world of children.

The full report is available from Civitas, 77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ (Tel: 020 7799 6677/Email:, price £6.00 inc. pp.

Frank Furedi is a Professor of Sociology at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent. Jennie Bristow is a journalist and mother of two pre-school girls. She writes the monthly ‘Guide to Subversive Parenting’ on the online publication spiked (, and in summer 2008 launched the new website Parents With Attitude (

Civitas is an independent social policy think-tank. It receives no state funding either directly or indirectly and has no links to any political party.

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