Child safety versus volunteering

The April edition of The Leisure Review reported on the publication of the Manifesto for Change from the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, including Baroness Julia Neuberger’s contention that volunteers were being put off by, among other things, CRB checks. Two recent reports offer very different slants on this debate. Mick Owen checked them both out.

On the bench
An empty bench: have Criminal Record Bureau checks had a detrimental effect on volunteering?

Child Protection Legislation and Volunteering in Scottish Sport was commissioned by SportScotland and leads into the debate thus: “We often hear that increased requirements relating to child protection and increased awareness of child protection issues has a detrimental effect on attracting, retaining and organising volunteers in sport; however, this has tended to be based on assumption rather than fact.” And the authors – a team from the Sport Industry Research Centre in Sheffield – then go on to debunk the myth entirely.

Everyone loves a statistic and cherry-picking numbers that support your case is the stuff of yellow journalism; but here goes: 93% of sports volunteers surveyed said they were aware of their child protection responsibilities and 90% of club representatives agreed that child protection is essential or they needed to do their best to implement child protection. There was some criticism of the need for multiple disclosure checks and a feeling that “compliance is time-consuming”. However, this may well be down to “a feeling of excessive bureaucracy which is diverting organisations’ energies away from their core purpose of sport provision and development” rather than a disregard for the need to safeguard children. On the contrary: 91% of volunteers were aware of what disclosure checks involve, 75% of them agreed that “disclosure checks give confidence that the club has met its legal requirements, boost parents’ confidence and are an important procedure to ensure children’s safety” and over 60% believed that checks help to remove unsuitable volunteers.

Indeed the overwhelming evidence is that “disclosure checking was a relatively unimportant barrier for current volunteers and sports club members”. Copy and paste that into your psyche and send the doom-sayers to the SportScotland website

And talk of doom-sayers and yellow journalism brings us neatly to the Civitas report, Licensed to Hug. Produced by Kent University, the study purports to show “how child protection policies are poisoning the relationship between the generations and damaging the voluntary sector”. In the press one of its authors, Professor Frank Furedi, is quoted as saying: “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.” His points may well be admirably supported by the contents of the report but some will not get further than the lurid cover, which references Munch's Scream in an insensitive and provocative style.

We will leave it instead to the Scottish report to round off the debate in a more measured manner: “The main barriers to volunteering in sport have been identified as a lack of time, the competing demands of paid employment and uncertainty about the level of skills and confidence required to volunteer. Child protection issues are not cited as the key barrier to organising volunteering in sport effectively. Disclosure checking and child protection issues should be seen rather as an important part of a robust sports volunteer recruitment, selection and retention process.”

Hear, hear. But we'll leave the very final word to Steve Boocock of the Child Protection in Sport Unit, who told TLR, "This is important research that confirms our experience from governing bodies and other sports bodies. Far from creating risk aversion, having clear child protection procedures in place reassures parents, volunteers and those working with children. There are some important messages in the research about the need to ensure clear guidance is issued to clubs about the implementation of safeguarding measures and how we must meet the needs of volunteers."


Mick Owen is managing editor of The Leisure Review.

The Leisure Review, July 2008



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“The main barriers to volunteering in sport have been identified as a lack of time, the competing demands of paid employment and uncertainty about the level of skills and confidence required to volunteer.”

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