It takes a village to raise a child? Not anymore

Officialdom’s demonisation of two women over their babysitting arrangements is symptomatic of today’s out-of-control child-protection industry.

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

Topics Politics

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Virtually everyone can see that there is something terribly wrong when two working mothers are targeted by officialdom for failing to register their informal childcare arrangements with Ofsted, the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

At the weekend, it was revealed that Leanne Shepherd, from Milton Keynes in England, and Lucy Jarrett, from nearby Buckingham, were told that they had broken the law by failing to register as childminders with Ofsted, and therefore failing to undergo the criminal records check that every childminder must submit herself to. Shepherd and Jarrett’s ‘crime’ was that they had a regular arrangement to look after each other’s children; and according to Ofsted, because the arrangement involved more than two hours of childminding a day, it constituted a form of employment and thus the women should have registered as official, paid-up babysitters.

Welcome to a world where the feverish and disoriented outlook of the child-protection industry is tightening its grip over society. And as a result, in twenty-first century Britain informal childcare arrangements risk becoming criminalised. Last year, my report Licensed to Hug, on the police vetting of all British working adults who come into regular contact with children, argued that ‘vetting begets more vetting’. Sadly, subsequent events have confirmed my diagnosis of child protection as a kind of restless moral crusade, which regards literally every adult as an abuser-in-denial.

Do not feel reassured by the revelation that Vernon Coaker, the UK children’s minister, has ordered a review of the latest case involving those two working mothers, who also happen to be police officers. Coaker’s promise to talk to Ofsted about this particular case of bureaucratic stupidity is not about calling into question Ofsted’s right to intrude into parents’ private affairs. It is merely an attempt to send a signal to the public that the children’s minister is not entirely cut off from the world of common sense. Typically, the occasional outcry over the more grotesque forms of intervention into people’s childcare practices serves only to legitimise the now normal routine of vetting every adult who comes into contact with kids.

Some have characterised the expansion of state regulation into the domain of informal babysitting arrangements as a further step towards the nationalisation of childcare. It is that, but it also represents the consolidation of what appears to be the opposite of that process of nationalisation: the total privatisation of childcare.

The paradox of the rise and rise of state intrusion into family life is that it further undermines a community’s potential to assume responsibility for the welfare of the younger generations. If literally every friend, family member and colleague needs to be cleared by Ofsted before they can babysit for your child for a certain period of time, then the message is that no grown-up can be trusted. And why confine suspicion to friends or colleagues? Surely grandmothers, and especially grandfathers, might represent a lethal threat to our children, too?

What Ofsted is really saying is that grown-up people living in the community cannot be trusted to make informal arrangements regarding childcare. The principal outcome of this suspicious, intrusive trend is the annihilation of adult responsibility for the welfare of the young. Adults who used to absorb some of the risks faced by children, who watched out for kids and helped or reprimanded them, are now not inclined to do so, in case their behaviour is misinterpreted. Is it any surprise that there is now a generation of adults who seem to have developed a habit of keeping their distance from other people’s children, and from young people in general?

The demand that informal childcare arrangements should be registered with the authorities communicates a dangerous message: that while you can just about trust your spouse with your child, you can trust no other adult. From this perspective, child rearing becomes an entirely private affair. Instead of regarding other grown-ups as potential allies in the joint enterprise of caring for the young, apparently we should regard them as candidates for the child-protection register. Parents are left on their own to pursue what is now deemed to be their very private responsibility: bringing up their children. But should they make a mistake, and indulge in some ‘bad parenting’, there is a seriously active nationalised industry ready to step in and take over.

One final point. The public is often told that instances of overzealous child protection, such as the current case involving the two working policewomen, are a ‘bit over the top’. Sometimes even child-protection zealots acknowledge that, in certain cases, vetting goes ‘too far’. Do not believe for one second that these cases are simply rare mistakes in an otherwise wonderful system of child regulation. The whole institution of child protection is driven by a deep mistrust of adults’ motives. It is a system that continually feeds on its own dogma and suspicion, and which is likely to lead to more, not less, intervention into family life in the years ahead.

Frank Furedi is author, with Jennie Bristow, of Licensed to Hug: How Child Protection Policies Are Poisoning the Relationship Between the Generations and Damaging the Voluntary Sector. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).) His latest book, Wasted: Why Education is Not Educating, is published by Continuum Press. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).) Visit Furedi’s website here.

Previously on spiked

Josie Appleton asked why vetting critics had previously promoted the scheme and argued that vetting procedures will condemn adults on the basis of hearsay and dubious decision making. Elsewhere, she supported writers who refused to be CRB checked, and felt that acts of kindness have been criminalised by the vetting process. She also outlined the Manifesto Club’s case against vetting. Dan Travis warned that treating volunteers like criminals will kill community sport. Or read more at spiked issue Parents and kids.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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