Launching the outcome of his review into vetting – the process whereby adults who work with or volunteer to work with children and young people are checked to make sure they are suitable – Mr Williams also called for clear simple guidelines to help organisations keep children safe.
Mr Williams stressed that vetting was one part of child protection, which he said was everyone’s responsibility, and the responsibility of all agencies to see that there are consistent guidelines, consistently applied.
“Today I have made recommendations in five key areas, aimed at improving the safety of children and young people by improving the way we protect them from potential abusers who try to gain positions of trust through employment or volunteering,” he said.
”I know that we cannot create a perfect way to do this, but I want to make sure that we do all we can – and I am calling on the Secretary of State to extend the statutory requirements to make sure that all adults who want to work with or volunteer to work with children are vetted.”
Mr Williams report – entitled ‘A Right to Protection’ – is based on a year long independent study carried out on behalf of the Commissioner by barrister Ruth Lavery.
Mrs Lavery said: “The review is a comprehensive look at vetting in Northern Ireland. It points out many of the weaknesses in the current system.
“As a result of this report I hope that all agencies will now take this issue seriously, and re-examine the ways that we can make sure that children are afforded their right to be protected from harm.”
The Commissioner said that there are many challenges, but believes that there is a willingness within Government to tackle the issue.
“My first recommendation is that the Secretary of State leads the implementation of the recommendations in this review and in Ruth Lavery’s report. I am confident that this will happen.”
Mr Williams is asking Government to respond to his and Mrs Lavery’s recommendations within three months and to report in 12 months on progress in implementing them.
“A Right to Protection”, together with Ruth Lavery’s “Review of Vetting in Northern Ireland” can be downloaded from here.
The 15 recommendations contained in ‘A Right to Protection’ from Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People are below.
The review was carried out at the request of the then Secretary of State Rt. Hon. Paul Murphy MP at the suggestion of the Commissioner following the Bichard Inquiry into the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley in Soham in August 2002.
Mr Williams is publishing his report one day before the first anniversary of the Bichard Inquiry being published in England.
For more information on the work of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People check www.niccy.org.
1.The Secretary of State should take a personal interest in ensuring the implementation of the recommendations detailed in this paper and Ruth Lavery’s report.
2. An effective interdepartmental group to manage and ensure the effective co-ordination of policy and practice in this area should be established.
3.The Secretary of State should instruct every Department, Council, Agency, NDPB, and affiliated government body to nominate a child protection manager with Board level responsibility, whose responsibility it is to develop policies and practice in relation to the employment of staff working with (or who have any contact with) children, and also monitor practice in this area. Only where a body can conclusively demonstrate that they (or agencies they sponsor) have absolutely no contact with children should they be given a derogation from this requirement.
4. The Secretary of State should require all public bodies to sign off in the foreword to their annual accounts that they have an appointed Child Protection manager, that Child Protection risks are regularly assessed and minimised, and that they are following appropriate recruitment and selection guidelines.
5.The Permanent Secretary within each Department should ensure the implementation and monitoring of appropriate policies by their associated sponsored bodies/next step agencies/funded partnerships.
6.Within the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the Department of Finance and Personnel should take responsibility for issuing clear guidance to all Departments.
7.The Secretary of State must extend the statutory requirement of checking those in regulated positions to all adults who work with children.
8.The Inter-departmental group (see Recommendation 2) should make sure that any areas of policy ambiguity are urgently clarified.
9.Departments which fund organisations that work with children need to be satisfied that staff within those organisations are appropriately recruited and vetted. Common guidance across departments on this point is needed.
10.The implementation of Part V of the Police Act must be adequately resourced to ensure that relevant information and intelligence on those who pose a risk to children is appropriately shared.
11.The interdepartmental group set up to manage policy, guidance and practice should produce an easy-to-read guide for employers on the carrying out of employment checks.
12.The interdepartmental group should also produce easy-to-read literature for parents on what to check when employing tutors/ instructors who work privately with children.
13.The Secretary of State should ensure that all relevant recommendations from the Bichard Inquiry are being applied in Northern Ireland.
14.The Secretary of State should collaborate with relevant authorities in the Republic of Ireland to ensure consistent standards of vetting North and South of the border.
15.Although outside the responsibilities of Northern Ireland Departments and the Northern Ireland Office, this review has highlighted the need to extend reciprocal arrangements for sharing information across European jurisdictions, for child protection purposes. The Secretary of State should propose to his cabinet colleagues that further work is done on this issue, especially during the imminent UK presidency of the European Union.