Memorandum by The Boys' Brigade
CRIMINAL RECORDS BUREAU
1. The Boys' Brigade is a long established
(founded 1883) Christian Youth organisation which provides youth
work programmes for boys and young men aged six to eighteen. There
are around 2,000 units around the United Kingdom, most of which
are based on a church. The organisation works with around 90,000
boys with around 18,000 voluntary leaders. Although church based
the organisation is open to all boys and young men of any faith
or no faith but it is a requirement that registered leaders are
members or adherents of a church.
2. The Boys' Brigade welcomes the establishment
of the CRB as an additional facility we can use in the process
of appointing leaders. We already have well developed procedures
for the selection, training and supervision of leaders. Appointments
are made for five years and re-registration is conditional upon
additional training being undertaken. Leaders who prove unsatisfactory
for any reason may be removed.
3. We regard Criminal Record Checks as an
additional facility and must never replace existing procedures.
As a church based organisation the vast majority of leaders come
from within the church and are therefore often very well known
to the nominating body. Indeed, many leaders will have joined
the organisation as a child and grown up through it. It is relatively
uncommon for a potential leader to be unknown except in cases
where he or she has recently moved into the area. Ideally, we
would have wished to use criminal record checks in those cases
only. However, we are advised that our insurers are likely to
demand that checks are made on all new leaders and some local
authorities, on whom some of our units rely for funding, resources,
use of premises etc, will require checks to be carried out on
4. If the CRB is to deliver an efficient
and effective service it is vital that it responds quickly
5. Our leaders are nominated by the church
to which the BB unit belongs, enrolled by the Battalion (group
of companies in a defined areathere are around 120 Battalions
in England and Wales) and then registered by Headquarters. Potential
leaders may not have unsupervised responsibility for young people
until confirmation of registration is received. We envisage that
criminal record checks will be made at the registration stage
and it is likely that a dedicated member of Headquarters staff
will be appointed for this purpose since we register between 3,000
and 4,000 new leaders each year.
Ideally, it will be possible to obtain checks
electronically. This may appear at first sight unrealistic but
it needs to be borne in mind that the vast majority of our enquiries
will produce a nil response. That is to say the applicant has
no record. Therefore, in those cases it would be helpful to have
an immediate response even if, on the rare occasions an applicant
did have previous offences, we have to wait for a written response.
In any case the response by CRB must aim to
be in a matter of days rather than weeks.
6. It is crucial that we can depend on a
very high degree of reliability of the checks. Asking for criminal
record checks for volunteers is a sensitive matter at the best
of times, even more so when they are respected church members,
and it would be devastating for the volunteer and for us if we
declined the services of a volunteer based on inaccurate information.
7. The matter of charging for checks is
also a very sensitive matter. It is very difficult to obtain sufficient
leaders for all our units and there often has to be a great deal
of persuasion. We do not, therefore, think that we can then ask
the volunteer to pay the fee for a criminal record check. Whether
we expect the churches, local company or Headquarters to pay the
fee it will mean a considerable strain on already slender resources.
In our case we estimate a cost of around £30,000 a year to
pay for checks and administer the scheme. We are already struggling
to balance our budget and if we have to take on this additional
cost then there will have to be a corresponding reduction in work
elsewhere and that will involve staff directly concerned with
youth work delivery.
As a UK organisation we are faced with free
checks for leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland but a charge
in England and Wales. It cannot but be seen as a tax on volunteering
in England and Wales.
We are a partner with the Department for Education
and Employment in delivering the Millennium Volunteers Project.
An underlying principle of Millennium Volunteers is that those
who volunteer should not experience financial loss and therefore
any necessary criminal record checks will be paid for through
the project budget. It raises the possibility of a new leader
who is also a Millennium Volunteer having the check paid for whilst
another will not. There is an inconsistency in government philosophy
here and this, with the previous point, suggests that joined up
thinking has been omitted.
At the risk of labouring the point it should
be pointed out that the demands on volunteers these days to commit
themselves to continuous training and assessment are already quite
onerous and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find leaders.
Whilst £10 might appear a relatively modest
sum and well within the means of most people it represents something
much more. The days when the only qualification required to be
a volunteer was to be prepared to give up some spare time have
long gone and rightly so. However, selections, supervision and
training requirements have become much more onerous and to cap
this with a charge for a criminal record check could be the final
It might be useful to reflect on experience
in another field, that of finding suitable people to adopt children.
As assessment procedures for potential adopters have become more
onerous so the number of children being adopted has decreased
and one can easily envisage a similar trend in recruiting youth
8. We see potential for confusion unless
the arrangements for criminal record checks for the various countries
are co-ordinated. There are sections of the population which are
highly mobile and it is not unusual for leaders to move around
the UK as part of their employment. It appears that if, for example,
a leader from Scotland comes to England and is recruited as a
leader we are likely to have to apply to two different agencies.
For a UK organisation such as ours it is desirable that we have
a "one stop" checking facility. More important, we see
the potential for an offender in one country to simply move to
another to ensure a clean record.
9. Finally, whilst welcoming this additional
facility to help secure the safety of the young people we work
with, we are anxious that CRB is not promoted in ways which will
inhibit potential volunteers. Given the very full lives our leaders
and potential leaders follow and the increasing number of regulations
leaders must observe it becomes increasingly difficult to find
new leaders. Procedures must be thorough but unobtrusive and we
must take care to demonstrate that we welcome them and assume
they are trustworthy and not make them feel that potential volunteers
are treated with suspicion until they are proved otherwise.
Sydney Jones OBE
11 January 2001