Protection of Freedoms Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Football Association (PF 76)

(Part 5 Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups, Criminal Records ETC only)

Background

1. The Football Association (The FA) is the governing body for football in England. It takes the lead in providing a framework for English football and is responsible for regulating, promoting and developing the game at every level, both on and off the field. The FA is committed to making football accessible, enjoyable and safe for everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, background or ability, and is also responsible for governing the game in areas such as disciplinary, compliance, refereeing, agents, financial matters and doping control.

2. In preparation for this report, we have read the ‘Common Sense Review of CRB’, the ‘Remodelling of the VBS Review’, the proposed amendments to the Act and the explanatory notes.

3. The FA currently has 67,835 teams for Under 18s and estimates at least 680,350 children participated in affiliated football last season. This does not include reserves, or school or private soccer enterprises. At any given moment we have at least 140,000 hands on volunteers in children’s football. This does not include the parents who help out on the sideline, or with subs or administration tasks, nor our cohort of Referees or First aiders .The FA also has paid coaches, managers and Referees and knows there are many self employed people making their living from working with children through football.

4. The FA has achieved the Advanced level of the National Standards for Safeguarding and Protecting Children, managed on behalf of sport, by the Child Protection in Sport Unit and the CRB process is one aspect of our safeguarding strategy. The FA has for example had 317,000 people complete its three hour Safeguarding Children workshop and 13,000 Club Welfare Officers complete its Welfare Officer Workshop. Every Club with an under 18 team has a nominated Club Welfare Officer who has an ‘Accepted CRB’ and who has attended both workshops. The FA also has a salaried part or full time Welfare Officer in every County FA and a Case Management Team at Wembley who deal with the most serious of Disclosures as well as referrals from statutory agencies regarding ongoing or newly referred concerns.

5. The FA has been using the CRB service since 2004 initially to retrospectively check our cohort of eligible adult coaches and referees and latterly to support our safer recruitment process. In this time we have conducted 227,800 Enhanced Disclosures through our delivery partner TMGCRB, plus a small number of Standard Disclosures (for Football Stewards). Disclosures continue to be sought at an average rate of 3,100 per calendar month. Some of these are renewals but the majority are for new volunteers. Approximately 15% of these Disclosures have a criminal history of varying degrees and so The FA has significant experience in assessing and managing risk.

6. We receive Disclosures centrally, via TMGCRB. We manage a secure database which enables those with the need and right to know to check if a particular volunteer or staff member has an ‘Accepted CRB’. The FA has used this centralised system to protect individuals from leakage of data into communities and to prevent gossip, local ‘tittle tattle’ and the subsequent risk of damage to reputation and potential labelling of children and families that could occur if criminal records were shared within communities.

Use of CRB’s embedded in safer recruitment practice; no evidence of loss of volunteers

7. One County Football Association has enforced CRBs and renewals through an annual registration process. They have, kept detailed records and have analysed the data. At any given moment approximately 7000 adult volunteers work with children in this County with a turn over rate of approximately 1400 per season. The ‘churn’ is largely due to parents leaving volunteering as their children leave football. Since 2005, when the project started there has not been any reduction in Clubs, teams or volunteers. This County finds its safeguarding vigilance tends to encourage parents and Clubs to wish to play within their county boundaries. The FA therefore has no substantive evidence of checking as a deterrent to volunteers and certainly none once the culture of safeguarding is understood and enforced.

8. The FA has therefore built up systems to deal proportionately with everything from single youth reprimands through to extensive histories of offending and those disclosures with multiple allegations but no convictions. The FA has identified applicants who are barred, seeking roles in football with children and when we have removed people from the workforce, we have referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

9. The FA believes the size and scope of the volunteer and paid workforce working with children makes it one of the largest providers of children’s activities in England, outside of the statutory or regulated child care setting.

10. The FA co operated fully with the original proposals for the Vetting and Barring Scheme and spent considerable time and money on readiness and would hope the Committee recognise that The FA’s intent is to abide by the Law and safeguard children.

11. The FA hopes that, whatever changes are finally agreed, Officials will be able to be clear about impact and communicate clearly and effectively within reasonable time frames and through appropriate channels.

Response on the issues

12. The FA has no comment on the withdrawal of ISA registration and broadly welcomes the intent to scale back the scope of the Vetting and Barring Scheme which had begun to attract criticism by its size and scope.

13. The FA welcomes the requirement to ensure a person in Regulated Activity is not barred before commencement in that role. This subtle change is a positive move for children.

Supervision

14. The FA is very concerned by the concept of the supervised volunteer not being in Regulated Activity (Clause 63). There is concern that a ‘Barred person’ should be able to work with children in a supervised capacity and may begin to develop relationships and groom children and their families. Such manipulative individuals will make use of any means to continue to build on contacts made outside of the formal setting. Many children have access to phones and Facebook from a very young age and despite education and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centres reporting mechanisms, they may not realise when they are putting themselves in jeopardy. The FA would therefore ask that further thought is given to this and alternatives considered.

15. Pragmatically The FA is concerned that the turnover of volunteers in football means that a ‘supervisor’ may leave suddenly leaving an interim period where a volunteer becomes ‘unsupervised’ or even becomes ‘the supervisor’. Some football Clubs are very small with just two adults taking on all the roles in single team Club .The FA is concerned to ensure activities for children are not suddenly jeopardised by the loss of the ‘supervisor’.

16. The FA notes that placing the burden of formal ‘supervision’ on peers in Clubs could be a deterrent to volunteers.

17. It should be noted that The FA has examples of significant disciplinary action / ISA referrals being taken in relation to people in what would not be deemed as regulated activity e.g. Chairman, Secretary and general committee roles. These people would not be subject to vetting and barring or CRB checks, they still however pose a significant risk of harm to children.

18. The FA is also aware that the word ‘supervision’ is open to interpretation. The formal supervision arrangements in a specified place, such as a school class room with trained and qualified staff, are not necessarily replicated in grass roots sport. Even within specified places coaches report being left alone with groups of children even though the arrangement is to work under the supervision of the teacher.

19. The FA would welcome greater clarity on the definition and scope of supervision and we endorse Amendments 168-170, tabled by Diana Johnson MP, Vernon Coaker MP, Clive Efford MP and Mark Tami MP at the committee stage of the bill.

Confirmation of continued access to Enhanced CRB disclosures

20. The FA would be partly reassured if the Government confirms that the Enhanced Disclosure is still available for those people who are in supervised activities and otherwise not in the newly defined Regulated Activity but working with children. If this contained relevant criminal history and approved information where relevant this would assist us in reshaping the safer recruitment aspect of our safeguarding strategy .Furthermore if the Enhanced Disclosure could easily be ‘upgraded’ by an online check of the Barred list this would create some safeguards and a quick and easy ‘upgrade’ to Regulated Activity.

21. Linked to this is the significant concern that the Enhanced Disclosure may not be available for those in non Regulated Activity and The FA notes with real concern, Recommendation One in the Common Sense Review to scale back eligibility for CRBs, as we have found CRB’s to be a valuable tool in the recruitment process. The FA can provide many case studies to show how critical this safeguard is and how it can prevent inappropriate people from entering children’s football.

22. The FA values the Disclosure service and feels it is an essential tool in the Safeguarding tool kit. The FA believes children will be significantly at risk if the Enhanced Disclosure is not available outside of Regulated Activity.

Single issue Disclosure

23. The FA is very concerned about the intent to send the CRB Disclosure to the applicant only (Clause 77). This will lead to significant administrative challenges that will see safeguards reduced and costs increased both in the volunteer community and at national administration level. This is contrary to the ‘cutting the red tape’ mantra of the Government.

24. The FA recognises that poverty, unemployment, language, mobile housing and fractured families all contribute to applicants struggling to complete the Disclosure process. Requiring an additional task from applicants that they return their Disclosure to the recruitment centre for assessment will simply not work. Applicants will sometimes not receive their copies from the CRB or will fail to send their copies in. In the real world copies will be lost and realistically torn up or otherwise destroyed by accident or on purpose. There is a risk that another administrative step becomes a deterrent to volunteering.

25. Gathering in CRBs for risk assessment from across the country, chasing applicants (in the case of The FA, this is quite significant, as whilst the Government is quoting 5% of Disclosures carry content, in reality for The FA, this figure is 15%) and relying on the postal service to do this, increases costs to volunteers and risks of private information going astray in the post. The FA has considered whether local Clubs could collect the information and forward it in but the risk of confidentiality breaches is too high. The FA has a recent example, where a Club Chairman has written to The FA explaining that one of their coaches has declared that they have a criminal record and has shared his Disclosure with the Chairman who stated, "We advised him that even if his CRB was successful, we would have to inform the remainder of the committee about his history, only then if the majority were in agreement would he be allowed to join the club." This clearly contravenes the CRB Code of Conduct and the individual’s rights and is an indication of the risks involved, with the Disclosure only going to the applicant in grassroots sport. Clearly it is a real possibility that children and their families could be ostracised or labelled and excluded if criminal information finds its way into the local communities. Applicants may not wish to continue in their Club if their history is disclosed.

26. There is also a risk that people may be fearful of submitting their records via local Club volunteers, whereas their experience with The FA may have been a positive and inclusive one.

27. This one measure alone could render The FA’s careful and comprehensive system for managing CRB’s sensitively and appropriately, as unworkable and see this as undermining safeguarding.

28. The FA notes Chapter Two paragraph 4 and the ability of the applicant to Dispute the Disclosure, which is intended to enable applicants to prevent the employer from seeing information s/he wishes to dispute. The FA follows the CRB guidance re Disputes and always waits until the Dispute is concluded before making a final recruitment decision. The FA asks the Committee to consider the option of the applicant having a two week period in which to request such a review, after which the employer could receive his/her copy direct from the CRB. The FA believes this would increase safeguards. We recognise the costs of sending out Disclosures to employers and ask for consideration to be given to a model whereby an electronic response could be given in respect of clear disclosures and the hard copy released where there is content. The FA believes this simply replicates the current e-bulk system and can be managed as it is only for a percentage of the overall applicants.

16-17 year olds and open age football

29. We note the recent revision, that the VBS now relates to those working in regulated activity with U18s. We welcome this set of safeguards in U18 football; however we think this is a disproportionate action in what is effectively our provision for adult football, which is known as ‘open age’, which allows 16-17 year olds to play with adults. We enable this provision because young players have reached levels of maturity and skill which enable them to do so safely; they are ready for a new challenge in terms of their performance and development, or because the only option for participation to them in certain areas, is through ‘open age’ activity. To bring such provision within the scope of regulated activity would create a regulatory burden, which we believe would be disproportionate to the perceived risk.

We would appreciate an opportunity to explore a common sense approach for open age football and we are willing to work with The Home Office to ensure that ‘open age’ football which is essential to the development of football in England is allowed to continue.

Removal of old and minor conviction information; management of additional information and improved quality of information

30. The FA broadly welcomes the intent in Mrs Masons’s Common Sense Review (Recommendation Five) to filter old and minor convictions and in particular the removal of Warnings and Reprimands which serve to criminalise young people. We wish to note however, that some offences such as Common Assault may have been against children and hope that sufficient resources would be available to ensure no potentially relevant crime was removed.

31. The FA is supportive of the proposed amendments to the way that Additional Information will be managed, as this can compromise the recruitment process and lead to legal challenge where a post is refused and no reason can be provided. The FA welcomes the package of measures to improve disclosure of information (Recommendation 6) and is delighted to be part of a pilot to support the Quality Assurance process with the CRB.

32. The FA welcomes sanctions on those who seek inappropriate Disclosures, We recognise that this can bring the value of the service in to disrepute and also helps safeguard against CRB ’creep’.

33. The FA would welcome the introduction of Basic checks in England for the few posts in football that hold children’s information or deal with finance and governance and where there is no eligibility for an Enhanced or Standard Disclosure.

34. The FA welcomes the minimum age for Certificates or checks of the barring list to be 16 (Clause 78).

35. The FA is mindful that all responses here pertain to children and not Vulnerable Adults.

May 2011