The Vulnerable Children Act: another law that discriminates against men.
The Vulnerable Children Act (2014) requires regulated organisations receiving any government funding to assess the risk of all employees applying for jobs working with children, and every three years all existing employees who work with children. The assessment includes police vetting on each occasion.
The workers involved are described as follows in a publication by the government organisation ‘The Children’s Action Plan’:
“A children’s worker works in, or provides a regulated service and their work involves regular or
overnight contact with a child or children (other than children who are co-workers). The work must take place without a parent or guardian of the child, or of each child, being present.”
We can expect that the same checks will be adopted by all employers who provide any service that might involve contact with children, at least as part of recruitment procedures.
People with any conviction from a list in Schedule 2 of the Act are prohibited from being employed as children’s workers. Further, existing employees who are checked as required under this law and found to have any history of any of those offences must be immediately suspended and paid as if they committed serious misconduct, then after five days of being suspended can be immediately dismissed as if they had committed serious misconduct, with no eligibility for redundancy or other compensation even if that was part of their employment contract. It will be illegal for employers to keep employing any such persons except if they maintain suspensions. There is provision to apply for an exemption through the Ministry of Social Development if that Ministry can be convinced the employee is safe.
Employees are required to sign an application for police vetting. This application entitles police to disclose to employers all manner of information including prosecutions that resulted in acquittal, any call-outs to family incidents, any allegations of family violence or any concerns expressed to police or held by police for any reason about the employee’s past behaviour that might have relevance to work with children. It is not possible to restrict what the police disclose as part of the vetting because they will only proceed on the basis of their full application form being signed.
In other police vetting they are generally not allowed to disclose historical offences that come under the Clean Slate Act 2004, but the Vulnerable Children Act amends this so that police can disclose clean slate offences from the list in its Schedule 2. Outside this, police often express some comment or concern without actually specifying the clean slate offence(s), thereby encouraging employer mistrust of the employee or prospective employee.
It is a dangerous witch-hunt to allow police to disclose to an employer or prospective employer all manner of vexatious notifications even though they were investigated and found to be groundless, false allegations made strategically in Family Court disputes, any police call-out to domestic incidents that may have been nothing more than a drunk woman phoning police when her partner refused to agree with her on something, any sexual allegation regardless of its truth, and so forth. Disclosure by police of any history of ‘Safety Orders’ or Family Court ‘Protection Orders’ will almost certainly throw the recipients on the employment trash heap but in fact provide no reliable information about risk, because neither type of Order need be based on any evidence or proof to any standard whatsoever. In fact, Police ‘Safety Orders’ are issued when there is insufficient evidence to take any other action and require absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing.
Aside from the unnecessary waste of human resources this witch-hunt approach will cause, it will be heavily gender biased against men. Men are issued with 81% of Police ‘Safety Orders’ even though good research shows that males and females commit about equally the kind of minor violence (if any) for which such Orders are used (more serious violence is committed more often by males but in such cases police would prosecute rather than issuing ‘Safety Orders’). Police will apply their usual gender bias by disclosing domestic call-outs, allegations etc only or mainly in the case of male employees while deciding that such matters aren’t of sufficient relevance or weight when it comes to female employees.
When they dare to oppose their ex-partners’ wishes regarding children or so-called relationship property, it is men who much more often find themselves suddenly accused of abusing their children or ex-partners even though no mention or indication of this had ever arisen previously. By allowing police to inform employers about such nonsense it will be mainly men (again) who end up experiencing major injustice and having the previous injustice of false allegations compounded.
We can predict also that men will find it much more difficult to obtain exemptions, and that the bar for convincing the Ministry for Social Development that a male is safe will be much higher than for females.
Both men and women will find it easy to use the Vulnerable Children Act to take revenge on people. If a person who displeases you is a teacher or otherwise works with children, all one need do is express some concerns to police about that person’s behaviour around children and ask that those concerns be recorded in case of future complaints. Those concerns, without reference to the identity of the informant, will eventually be conveyed to the target’s employer and cause major problems for him/her. Given that police will more often convey such concerns regarding male employees, the Act especially provides people with another weapon to misuse against men.
Of course, there is justification for special care to protect children and to increase our confidence in the safety of those working closely with children. If the Vulnerable Children Act exercised some sensible limitations on what information could reasonably be taken into consideration as part of employee risk assessments, it could work well. Risk assessment of this nature has a significant body of research behind it but no evidence-based risk assessment tools are required to be used by the Vulnerable Children Act. Feminist thinking devoid of common sense and fairness has led politicians astray with yet another piece of misguided law. We can now only await the tragedies this law will create until it is reviewed and hopefully made fairer and more rational.