Action needed now on child protection in sport says Holyrood committee

26.04.2017

A scheme intended to protect children from abuse in sport may not be working and needs to be rectified now, according to a Holyrood parliamentary report.

The Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee says there is a compelling case for the current voluntary Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme (PVG) to be made mandatory for all sports organisations in Scotland. 

Whilst the report notes that Ministers plan to have new legislation in place by 2019, the Committee believes action needs to be taken now to strengthen the PVG scheme and to ensure ‘unsuitable people’ are prevented from doing regulated work.

The report also calls for a strengthening of the ‘Minimum Operating Requirements’ that sports governing bodies (SPGs) are required to meet in relation to child protection, recommending that future grants from SportScotland to SPGs “be conditional on adequate procedures not only being in place but being timeously adhered to”.

The committee’s inquiry into Child Protection in Sport followed allegations of historical child sexual abuse in football. The inquiry sought assurances that
current safeguards in place across football and other sports clubs are such that child sex abuse in sport could not happen today.

On football, the report highlights concerns raised about a backlog of checks waiting to be carried out on coaches and officials working with young players.

MSPs say the Scottish Youth Football Association “misled government officials and the committee in relation to the levels of backlog being experienced since at least August 2016” and that the Scottish Football Association has been “asleep on the job” and complacent.

Neil Findlay MSP, Convener of the Health and Sport Committee, said:

“Our evidence highlighted variations in how the PVG scheme operates in sports across Scotland. Ultimately, we believe the current system of PVG checks may not be preventing unsuitable people from doing regulated work with children. We’re talking about the safety of children - urgent action is needed now to strengthen the scheme as 2019 is too long to wait for new legislation.

“In relation to football, we have raised serious concerns about the ability of the SYFA to ensure PVG checks are carried out efficiently. We cannot even now be confident that the SYFA is being truthful in relation to the size of their backlog and consequently that as an organisation they are committed to undertaking the appropriate PVG checking expeditiously. We consider the SFA to have been asleep on the job and continuingly complacent in this area. Based on the information provided, we are left with concerns about the current protections being afforded to youth footballers in Scotland.”

The committee noted the relationship between the SFA and SYFA and the measures being adopted to ensure child protection policies are in place. However, the report goes on to say:

“A soft touch approach may have been previously warranted, however it is clear from the evidence we have received this is no longer applicable. The SFA have, whatever they claim, responsibilities. The current approach is simply not working effectively to protect children and young people in football and in our view the ultimate responsibility for this lies with the SFA as the governing body.” 

The report also makes reference to concerns raised in evidence by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner about a “power imbalance” in the relationship between children and football agents acting on behalf of children, pointing out that agents are not covered by the need for child protection checks. The report calls for “this anomaly to be addressed and rectified immediately by the Scottish Government to prevent agents who have not been through the full disclosure procedure having access to and contact with children and young persons”.

Background

The PVG Scheme was established by the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 and has been in operation since 2011. It is a registration system for all those who work, whether paid or unpaid, with children and protected adults in Scotland to confirm there is no known reason why an individual should not work with these groups. This is achieved by Disclosure Scotland maintaining a list of people who are barred from working with children and a list of people who are barred from working with protected adults. Currently participation in the PVG scheme is not mandatory.

The PVG scheme does not apply to all jobs and volunteering – it only applies to ‘regulated work’. Regulated work involves certain types of work with children and/or protected adults including: undertaking caring responsibilities; teaching or supervising children and/or protected adults; and having unsupervised contact with children and/or protected adults.

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