What is your reaction to the photo on the left? Is it to be horrified or fearful? Is it to laugh and think what fun he is having. Is it to wonder if he has problems?

The boy is taking a risk. But is it acceptable?

Risk is always risky! How much risk should one take? The answer depends often on the upside. You might risk £10,000 if the upside is £1,000,000 AND the chances of winning the £1million were reasonable. But of course there is also the question of whether you can afford the £10,000 in the first place and whether you can afford to lose it!

Not all risk is easy or obvious how to assess and often requires different models. So for example there is the famous example of the risk in the 19th century of a Prussian officer being kicked to death by his horse in different Cavalry Corps in the Prussian army which closely followed a Poisson distribution(which is one of the easier statistical models)!

The other side of it is that the risk that we take has a real level of impact on our lives. For example the maximum % of what we can borrow of a house’s value is in correlation to the perceived risk of house prices falling. This is evident today with the fact that banks and building societies want to lend us less money for a mortgage and no longer are they prepared to provide 100% mortgages. Therefore people need to save more to get on the house ladder.

But risk affects other areas of our lives. Consider children. There is heightened worries about strangers taking our children. There are an average of 67 children murdered each year. There is an 16% chance that a child murdered in this country is done so by a stranger (and this includes gangland murders in the inner city); which means on average 84% know their murderer. 2/3 of children killed are under the age of 5. The total numbers of children murdered per year shows no discernible difference from the 1970’s.

Now lets put this number of 67 into context. Some 5,000 children die in this country each year!

Or when there is a spate of killings in London does this mean that the capital is getting more unsafe? Not necessarily. This is most likely about the statistical likelihood of multiple murders on one day as described by the Poisson distribution.

As a lawyer friend told my wife when we got married – “the person to worry about is your husband!”. The fact is that most children are murdered by someone that they know. Mothers are equally likely to murder their child as their fathers and yet men are perceived to be a greater risk to children than women. In fact there is now only one under 25 male employed in a  state nursery in this country!

So we are creating greater and greater systems of control to manage risk. The CRB check is the one that most people have come across. But there is much more behind the scenes. There is the ongoing fear of pictures being published on the internet (via Flickr, Facebook etc etc), or articles on the web. There are some occasions when it would be risky to publish the picture of a child (or adult) on the web but they are rare cases. The greater risk is not in having an unnamed picture on the web or an article; it’s unfettered use of chat rooms and children not having strong loving, caring adult role-models. Its the fear of the unknown.

Now obviously there needs to be proper care and we need to ensure that our children are safe but aren’t we getting things out of proportion? If your church is insured by Ecclesiastical Insurance then you have to follow guidelines such that every event in the church that involves children or young people has to have a risk assessment AND have the prior approval, documented, of the PCC for the event (and it can’t be a blanket approval either). We are creating a society where ANY risk is somehow totally wrong. Where political correctness takes precedence over common sense (and the statistical evidence).

Children have picked up on this and know that all they need to do is to throw around allegations or abuse at an adult to get most adults to back off. I was walking back from the Church centre the other week and saw a group of teenagers from the local secondary school. One of them dropped a crisp packet. I pointed this out to them – I was met with looks of disbelief that I had challenged them followed by cries of “pervert”. Its the cry of choice. Childish and stupid in this sort of situation. Most adults feel very uncomfortable in this sort of situation and tend to back off – its too much of a risk.

I am totally committed to the safety and security of our children and we have a set of policies and procedures that if there is any concern I will (and have) implemented without hesitation. But lets not make children into adults. Things have gone too far when children are either treated in such a way that they can’t be challenged and on the other hand we can’t show concern and care for them. As one person told me recently they can’t physically comfort a distressed young child at school; she said that not being able to do so “felt abusive”. And I believe her to be right.

I hope that the recent decision to hold back on the ISA and projects such as this one, relating to the picture above, can be part of the fightback to have some sanity in the debate and to recognise that most adults are not part of the problem. We need more light and less heat in the debate over our children.


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