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Six month sentence or life?

by Lucinda Neall

Let me tell you about Luke.

Luke has been a volunteer youth leader for the last three years at one of the youth clubs I’m involved with. He’s great with the kids, a reliable member of the team, and probably would have been selected as chairperson if he hadn’t already been running a football club almost singlehanded. He’s a thoroughly decent guy who cares about young people and wants to give them opportunities – very empathetic, easy to talk to, good fun. Maybe that’s just his nature, but it’s probably got something to do with his life experience too: he was bullied at school, he became an angry teenager – in fact he ended up doing six months in a detention centre. So Luke can empathise with youngsters who aren’t finding life easy. But he came through, got a job and it wasn’t long before he was asked to keep an eye on the apprentices at work.

Luke got married, had children, but sadly his wife died of cancer and he found himself bringing them up on his own. Oh, and did I tell you his son has ADHD and was eventually sent to a special school, so Luke also knows all about dealing with special needs.

As you can imagine Luke didn’t come out of school with many qualifications, so it was amazing when he decided to do a degree as a mature student. And once he graduated he started job hunting and asked me to be one of his referees. It was not  difficult to write a great reference for him when he applied to be a support worker at a home for people with learning difficulties. Nor was I in the least bit surprised to hear he had been offered the job, subject to a DBS check.

What did shock me a few weeks later though, was when he told me the offer had been withdrawn because of his criminal record – because of what he had done when he was 17 and 18 years old. You see there’s one thing I haven’t told you about Luke, which is that Luke had just celebrated his 50th birthday. And he is being told he is not suitable to work with people with learning difficulties because of things he had done as a teenager over thirty years ago!

I have written to the organisation involved to question their recruitment policy, but that is not enough, because this sort of insanity is going on all over the country in the name of safeguarding. Instead of using a bit of intelligence, common sense and discretion when faced with DBS information, HR departments are using a blanket tick-box approach. We need to get this story out there so that those who are recruiting start questioning their policies, instead of covering their backsides, and putting some humanity into Human Resources policies.

As Luke put it, “I did something wrong as a teenager and was punished for it. I don’t expect to be punished for the same thing again 30 years later.

Thanks to Lucinda Neall for permission to re-publish this piece. The original is available here

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