Harwoods and Harebreaks
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Harwoods and Harebreaks are two adventure playgrounds operated by Watford Borough Council in Hertfordshire, England, and possibly one of the best examples of child abuse paranoia yet. In October 2009, the Council declared that—in a decision that could be almost straight out of Brass Eye—as of 2 November 2009 parents would be banned from supervising their children's play in the playgrounds.
Rationale, or not
Behind the decision was the Mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, who explained the decision: "You can't have adults walking around unchecked in a children's playground." Parents will only be allowed to view their children through the six foot high perimeter fences enclosing the half-acre sites. All children will instead be monitored by three Council-employed "Play Rangers". Naturally, this has kicked off a lot of opinion against the move. Henry Porter, a journalist specialising in liberty and civil rights, said that "The critical issue here is that parents' rights are being trampled on by this new atmosphere of fear and suspicion, brought about by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, a government that increasingly thinks it knows better than parents and local authorities that are keen to use any new power offered to them, however mad or tyrannical its application."
The Council stated that the policy was due to new government regulations "to ensure that every authorised adult who enters our site is properly vetted and given a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check by Watford Borough Council." The Mayor elaborated: "Although previously some parents have stayed with their children at the discretion of our play workers, this is not something we can continue to do. There are other places in the town for parents with small children to go" (i.e. "Do as we say or fuck off"). The introduction of a requirement for a CRB check (which costs around £50, to be paid by the person being checked, because you can't expect the state to foot the bill for everything, do you...) is, if you're particularly paranoid, further evidence of the state's drive to turn every adult into a suspected criminal, and of the state deciding who is fit to have contact with children, even their own children.
Civil rights advocates emphasise that "concern should not be with today or tomorrow, but with the day after tomorrow, when different, nastier politicians might be in power, and the habits of decency and common sense have been even further eroded. We have already seen how officious policemen have used legislation designed to deal with terrorists to arrest protesters armed with nothing more lethal than placards."
Prior to the new rules, parents were already required to fill out a 4-page application form before their children could enter the, so-called, "open access" playground.[note 1] The form also warns that the council may "use the information you have provided on this form for the prevention and detection of fraud. It may also share this information with other bodies responsible for auditing or administering public funds for these purposes" (i.e., they now have more data that they can lose every time someone from admin misplaces their flash drive). After demanding the child's details, including date of birth, ethnic origin, religion, doctor's name, and school attended, it cheerfully reminds the parent that the council is "required by law to report any suspicions/concerns regarding a child’s welfare to Social Services or the Police Child Protection team". The form includes the typical "power without responsibility" disclaimer (the kind found on car parks and hotel baggage rooms) that they will not accept liability for a child's death or injury while within the playground.
YOU are a paedophile, until proven otherwise.
- Henry Porter. "A toxic culture of suspicion is souring our children's lives." The Guardian. 2009 July 19.
- The form states that "The Adventure Playground is an ‘Open Access’ Facility. This means that children can come and go as they please, without restriction." So long as they provide their papieren, bitte.
- Skinner, Neil. Parents banned from two Watford Borough Council play areas. 27 October 2009. Watford Observer. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
- Whitehead, Tom. Council bans parents from play areas. 28 October 2009. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
- Porter, Henry. Paranoia in the playground. 28 October 2009. The Guardian. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
- Kruger, Danny. Labour isn't wicked - but it's doing just what the Nazis did. 27 March 2006. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
- The form may be downloaded or viewed in .pdf format at Watford Borough Council's website.