In the risk averse world in which we now live, it can seem like every organisation wants to know whether we have a criminal record and if so, the details of it. Melissa was surprised to find herself having to disclose information about her conviction to a fertility clinic.
Almost a year ago I decided that I wanted to start a family. With joy, excitement and lots of nerves all bundled up, I contacted a fertility clinic who posted a series of forms to me. Innocuously tucked in between the forms asking about my medical background and my consent for treatment was a ‘Welfare of the Child’ form with the earth-shattering question:
Have you ever been convicted of harming a child?”
Now let me rewind and tell you a little about the conviction I’d received 5 years previously. I had a sexual relationship with someone over the age of consent, yet within an institution in which I had a position of authority. The story received a significant amount of press attention and public opinion was clearly divided on the topic. I will never defend my actions and the choices I made at the time of my offence. They were completely unacceptable both personally and professionally.
However, the question that I now needed to answer was, did it constitute ‘harming a child?’
For me, there was no question. The individual involved was not a ‘child’ and there was no element of coercion or harm in my conviction.
The media (and therefore public opinion), on the other hand, might disagree with that conclusion. What was I to do?
- Tick the “no” box and leave it at that; unrealistically hoping that no-one at the clinic ever came across my name in the press and that if they did they agreed with me that it didn’t involve ‘harming a child’.
- Tick the “yes” box and state that I had ‘harmed a child’ – an option I wasn’t prepared to even consider, on principle.
- Tick neither “yes” nor “no” but provide them with full disclosure.
After much deliberation, canvassing the opinion of my family and friends, long-term therapist and GP (who, incidentally, all agreed that it was not a conviction related to ‘harming a child), I made the decision to go with option 3.
I wrote a very carefully worded letter of disclosure, asked a close friend to provide a character reference, asked my therapist to provide a letter with her professional opinion and my GP to provide a letter confirming he had no cause to be concerned for the welfare of any child I may have. Armed with these documents I went back to the clinic and handed in my form.
As I had anticipated, a pre-defined procedure kicked in immediately. I was asked to come back to the clinic in a week’s time to meet with their in-house counsellor for an interview.
The nerves I experienced during that week are hard to describe, the sick feeling in my stomach was constant, as was the desperate fear that the dreadful decision I’d made 5 years earlier could stop me from having the chance to become a mother. I was terrified.
The morning of the interview came, and I arrived at the clinic shaking. I had come prepared to defend my position and, if necessary, formally appeal if the decision didn’t go my way. I had experienced 5 years of disappointment at the way in which employers and institutions could sometimes respond to convictions in an entirely blanket way, without any consideration for the circumstances of the individual case and I was ready to fight for my rights.
What a relief when, within the first 30 seconds of walking into the interview, my faith in humanity’s ability to apply common sense to a situation was restored.
The counsellor assured me that they did not consider me to be at risk of ‘harming a child’. She thanked me for providing them with such a comprehensive range of supporting documents at the outset and emphasised how much easier that complete disclosure had made their decision.
I was more relieved than I could possibly say. They had made a decision based on facts and the opinions of experts as opposed to having a gut reaction to the perceived risks around people with convictions.
I’m so grateful to them for approaching my situation without prejudice and with common sense.
Now let the next stage of my life begin!
By Melissa (name changed to protect identity)
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