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Unions 2000 Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Paedophile warning over child carers
paintings
Questions have been raised over vetting procedures
Childcare professionals have repeated a warning that paedophiles could gain access to children as a result of the government's drive to recruit more carers.

The Professional Association of Nursery Nurses (PANN) said the Early Years Minister, Margaret Hodge, had refused to bring in mandatory police checks for childcare workers, despite her massive recruitment drive.

The advertising campaign for 83,000 more childcare workers could act as a beacon for people who preyed on children, said PANN's professional officer, Tricia Pritchard.

The government's recruitment literature said: "We want people who like children, enjoy spending time and learning with them" and "If you have had some experience of looking after children, so much the better, but it's not essential."

Mrs Pritchard repeated a warning she gave in an interview with BBC News Online when the recruitment strategy was announced last month: "They are saying anybody can work with children, they just have to love kids. Well, paedophiles love kids."

'Nonsense'

But a spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "This is nonsense - we are obviously not trying to attract people off the street.

"The booklet is designed to be a source of information and an introduction to a career in childcare."

The suggestions by PANN annoy the department especially because it is keen to attract more men into childcare work.

Mrs Pritchard said she had been trying for the last two years to get Mrs Hodge to regulate nannies, without success.

"She isn't persuaded, I'm afraid, that children are at risk," she said.

"Children in their own home are particularly vulnerable."

Even though most nannies were female, it was a "total myth" that women did not abuse children, both sexually and physically.

"I am afraid it will take another horror story to happen here before something is done," Mrs Pritchard said.

Change of heart

Labour had supported regulating nannies when in Opposition but the Better Regulation Task Force advised against it and the new government accepted its findings, Mrs Pritchard said.

"We are going to be reminding them of this coming up to the next General Election."

Last week, official statistics showed a sharp drop in the number of registered childminders, all of whom have to undergo training and police checks, from 98,500 to 75,000.

Since 1997, the number of places for children in summer schools has mushroomed from 209,000 to 485,000.

Even though they may be based in schools, many of those are privately run and staffed by volunteers who do not have to comply with any kind of regulation, Mrs Pritchard said.

"They can be absolutely anybody."

As nannies were unregulated, the best parents could do when they discovered malpractice was to sack them but there should be a central register and an inspectorate to enforce the rules, Mrs Pritchard stressed.

Vetting

Mrs Hodge said PANN was "scare-mongering". She said the government was taking pains to protect children.

But she did not dispute Mrs Pritchard's assertion that the government had refused to regulate nannies or privately run after-school and summer holiday clubs.

"It is a complete nonsense for any organisation that claims to represent the interests of children to criticise the government for trying to recruit new people to work in childcare," Mrs Hodge declared.

"Of course new recruits will be thoroughly checked and properly vetted to ensure that they are appropriate to work with children.

"There has been absolutely no suggestion by government or any other organisation that they will not be.

"To run a scare-mongering campaign suggesting we are dropping our recruitment standards is plainly wrong."

The government is setting up a "one stop shop" system that would enable cheks on the suitability of people to work with children to be made more easily - but that has been postponed by the Home Office.

See also:

04 Jul 00 | UK Education
10 Jul 00 | UK Education
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