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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK


UK

Employers of child abusers face jail

Children in care are to be given more educational support

Employers and voluntary group organisers could be jailed if they knowingly allow child abusers to work with children.


Alison Holt : "New measures will ban anyone convicted of sexual or physical abuse from working with children"
The proposal is included in a report by an interdepartmental working group published on Thursday and detailing new measures to protect children.

The move is the result of a government-wide review of how to prevent unsuitable people from working with children - whether in council care, or helping out with the local football team.

Ministers propose a series of tough new measures.

Judges will be given powers to impose a ban on anyone given a sentence of 12 months or more for sexual or physical abuse of children from working with young people for at least 10 years.

Health care ban

If they flouted the ban, they would face a penalty of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The same penalty would apply to employers and voluntary organisers who knowingly allowed abusers to work with children.

The measures would add to the Protection of Children Act passed a few weeks ago.

That allows employers and voluntary organisations access to criminal records so they can identify unsuitable people. It also means the home secretary can ban them from working in health and social care.

Home Secretary Jack Straw is promising to legislate to implement the proposals in England and Wales as soon as possible.

Education approval

He said the scheme would represent a significant step forward in protecting children from potential abuse.

Similar laws would be introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Education Minister Estelle Morris welcomed the proposals.

"The measures build on existing systems for protecting children from unsuitable people...and will provide an important new safeguard," she said.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) also praised the move.

"People who abuse children do it a lot over many years and are often well organised," said an NSPCC spokesman.

"For quite a long time we have been saying the government needs to take steps as well organised, or better organised, than the offender.

"We think this legislation will be a significant step forward."

But the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses said the measures did not go far enough.

It says the 12-month limit could provide a loophole for some sex offenders. It also wants to see a compulsory national register of all people working with children.

All listed would undergo police checks, give a complete employment history and have to have a minimum standard of professional qualifications.

'Fewer volunteers'

The government is plans to set up a Criminal Records Bureau which would create a one-stop check shop for organisations working with children.

For the price of £10 per prospective employee, it would allow them to check employment and police records for any report of abuse or suspicion of abuse.

The Bureau could be up and running withing two to three years.

But Victor Darcy-Smith, from the National Centre for Volunteeering, fears many groups will not be able to afford the cost of the vetting.

"We are not opposed to police checks. We are opposed to charging volunteers who give their time for free," he said.

He warned the measures could result in a drop in volunteer numbers.

The Institute of Directors also attacked the £10 charge for checks.

Head of policy Ruth Lea said: "This could become a burden for labour intensive businesses or the voluntary sector.

"Time and again business is being asked to pay for the government's social agenda."



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