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The BBC's Christine Stewart
"It could be a tall order"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 00:23 GMT 01:23 UK
Search for 83,000 child carers
Childcare advert
Television adverts are seeking 83,000 childcare workers
A television advertising campaign has been launched as part of the government's efforts to recruit tens of thousands more childminders and playgroup staff.

The Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities, Margaret Hodge, announced on Tuesday there would be a 5m to recruit 83,000 extra staff for the expanding pre-school sector in England.

The government is stressing that care will be taken to ensure that the rush to recruit extra staff does not allow paedophiles to enter the childcare profession.

But the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses - which has long called for a national register of child carers - says the campaign pushes back by more than a decade its efforts to drive up the profession's standards and status.

The government says that although it wants to broaden recruitment, especially among men, applicants will be subject to vetting procedures.

Childcare advert
Men as well as women are highlighted in the adverts as potential childminders

But the Department for Education and Employment's own guidance on the issue points out that there is no legal requirement for most people working with children under the age of eight - and over eight, in the private and voluntary sector - to undergo a police check.

That would involve ensuring that they had had no known involvement in criminal cases involving child abuse.

The guidance says the Department of Health has a list of people whose suitability to work with children is in doubt.

And it says employers should always ask for two references - and follow them up with a phone call or visit, rather than relying on letters.

But the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses (Pann) fears the worst - and is deeply upset by the implication in the government's advertising that working with children is something almost anyone can do.

"It says that all you have to do is to like kids - but as we keep saying, paedophiles love kids," said Pann's professional officer, Tricia Pritchard.

"There is no requirement for these people to be registered. And we are talking about 83,000 people - where are the training opportunities?

"The more we have read the bumf the stronger our feelings are against this initiative.

"All they have done is send out the same old message - that anyone can do it. They have probably set us back 10 to 15 years."

Last month, Mrs Hodge announced 4.5m in grants for childminders, helping them with start-up costs for safety equipment, insurance and training courses.

Diverse mix

It was intended this should bring 13,000 people into childminding - helping to replace the estimated 15,000 people who have left childminding in recent years.

As well as appealing to the traditional mother figure, the minister wants the campaign to bring a more diverse mix of people into childminding - including men.

"I hope we'll recruit a mixture of people with varied experience, including men and people of different ethnic backgrounds.

"There are more childcare and early years workers than there are teachers in this country, and we need even more," said Mrs Hodge.

The announcement on further spending on pre-school places is the latest effort to ensure there will enough places to meet the government's targets.

Playgroups closed

Although the government has already achieved its aim of creating a free place for all four-year olds, it has struggled with the promise to provide a place for two thirds of three-year olds by March 2002.

Until last year the targets appeared to be slipping away, as thousands of playgroups closed with the loss of more places than were being created.

Prompting the closure of many playgroups had been the increase in primary schools setting up nursery classes.

This had drawn children away from playgroups to the extent that many had become unviable or uneconomic.

But emergency funding and strategies for recruiting more childcare workers seems to have helped put the government back on track to meet its targets.

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | Education
Free places for all three year olds
01 Oct 99 | Education
Playgroup places continue to fall
01 Jul 99 | UK Systems
Pre-school education
18 May 00 | Education
Chasing pre-school targets
29 Mar 00 | Education
More money to rescue playgroups
15 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Grants for childminders
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