Stricter blacklist after Soham

THE spectre of the Soham murders will reinforce the introduction of tougher legislation to stop unsuitable adults from working with children, MSPs on Holyrood's education, culture and sport committee heard on Tuesday.

The latest Scottish Executive statistics show that more than three-quarters of child abusers are known to be, or suspected to be, the natural parents. Of 2,352 children in 2001 who were involved in protection case conferences, only 56 were abused by people they did not know and 83 by those they were familiar with outside the family.

The committee will investigate a "consultancy index of adults deemed unsuitable to work with children" to bring Scotland into line with the firmer legislation south of the border. Ministers have announced their intention to establish a list all employers will be compelled to check when hiring staff. Staff in England are checked for a criminal past and appropriateness to work with children and young people. In Scotland, legislation is more limited but that will change with the Protection of Children Bill.

Karen Gillon, the committee's convener, said the Bill would protect children while respecting the rights of individuals. Ms Gillon has two children and has just returned to work after maternity leave.

The index will list all those who have been sacked from jobs or voluntary work with children and who may pose a further risk. Anyone on the index will be liable to five years in prison if they attempt to work with children while employers would be under a duty to inform the Executive if they suspect someone is a risk.

More than 6,600 children - a small majority were girls - were referred to local authorities in 2000-2001 because of abuse. Among boys, five to 10-year-olds are most likely to be abused. For girls the danger ages are 11-15.

Physical injury accounts for 38 per cent of cases; sexual abuse for 14 per cent. Physical neglect is common in 31 per cent of cases and emotional abuse in 15 per cent.

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