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Summer swoop on working pupils

Busy season for education welfare officers who monitor child labour - and take truants on trips. Julie Henry reports.

THOUSANDS of education welfare officers have been involved in a crackdown on illegal child employment during summer.

Officers, relieved of the pressure of dealing with case loads of up to 120 children, have been targeting hairdressers, newsagents and take-aways - often suspected by councils of exploiting children.

Businesses are reminded of the limits on hours and the requirement for teen work permits.

John Broadhead, head of Leicester education welfare services, said: "If employers are following the rules during the summer, hopefully they will follow the rules in school time."

By law, 13 and 14-year-olds can work up to five hours on a Saturday, two hours on a Sunday and up to 25 hours a week in school holidays between 7am and 7pm.

The permitted hours rise to eight on a Saturday and 35 hours a week for 15 and 16-year-olds. From October, the number of hours children can work during term time will be reduced to 12 per week for 13 to 16-year-olds, under the European Social Charter's young workers directive.

Children are only allowed to work from the age of 13. They may not deliver milk, work in commercial kitchens, chip shops, factories or bars.

While prosecutions are rare, child employment checks in Leicester last summer led toa rise in applications for work permits from 270 to 314. Applications from hairdressers, specifically targeted last year, doubled.

Direct contact with truants, children at risk of truancy and their families continues in summer. Home visits are scheduled when there is less pressure on both sides. Activities, aimed at building relationships between EWOs and children, are also a vital part of the service, according to Sheila Martin, an education welfare officer with Lancashire council.

Days away in Blackpool and a week-long residential at the end of the summer are designed to encourage better communication in a relaxed setting.

Ms Martin said: "Each officer identifies children who may benefit. It may be a child that has made a real effort with attendance,although the activity is not necessarily a reward. It helps kids and parents to see us in a different role, other than people who knock on their doors and take them to court. Often children relax on these trips and are able to tell us about problems in school."

Government plans to make schools responsible for rounding up truants are to be piloted in 16 local authorities from September.

Michael Sunderland, national executive member of the National Association of Social Workers in Education, said the move could threaten strategic work done by educational welfare services, particularly during summer.

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