Disclosure checks welcomed

15th August 2008 at 01:00
Lack of time and experience have been mooted by people for not volunteering to help children at sport

Volunteers are not deserting sports clubs because of child-protection checks, contrary to popular belief.

A new report finds that 75 per cent of coaches and other volunteers support the controversial Disclosure Scotland system of checking for criminal convictions, which has been widely criticised for its off-putting bureaucracy and expense.

Most sports club volunteers believe disclosure checks boost parents' confidence and increase children's safety, while more than half thought they helped remove unsuitable volunteers. The report also shows, however, that too much faith is often placed in the disclosure system.

The report - commissioned by sportscotland, children's charity Children 1st and the Scottish Sports Association - also reveals that 90 per cent of coaches and other volunteers believe checks are necessary.

The findings contrast with a recent report by the office of Children's Commissioner Kathleen Marshall, which showed that 48 per cent of people would be put off volunteering for fear of false accusations. The organisations behind the report believe their survey suggests that sport is seen as a less threatening environment for volunteers.

They concede that sports clubs find it difficult to recruit, but say the report - based on feedback from 1,000 current, past and potential volunteers - scotches the theory that this is down to growing legislative requirements around child protection.

Instead, the majority of those canvassed said they were put off volunteering by lack of time, the demands of their paid work, and a perception that they lacked the necessary skills and experience.

The three organisations do believe, however, that sports clubs need more help in dealing with child-protection legislation.

There are concerns that only 5 per cent of Scottish sports clubs have a written code of conduct, and that volunteers are often recruited on the basis of a clean disclosure check rather than overall suitability for working with young people.

Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, was "not surprised" at sports volunteers' support of existing child-protection checks, since coaches often avoid the frustrations of the disclosure process because their national sports organisations deal with administration.

She believes the process causes more problems for parent teacher associations, which cannot call on such support. She argues that disclosure lacks common sense, pointing to the English approach in which frequency of contact is a key factor: supervising an occasional disco is viewed differently from regular contact with children.

"None of this burdensome and extremely costly process protects against random, chance encounters," Mrs Gillespie said. "This is not to say that disclosure checks have no place, but they should be used only where necessary and carefully when they can make a difference - not, as has happened, running the rule over gritter drivers whose work takes them into school playgrounds."

John Beattie, presenter of BBC Radio Scotland's Sports Weekly programme, said: "We have to have these sort of checks, and whether it puts people off or not is an irrelevance. If you're trusting your children with another adult, you have to be sure that the person looking after them has been thoroughly checked - sport has in the past been a vehicle for sick people who prey on children. If you have nothing to hide, why be put off?"

Charlie Raeburn of the Scottish Schoolsport Federation, said that child- protection measures did not appear to be dissuading potential volunteers from getting involved in after-school sports clubs. He is more concerned that under-pressure school leaders do not have enough support to deal with increasingly complex legislation.

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