Police checks baffle parents

25th February 2005 at 00:00
The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has asked ministers to change the wording of the new child protection Act before a key section is implemented in early April, making it an offence to appoint anyone on the register of those deemed unfit.

The council says that definitions of "childcare" and the groups covered by the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 are so indiscriminate that blanket police checks will prevent parents from volunteering to help with a wide range of activities.

Judith Gillespie, development manager of the SPTC, has criticised the Scottish Executive for failing to assess the likely risk to children from parent volunteers helping out in schools and believes the legislation has taken a "scattergun" approach.

"The best that you can say is that 80 per cent of harm or risk to children happens domestically, which falls outwith the scope of the legislation," Mrs Gillespie said. "This Act is pointing the gun in the wrong direction."

She added: "The only safe way is to keep children in Rapunzel towers until they are 18."

Having scrutinised the Act, she interprets it as including in its requirement for police checks any charity or organisation set up to benefit children, in other words, all parent teacher associations. As a PTA includes all parents of children enrolled at a school, this would mean checking 1.25 million parents.

The Scottish Executive, however, denied that the Act was as wide-ranging as the SPTC claims and said the legislation had widespread support.

A spokeswoman said: "We are doing this to try to prevent another Thomas Hamilton (the man responsible for the Dunblane school massacre in 1996). In paid or voluntary work, you need to decide whether a person's normal duties involve working with children or not; and if they do, you need to have Disclosure Scotland checks as part of this."

She added that the Scottish Parliament's education committee had not wanted a two-tier system and had asked the Executive to include voluntary organisations within the Act.

"There are no plans to redefine anything in the legislation in the way suggested by the SPTC. However, senior officials from the Executive are in talks with Mrs Gillespie over draft guidance which is being completed at the moment. This will help voluntary organisations to consider how best to go through the process."

The SPTC circulated a draft copy of its advice to PTAs on the need for disclosure checks to all 32 directors of education, including evidence from Disclosure Scotland to the Parliament's education committee which stated:

"If a local authority contacted us and said, 'We are having a Hallowe'en party and we need two or three parent helpers. Do we need to get them disclosure checked?', we would say no."

The responses varied. John Wilson, East Renfrewshire, said: "If asked about a Hallowe'en or any other party in East Renfrewshire, I would say yes.

Grooming knows no bounds. In my view, anticipate the worst and plan accordingly."

John Travers, North Ayrshire, said: "The activities covered by volunteersparent helpers would not normally fall within the scope of a disclosure check, unless the helper would have unsupervised contact with a child. However, many of our headteachers are currently seeking checks on any helper involved in extra-curricular events so that maximum flexibility is available in emergencies."

Brian Innes, support services manager, West Lothian: "In the example given in your letter . . . no disclosure check is required. Similarly, parent helpers in school need not be given unsupervised access and need not be checked. However, in the case of an after-school or Saturday morning football coaching session organised and undertaken on behalf of the headteacher by a parent, my advice would be to obtain a check."

Headteachers have also highlighted the impact of the new regulations.

Lindsay Roy of Inverkeithing High in Fife, who is president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said that a 20-year long tradition of family exchange trips with a school in Kiel, Germany, had been abandoned in favour of hotel or hostel-type accommodation.

"The advice we were given was that all the families here would have to be disclosure checked if they were taking youngsters in and that would have led to a number of complications."

Loophole on the buses 4

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