SCEC ready to vet youth leaders

25th October 1996 at 01:00
Stricter vetting of part-time and voluntary youth leaders and improved training is "feasible and achievable" within a relatively short time if the Government builds on existing infrastructure, according to the Scottish Community Education Council, its adviser on youth work.

The council maintains that the initiative would need a local and national focus and require substantial investment. It doubts if any registration scheme of youth groups could be self-financing, as Lord Cullen has suggested in the report into the Dunblane shootings.

Charlie McConnell, the council's chief executive, heads the Community Education Validation and Endorsement agency, which has similar powers to the General Teaching Council. Mr McConnell is to meet Scottish Office officials next week to argue against creating new structures. Local authority and voluntary organisation leaders will also attend.

Mr McConnell said: "We could have something in place relatively quickly but it would need upfront resourcing." He believes the agency, which scrutinises part-time, voluntary, HNC and degree training, could provide the new accreditation and national checking role Lord Cullen has asked for.

Mr McConnell also backs a role for community education services, or their replacements, in each of the 32 councils as scrutineers of youth groups and leaders. Lord Cullen has recommended groups should register voluntarily since compulsion would be too difficult.

Estimates suggest there are around 11,000 youth clubs and groups and 70,000-100,000 adults involved with young people.

Lord Cullen's proposal to avoid compulsory registration has been described as "disappointing" by Children in Scotland. Non-accredited clubs would still be able to operate and it would be left to parents to check if activities were suitable, officials say. The choice for many parents could be between a non-accredited club and no club at all.

Children in Scotland also criticises the bypassing of social work departments' current role in registering and inspecting services for children under eight in favour of "a completely new and untried scheme". The agency says: "Lord Cullen's proposals in relation to vetting and supervision appear to amount to no more than a 'kitemark' guiding parents to suitable provision."

Gordon Jeyes, director of education in Stirling, which was reviewing school lets before the Dunblane tragedy, suggested that the Children Act could be widened to include activities for children over eight. "The main lessons out of this will not be about school security but about re-emphasising putting child protection right at the heart of our activities," Mr Jeyes said.

He feared criminal record checks were insufficient and fallible and would not have exposed Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer.

Alan Blackie, director of education and community services in East Lothian and former community education head in Lothian, warned: "Vetting of volunteers by local authorities and voluntary organisations is costly in terms of administration and finance and does not guarantee a result."

Mr Blackie said groups were much more aware of the issues after child protection guidelines were introduced recently, although he believed vetting had to go further in line with Lord Cullen's recommendations. Councils vetted part-time paid staff but voluntary workers or helpers often slipped through.

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