Vet fee to deter youth leaders

18th December 1998 at 00:00
A #163;10 charge for vetting adults working with children could deter potential leaders and cripple already stretched budgets, youth organisations have claimed.

They were responding to an announcement by Henry McLeish, the Home Affairs Minister, on tighter scrutiny of volunteers, a key recommendation of Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Dunblane shootings. But youth agencies, while supporting the principle, immediately questioned the practicalities of running a national vetting scheme.

Mr McLeish promised to extend the role of the Scottish Criminal Record Office to volunteer helpers over the next two years. Any adult who regularly cares for children, is involved in training or supervising or is in sole charge, will almost certainly be asked to provide an "enhanced criminal record certificate". Staff working with vulnerable adults will be included.

Under the self-financing scheme, individuals will have to pay up to Pounds 10 for a check and certificate before being accepted as a volunteer helper, leaving organisations to decide whether to refund the cost.

The checks for the enhanced certificate will include details of convictions and cautions, as well as "relevant non-conviction information" from local police records.

Jim Duffy, chief executive of the Scout Association in Scotland, said: "The general feeling among youth organisations is concern about the costs. We vet over 65,000 adults a year in the UK at a cost of about Pounds 750,000. In Scotland, it's about 6,000 a year and the number is growing. At Pounds 10 a go, plus administration, this is an extremely costly exercise."

Mr Duffy added: "The Government view is that there's a societal responsibility to support vetting of adults who have unsupervised access to young people but it's not a burden that should fall on voluntary organisations."

The Scouts would be "duty bound" to use the new additional checks on leaders although the scheme is not mandatory. Mr Duffy believed the SCRO charges could discourage adults when the Government was trying to recruit more youth work helpers.

"They might not see advantages in paying for the privilege of volunteering. Parents will have to go through the same vetting procedure," he warned.

Carol Downie, chief executive of Youth Clubs Scotland, which supports 5,500 volunteers, said: "This will be a substantial drain on our resources."

Youth clubs had a high turnover of volunteer staff and parents and the implications of monitoring and administering a national system would be "huge". Ms Downie added: "We're trying to provide a safer youth club environment but how do we monitor this as an organisation given the small staffing levels we have? To make sure new volunteers have a SCRO check and certificate is going to be very difficult."

Organisations would be forced to spend time and money on the checks and divert emphasis from staff training programmes.

Ms Downie continued: "SCRO checks have been shown to be not necessarily the best way of protecting children. People who show up in checks tend to be the few. There are still lots of organisations running outside the authorities. This gap has not been plugged."

A survey last year by the Scottish Child Law Centre revealed current checks on voluntary youth leaders are piecemeal. Some authorities were able to process checks, others were not. It was still possible two years after the Dunblane tragedy for someone to start a club or organisation for children over the age of eight without any check being carried out. Parents tended to trust anything official.

Alan Blackie, director of education in East Lothian and a member of the Scottish Community Education Council, said: "I'm disappointed in the bureaucracy, charging and the lack of any reference to the Cullen report where this started."

But Mr Blackie believed the Government had "grasped the nettle", but the system was not foolproof. "Thomas Hamilton would not have been found wanting, " he said.

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