New crackdown on paedophiles

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The Independent Online
The Government is drawing up plans to track convicted paedophiles and set up a register for care workers looking after children in a new crackdown on child abuse.

The proposals aim to prevent convicted paedophiles from seeking work with children and will introduce tougher vetting for all staff who care for young people. The moves follow a recent campaign by the Independent calling on the Government to act to prevent the scandal of abuse in children's homes.

John Bowis, Health minister, said yesterday that the proposals would be published shortly. He promised "constructive" consultation on the idea of creating a General Social Services Council to enforce standards. Social workers and others working with vulnerable children and adults would have to register with the council which would have the power to strike off those who abused their position.

Public concern over the issue has been growing after the scandal in Clwyd, the massive police investigation into sex abuse in homes in Cheshire, and the Independent's recent campaign which Tad Kubisa, the president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said yesterday had been "very helpful".

The Home Office will shortly publish a consultation paper which will include proposals to make it a criminal offence for child sex offenders to change address without notifying the police, and to prohibit them from seeking work with children.

Ministers have been under mounting pressure for failing to act after proposals which they commissioned on how to set up a social services council have been with the Department of Health since last summer.

Mr Bowis told the association's spring conference in Cambridge that the Home Office paper will shortly "canvass the full range of measures which could improve public protection against sex offenders, including additional supervision of offenders following their release from custody".

Before the summer Parliamentary recess he will also publish a consultation document on ethical standards in social services and ways of enforcing them which will include the option of creating a "statutory ethical council" similar to the General Medical Council and the UKCC, the bodies which regulate doctors and nurses.

In addition, proposals to improve the DoH's much criticised index of known or suspected child abusers will finally be published - an exercise Mr Bowis initiated last August.

He stopped short of a full commitment to introduce a General Social Services Council, but said he was well aware of the growing support for the idea, despite some practical difficulties. These include the numbers who might have to be covered - up to 1 million; the difficulty of registering unqualified staff; and the fact the GMC and UKCC have "never found it easy" to spot in advance those unsuitable to work with vulnerable children and adults. The two regulatory bodies have also not invariably seen it as reasonable to permanently bar those who they strike off, Mr Bowis pointed out - a reference to recent decisions by the UKCC to restore convicted rapists to the register.

Nonetheless, the consultation paper would "expose these issues constructively" he said, adding "we recognise that they need tackling".

His speech was described as "very positive" by Mr Kubisa who said that with Labour committed in principle to introducing a regulatory council, "we are on the road at last, and it looks now as though we will get there".

There remained important nuts and bolts issues to resolve, he said, "but we are moving in the right direction". He also welcomed the Home Office consultation paper and moves to strengthen the health department's index. In the conflict between an individual's rights and the need to protect children, the former had too often "got in the way" of the latter, he said.