Adviser vows 'simpler' child safety rules

By Paula Fentiman,Press Association
Monday 26 October 2009 09:43

Controversial rules on vetting parents and volunteers for activities involving children should be "simpler", the Government's chief adviser on child safety said today.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls announced a review last month of the Vetting and Barring scheme after it emerged that some parents who regularly took children to football matches faced fines of £5,000 if they failed to sign on to a new register.

The review, by the chairman of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, Sir Roger Singleton, is due to report by the beginning of December.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sir Roger said it would be "foolish to blindly ignore" public concern about the scheme but he remained "absolutely committed" to the aim of protecting youngsters.

He said the Department for Children, Schools and Families had received a "stream" of letters criticising the system.

While refusing to reveal his recommendations, Sir Roger offered an insight into his line of thought.

He told the paper: "I would try to aim for legislation in totality that was simpler.

"This is quite a complex piece of legislation, although its objectives are relatively straightforward."

The scheme, which launched two weeks ago, is designed to keep track of people whose behaviour toward children has caused concern.

But the review was ordered amid suggestions the exact rules on situations in which parents, for example, have to sign up are not clear enough.

Sir Roger said the scheme needed to be clear.

"Once you have a broad approach then immediately you are on the receiving end of a whole range, thousands of questions, on what about this and what about that?" he said.

"And obviously you cannot have legislation that is woolly. You have to be clear about whether you are breaking the law or not."

Any activity which involves contact with children or vulnerable adults "intensively" - defined as three times in one month, or "frequently" meaning once a month over a longer period is covered by the scheme, as well as any overnight contact.

Anyone who falls within the rules and is not cleared by the ISA before working or volunteering faces a fine of £5,000.

Any organisation which uses them without checks could be fined the same amount.

Registration costs £64 for those seeking employment with children or vulnerable adults but is free for volunteers.

The scheme was set up following the Bichard report into the 2002 murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of school caretaker Ian Huntley.

It emerged after Huntley was convicted that he had previously faced accusations of sex with under-age girls.

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