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The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): On 19 January 2006 the Secretary of State made an oral statement to the House about arrangements for vetting people working with children, and for barring those who are unsuitable. A written statement on 1 March outlined progress against commitments. In preparation for Report and Third Reading on the Childcare Bill, the following statement outlines the arrangements for ensuring the suitability of childcare workers.
Childminders and day care providers for children under eight are required to be registered by Ofsted. The Children Act 1989 requires Ofsted to determine whether someone is "qualified" for registration, and in order to make that determination, Ofsted has to determine that certain people, and premises, are suitable to look after or be in regular contact with children. Section 79B(5A) of the Children Act 1989 states that if a person fails to consent to certain prescribed checks, Ofsted can then deem them to be unsuitable to work with or have regular contact with children under eight. One of the ways Ofsted checks suitability is through enhanced Criminal Records Bureau disclosures. A check with the CRB includes:
The disclosure includes details of all convictions and cautions a person has including those that, under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, are deemed to have been "spent". In addition, an enhanced CRB disclosure may include any additional information from the police that the Chief Constable thinks relevant. This would include cases where a person has not been convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence, but is nevertheless required to register with the police.
Ofsted will not grant registration where it has doubts about the person's suitability, or about the suitability of others connected with an application. Concerns can vary greatly ranging from medical matters, to offences
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that did not involve children, to offences involving harm to a child. If, after taking into account all the information available Ofsted is concerned about a person's suitability and the risks to children it will refuse registration. Such refusal automatically disqualifies a person from providing childcare.
The CRB and other checks that Ofsted carries out are part of its robust system for preventing unsuitable people from being registered to provide childcare. Ofsted will always investigate further if it has any concerns about an applicant's suitability to work with children.
Registered childcare providers employing staff are required, under the Protection of Children Act 1999, to check the PoCA listand this is done through an enhanced CRB. The registered person of a setting must have rigorous vetting and recruitment processes in place to ensure their staff are suitable to work with children. It is an offence knowingly to employ someone who is disqualified from working with children. The national standards for childcare state that a provider must ensure that any person who has not been vetted is never left alone with children. Ofsted investigates any concerns it is notified of and takes action against a provider, if necessary, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children. As part of the inspection process, an Ofsted inspector questions the applicant or registered person about their recruitment processes.
All Ofsted registered providers have been subject to a range of checks and have a certificate of registration which they are required to display in their setting. Parents can get information from their local authority's Children's Information Service (CIS) on which childcare providers, and the services and facilities childminders and day-care centres offer, are listed.
Information services have a key role in ensuring that parents have appropriate information to help them take decisions on which childcare providers are suitable to look after their children. Information services must be able to explain the differences between registered and non registered childcare and the checks that registered providers and their staff will have undergone. They should guide parents to relevant materials and inform them of the questions they should be asking. The DfES Sure Start booklet "Looking for Childcare" includes the key points that parents may wish to cover in their discussions with prospective providers. Information services should also be able to inform parents of what they should do if they have any concerns about children's welfare or safety whether in the childcare context or not.
The Childcare Bill currently before Parliament will place a legal duty on local authorities to provide information to parents or prospective parents on childcare and other services, facilities or publications which may be of benefit to parents, prospective parents, children or young people. We will ensure that the statutory guidance accompanying the Childcare Bill makes this clear to local authorities. In the meantime, we plan to write to local authorities and information
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services to highlight the importance of supporting parents to make an informed choice about childcare provision.
Further to this the Childcare Bill will complement the Ofsted registration scheme for the registered childcare sector by providing the option of Ofsted registration (which will include enhanced CRB checks as well as List 99 and PoCA checks for staff) to a wider range of childcare providers such as provision for children over eight and nannies.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, introduced in the other place on 28 February 2006 will provide the legislative framework for a new vetting and barring scheme. This will extend the current requirements for vetting of people who work closely with children, and provide a new facility to enable those who want to work with children to undertake the vetting process. Individuals will be committing an offence if they seek to work with children where they are barred from doing so. For the first time, individuals, parents and families (including Direct Payment recipients) will be able to make a "real-time" instant check of whether a prospective employee is barred. This will include the ability to make an instant online check of the barred status of people they are considering employing for activities such as nannying/child care, care provision, or music or personal tuition.
Under the new scheme, where work, either paid and unpaid, involves frequent teaching, caring for or otherwise working closely with children, the employer will be required to check that their employees are not barred from working with children, and they will be committing an offence and will face penalties if they employ a person so barred. This will include those working in childcare not registered by Ofsted. Parents will not be required to check barred status, as for example a parent using a babysitter recommended by a friend may not wish to check the person's barred status. Parents will, however, be empowered as for the first time they will have the option of checking barred status. This will provide the extra reassurances they need to make informed judgments about their childcare provision.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I am pleased to announce to the House that yesterday in Brussels EU member states agreed to a Commission proposal to lift the ban on the export of beef and cattle from the UK.
The decision yesterday means that the UK will be able to export cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 and beef and beef products derived from cattle slaughtered after 15 June 2005 on the same basis as other member states. This is a significant milestone in our journey to eradicate BSE.
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The date for the resumption of such exports will be determined once the Regulation is published in the Official Journal of the European Union. However we expect exports to resume by the end of April or early May.
The protection of public health is of paramount importance and vCJD is a truly terrible disease. I pay tribute to the victims and their families. We will continue to work closely with industry to draw up procedures for exports. The relevant guidance is being finalised and the documents will be published shortly. In particular, we will vigorously enforce the rules relating to the welfare of animals during transport.
Once the Regulation is in force, the UK will be required to remove vertebral column from carcases aged over 24 months as other EU member states, rather than the current 30 months for the UK. The FSA board is considering at its meeting today whether to permit such removal in authorised butchers' shops.
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