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http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2005/sep/22/childrensservices.uknews

Plans to cut safety checks put children at risk, say carers

·Ministers move to lighten regulation for providers
·Campaigners say proposal would be backward step

Lucy Ward 22nd September 2005

Government moves to end compulsory checks on carers including after-school clubs, playschemes and creches risk jeopardising children's safety, childcare workers fear.

The plans, which ministers argue would lighten the burden of regulation for those providing only brief periods of daycare, would be a backward step in a sector which has faced claims of poor quality, according to campaigners and professionals working with children.

The government and the inspection body, Ofsted, have been trying to ensure parental confidence in the expanding daycare sector by introducing a more rigorous inspection regime.

However, while this would remain for care for children up to five, and for any care provided by schools, proposals outlined in the government's planned childcare bill would scrap current compulsory checks on provision for youngsters aged five to eight.

That means after-school and holiday clubs and creches provided in the community would no longer be obliged to sign up to an Ofsted register or to undergo inspections by the watchdog.

The head of the government's Sure Start programme, Naomi Eisenstadt, yesterday acknowledged that a consultation on the move, due to close on October 7, had provoked "a very, very strong lobby against doing this".

Opposition had been so strong it was possible ministers would now back down over the measure, she told a Sure Start conference in London.

But Ms Eisenstadt defended the planned reforms, telling critics: "We are not deregulating; we are going for a voluntary scheme."

The rationale for the change was to minimise unnecessary regulation around care for older youngsters, she said.

"This is about the difference between what is a few hours after school and a whole daycare setting. It is also the difference between the ability of a five and six-year-old to talk to their parents about whether they like it or not, as opposed to the ability of a baby or a two-year-old."

Providers still faced other compulsory checks, such as the requirement to conduct Criminal Records Bureau checks on staff working with children and to comply with health and safety rules, she said.

Campaigners yesterday rejected her assurances. Daniela Reale, head of policy at the Daycare Trust, said: "We feel this is taking a step backwards. Children between five and eight are still small and vulnerable, and they need all the safeguarding it is possible to have."

Anne Longfield, of 4Children, said: "We understand having a voluntary scheme for older children, but six and seven-year-olds are just too young to leave to chance." The improved childcare inspection regime introduced by the government had seen quality of provision "rocket", she added.

A DfES spokesman said: "The bill will require regulation where it is most needed for young children.

"In addition, as schools become extended over the next few years, more and more childcare for school-age children will take place in schools and this provision will either be covered by the school inspection system, or should be approved by Ofsted."

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