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Tough Screening For Volunteers

VOLUNTEERS working with children, even if they are the family babysitter, will now have to undergo tough new criminal checks.
The West Australian Government today announced the tough new legislation, which came into effect on January 1 and to be phased in over five years, requiring volunteers working with children up to seven years of age to undergo criminal checks.
People who have not had to have any kind of police check in the past - including tutors, self-employed people including babysitters, and ministers of religion will have to pay $10 for the check (paid workers must pay $50).
Spent convictions and charges that did not result in a conviction will be checked.
Previously, checks have only covered criminal convictions.
Minister for Community Development Sheila McHale, while admitting it was not "100 per cent fool proof", said that was one of the strengths of the legislation.
"It checks the criminal histories and the alleged criminal behaviours of paedophiles," Ms McHale said today.
"That is why we have constructed the legislation that way.
"Pedophiles often can slip through the net, they may not get convictions but we are looking at the criminal histories of sex offenders and that helps us build up a picture of potential threat to children."
Those found to be undesirable will receive a negative notice, meaning they won't be able to work with children.
Ms McHale said while the legislation would be the toughest in the nation, it would only be able to check people working with children in WA.
Anyone who moved from the east to WA would only be checked for convictions as most other states could not or were unwilling to divulge any other information.
"We are working with the other states and certainly our legislation has the capacity to share that information," she said.
"But we need to other states to realise the importance of sharing information around charges.".
The legislation has attracted the broad support of community groups including Scouts Australia, the Sikh Association of WA and the Anglican Church.
Scouts Australia WA chief commissioner Sue Mitchell said it was 100 per cent behind the initiative.
"Scouting has been around a long time - 100 years in 2007 - ... yes, there have been problems with Scouting," Ms Mitchell said.
"We recognise we are a target for people who may be wanting to work with children for the wrong intentions.
"We have systems in place and this will strengthen the systems that are in place for us."
Sikh Association of WA president Stawant Singh said it was a good initiative that would protect all children, not just in the small Sikh community.
Anglican Church diocese and youth officer Bradley Young also offered support.
"I think this measure something a little bit like putting a pool fence around a pool," Mr Young said.
"It is a preventative step and obviously it is not comprehensive and that is why things like referee checks and further training can aid to make that more comprehensive."

AAP (4-1-2006)

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