Monday, 28 September 2009

Silly Regulations

Having concluded an interview with Radio Kent this morning on the sad story of the two job-sharing police officers who were warned by OFSTED that their reciprocal child care arrangements constituted illegal child minding, I found myself regretting that I had not used the phrase "law of unintended consequences".

If you read the The Childcare (Exemptions from Registration) Order 2008 carefully you will discover a wealth of legal jargon which seems to be designed to distinguish "child minders" from "people minding children". But many of the nuances are arbitrary and difficult to justify. Apparently if the children are minded between 6 pm and 2 am or if they are minded in a hotel in which the parents are guests, the regulations don't apply. They also don't apply if the minding takes place for less than 2 hours in any one day or for 14 or less days in any one year.

The two police officers might not have fallen foul of OFSTED had they resorted to swapping homes on their child-minding days, because apparently there is no need for registration if the minding takes place "largely or wholly" in the parent's home.

In short the regulations are shot through with holes. The whole sad episode demonstrates how difficult it is to attempt to safeguard children through rules and regulations. However carefully drafted the legislation there will always be some situations in which an entirely satisfactory arrangement becomes a crime while those with malicious intent (and sufficient ingenuity) can steer around the law.

The Government has fallen into the trap of seeing legislation as the cornerstone to making children safer. The truth is that legislation is often a blunt instrument. Greater child safety comes from greater public awareness, thinking/caring people and more child-centred services, not from statute.