Byline: SEAN POULTER
FRIGHTENING loopholes in the vetting systems used by Britain's nanny agencies have been highlighted by an undercover investigation.
One in four was willing to put an unqualified young woman, whose only experience was occasional babysitting, into homes across the country.
Some agencies said they did not need to carry out the full background checks that would show criminal convictions and flag up someone who was a danger to children.
Meanwhile, other agencies were willing to accept bogus or unsatisfactory references, which provided little or no reliable evidence of childcare experience.
The probe was carried out by Which?
and the consumer watchdog wants Education Secretary Charles Clarke to set up a national register for qualified nannies.
The Government plans to launch a list of approved child carers, including criminal checks, next April but it is not expected to stipulate minimum qualifications or experience and the move is considered inadequate by experts.
Which? editor Malcolm Coles said: 'It's nerve-wracking enough leaving children in a stranger's care, without the added worry that nanny agencies may not be making the checks they claim.
'We want to see a full national nanny registration scheme so parents can make an informed decision about who they employ.' The Which? study comes amid concerns that youngsters are being handed over to unqualified nannies who have little idea about first aid skills and the right food, educational needs and discipline required to care for children.
Experts believe that a nanny should have at least two years' experience working with children, preferably in a nursery.
However, five out of 20 agencies approached by a Which? researcher pretending to be a 22-year-old with no qualifications and limited babysitting experience, said this was not necessary.
Ten agencies were picked at random and ten members of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation - a professional body for nanny agencies - were also contacted. One, in the north of England, offered the researcher a live-in post, in charge of a family's young children for much of the day, without even meeting her.
The same agency claimed that all its nannies were qualified, experienced and professional people. A London agency agreed to set up a meeting with parents looking for a nanny based on just a phone call.
The agency, which charges parents [pounds sterling]999 a time, states on its website that all staff have two years' childcare experience.
An REC member in the North West was also happy to hire the bogus nanny. A consultant told her: 'You don't have to be qualified, any experience is good.' Agencies in Yorkshire and Wales were also willing to place the researcher in live-in, fulltime jobs.
Most parents turn to agencies because they are authorised to carry out Criminal Records Bureau checks, which show convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings by the police. They can also check government lists of people banned from working with children. …