These Mums Are Police Officers, Not Paedophiles - for Crying out Loud

Article excerpt


WHEN our children were young, my wife belonged to a baby-sitting circle. No money changed hands. Hours were 'earned' and 'spent' accordingly.

The arrangement worked well and ensured that our bambinos were looked after by mums who had children of their own, and not by hormonal teenage girls likely to invite their unsuitable boyfriends into our homes, with all the horrors that can entail.

Some of the group had part-time jobs and the deal meant that they didn't have to pay a childminder or dump their kids in a creche.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the children was murdered or molested.

These days, such a set-up would almost certainly be against the law, as two policewomen from Buckinghamshire have just discovered to their cost.

The Thames Valley detectives, who gave birth within a few months of one another, take care of each other's daughter two days a week as part of a job share.

But now they have been told that unless the arrangement ends immediately, they will be prosecuted.

Detective Constable Leanne Shepherd received a visit from an inspector working for the education watchdog Ofsted, who informed her that she was running an illegal childminding business.

Rules state that friends cannot gain 'reward' for looking after a child for more than two hours. In this case, the 'reward' was defined as free child care.

If the agreement is to continue, both women must register with Ofsted and abide by the myriad rules, regulations and background checks which apply to professional childminders and kindergartens.

DC Shepherd has received a letter from Ofsted telling her that she would be subject to 'random surveillance' to make sure she was not looking after her colleague's little girl. She has had to change her work schedule and fork out [pounds sterling]260 a month for nursery fees - a huge chunk of her [pounds sterling]900-a-month salary.

This ludicrous story is both depressing and disturbing in equal measure. As so often, it's difficult to know where to start.

THE rules governing 'reward' are contained in the Childcare Act 2006. Clearly this legislation went through on the nod, without any proper parliamentary scrutiny. MPs have simply given up their responsibility to sift through proposed new laws line by line.

A cursory examination of this clause, in particular, would have thrown up the obvious pitfalls. It should never have made the statute book.

The State has no business interfering in consensual childminding arrangements between private citizens.

The idea that two policewomen should be subjected to criminal records checks before they can babysit each other's daughters is beyond preposterous, as is the notion that they should be the target of a sinister surveillance operation carried out by a government agency. …