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Child safety rules hit hobby clubs

Rosemary Bennett, The Times, UK, April 5, 2007

Hobby clubs have become victims of 'heavy-handed' child protection rules, according to a report that has found that many are now closing their doors to young people.

Some of the most popular clubs in Britain, which teach adults and children to fly model aeroplanes or climb mountains, routinely tell all under 18s that they must be accompanied by a parent if they want to attend.

They are also running out of volunteers prepared to coach younger people because of the mountain of checks and paper-work that are now required.

The research was conducted by the Manifesto Club, a group that campaigns against red tape, which examined how Britain's 780 model-aircraft clubs were coping with new child protection laws.

Josie Appleton, author of the report, said that most of the clubs would not now allow children to attend without a parent in tow, and that this had led to a collapse in attendance among under-18s.

"Clubs reported that the number of under-18s attending has plummeted from about ten or twenty to one or two, or even none, following their decision to require parents to come too," Ms Appleton said.

She said that the Government could not possibly achieve its ambition of getting more teenagers to join sports and hobby clubs unless it changed child protection laws.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which comes into force next year, requires hobby clubs to conduct Criminal Records Bureau checks on all coaches and volunteers, or face a fine of 5,000. They must also appoint a child welfare officer, who must be trained for the role. Coaches must complete forms on why they wish to work with children and provide two written references from "persons of responsibility" that must then be checked.

John Bridgett, a member of the Retford Model Flying Club in Nottinghamshire, said that almost all the under 18s had left his club.

"Due to the ridiculous situation now, not only must parents remain with their children but they too must join as a member of our flying club," he said. "The net result is that junior membership has declined from fifteen down to one over a two-year period."

Stuart McFarlane, the chairman of a flying club in Shropshire, said that no one was prepared to allow criminal-record checks, 

"hardly surprising when we discovered that the CRB had made a few mistakes and wrongly labelled people". 

also said that no one was prepared to become a child welfare officer.

Ms Appleton said that although her research concentrated on model-aircraft clubs, other clubs were complaining bitterly. Young mountaineers, for example, were finding it difficult to find adults to accompany them on expeditions.

Cameron McNeish, editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, said that it was virtually impossible to find volunteers to take young people mountaineering.

"How do young people get experience of winter routes to-day? When I was a kid you joined a club and there was always someone who was willing to take young people out. Clubs don't do that any more as they are scared of the litigation and paedophilia angle."

The Manifesto Club started to examine the impact that the laws were having on hobby clubs after it was contacted by a number of model-aircraft flyers. 

"Over two or three years child protection policies have meant that flying clubs have closed their doors to children," the report concluded. "As clubs keep children out, and adults become wary of helping them, young people are deprived of experiences that would help them develop into adults."

Happy landings

There are 780 model-flying clubs with 36,000 members
All hobby clubs are covered by guidance from the Child Prectection in Sport Unit and must abide by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act from next year
All volunteers who work with children will require Criminal Records Bureau checks and two references
Clubs will have to appoint a welfare officer if children are members
Gordon Brown has pledged a huge expansion of clubs for young people by 2010, largely staffed by adult volunteers

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