Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Sex offenders caught trying to work with NZ kids

New compulsory vetting has caught 156 potential children's workers with violent and sexual criminal pasts. PHOTO/FILE
New compulsory vetting has caught 156 potential children's workers with violent and sexual criminal pasts. PHOTO/FILE

Compulsory new checks have stopped 156 people from working with children after their violent and sexual criminal pasts were flagged.

Police vetted the applications of 194,218 people applying to work with children in the first year since the Vulnerable Children Act came into effect on July 1, 2015.

The process checks for 40 violent and sexual offences on a person's criminal record and is now compulsory for anyone who works with children in state-funded organisations.

Information supplied to the Herald by New Zealand Police under the Official Information Act showed that 156 applicants had one or more of the specified offences on their records.

Police Vetting Services Manager Senior Sergeant Bruce Mackay said police were unable to reveal the offences that had shown up, but that overall the rate was considered low.

The vetting process is being rolled out over five years with new employees the first to be checked, and all employees - including those already working with children - to be vetted by 2019.

However, some schools have already applied the practise to volunteers such as parents helpers attending school camps.

Principals' Federation police and education partnership representative, Perry Rush, said the 156 applicants caught through the system was good news for the industry.

"First and foremost it is good news - we are very interested in keeping children safe, that is fundamental," he said. However, the number of failed applications was worrying.

"It is really, really concerning. It's good that there is an improvement in picking these people up."

The new legislation had "started a conversation" at schools around the country about taking extra steps to ensure children's safety, said Rush.

"Schools are choosing to police vet parents going on school camp etcetera. The clear message is that if there is an adult that has access to students in an education setting, we want them to be vetted."

"There are now far more robust, thorough and consistent processes in place that specifically focus on detecting and preventing potential offenders from gaining access to children."
Bruce Mackay, Police Vetting Services Manager

Riverdale School in Palmerston North was one of those that had mandatory police vetting for parents attending school camps, said principal Debra Peck.

"It just makes sense, it is an area that could potentially be a risk, so we thought let's eliminate that risk. I know quite a few other schools in our region also do them.

"It's honestly not a big deal, it is just part of a parent putting their hand up for going to camp and there has been no drama whatsoever."

None of the applications had returned anything, she said.

Mackay said that the information could not be broken down to reveal the location of applicants, their age, gender and work classification.

The new system had made Kiwi children much safer, he said.

"There are now far more robust, thorough and consistent processes in place that specifically focus on detecting and preventing potential offenders from gaining access to children."

Mackay said extra staff had been hired to help process all the applications, that had a wait time of up to seven weeks at one point.

That had reduced to 21 working days, he said.

COMPULSORY POLICE VETTING
• Introduced under the Vulnerable Children's Act and began on July 1, 2015
• Checks people working with children for over 40 violent and sexual offences
• Being rolled out across 280,000 prospective and existing employees until 2019
• Must be re-done every three years
• In the first year, 194,218 applications were checked
• Of those, 156 contained one or more specified offences

- NZ Herald

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