Childcare centres say they are at risk of being understaffed and unable to properly look after kids because of the police's "notoriously slow" vetting for workers.
Some Auckland providers are waiting for up to six weeks for checks and Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft has passed on concerns to police over a vetting backlog for daycare centres and school holiday programmes.
Sheree Thompson, director of Auckland's Vintage Kids, said the wait means the sector faces being understaffed if they need relief workers. And that means centres may not be able to provide the required standard of care when looking after children.
"While I absolutely understand the need for vetting staff, it is hugely problematic when there is an urgent need for support staff."
She says that part of this issue is that police vetting checks from previous employers, regardless of how recent they are, cannot be transferred to another workplace.
"If a reliever comes to me directly with their own police vet paperwork that another centre has requested on their behalf... I still need to go and do my own police vet. That suggests there is a lot of double handling, choking up and slowing down the vetting system."
All adults who have access to children at early learning centres by law must go through a police check. Police also say that the vetting results cannot be shared around childcare providers as they cannot guarantee the integrity of the information if it is passed in an insecure way.
Auckland school holiday programme operators are also grappling with vetting delays.
One provider spoken to by the Herald, who would only be interviewed on the condition of anonymity, said police vetting had been "notoriously slow" for some time.
Jess Singh, owner of the Little Scientists holiday programme, says she puts job applicants through police vetting even before they're interviewed.
"Because the process is not reliable, most times I am putting in requests six weeks in advance".
Singh also said she has hundreds of processed applications that she has never even used.
She says she is fortunate to have a high-staff retention rate, otherwise, she predicts she would often be under-staffed.
Liss Osorio from Conscious Kids, a holistic, nature-based holiday programme, says they submit for police vetting "well before they need it" to ensure they are not left understaffed like others.
Police estimate that vetting checks should be completed in 20 working days.
However, data on the police's website shows that only two-thirds of applications are returned in this timeframe while 99.2 per cent of all checks are completed within 27 working days. More than a quarter of all requests are returned within five working days, police say.
A police spokesperson said that vetting processing timeframes can fluctuate throughout the year, based on factors such as the time of year, the complexity of the request, and whether the request meets the criteria for automation.
Police Vetting Services process approximately 650,000 requests each year from around 13,000 approved agencies. Education is the second-highest industry by volume after immigration.
Close to 206,000 vetting requests were received in the period January-April 2021, which is the highest ever received in that six-month time period.
After it was revealed last June that a cameraman who worked on a popular New Zealand children television show was a convicted paedophile, police vetting in childcare has been scrutinised thoroughly.
Becroft says that although police vetting is not a "magic bullet", it is one way that we can keep our children safe.
"It's our view that all organisations who work with children and young people- including holiday programmes, sporting, and cultural and religious groups - have a duty of care to them, and should police vet any adults working around children, irrespective of legal requirements".
He also had heard concerns from childcare centres and programmes.
"We've contacted police to pass on our concerns about reports of a backlog in vetting requests and have been reassured that the vetting of adults working with children are their priority."
Auckland Council's head of active recreation Dave Stewart said the organisation had waited longer than the suggested 20 days for some vetting of workers.
"Our standards for how we operate our services are very high and that includes the safety and security of children. Any improvement in the timeliness of processing police vetting forms would have a hugely positive impact on our recruitment efficiency."