Childcare centres are threatening to sue the police regarding delays in vetting new staff members.
Police have confirmed only about a quarter of requests for police checks on staff working with children have been processed within the required 20 working days in the past two months; only 22.7 per cent in July and 25.3 per cent in August.
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said the council "would consider legal action to recover vetting fees" if the delays continued after police introduce a planned $7 vetting fee.
The delays have been sparked by the new Vulnerable Children's Act, which requires police checks on everyone working with children in education, health and community services.
Police figures released to Reynolds under the Official Information Act show that the police were swamped by 584,756 vetting requests in the first 14 months of the new law up to the end of August.
Police actually issued slightly more vetting results (587,911) in the same period but only 58 per cent (340,613) were issued within 20 working days.
There were long delays in the first three months after the law took effect, when only about a third of vetting requests were processed in time, but new vetting staff were hired and the numbers being processed in time peaked at 98.5 per cent in February.
But the start of the new school year produced another spike in applications which cut timeliness back to 31 per cent in April.
It improved again in May and June, but has worsened again since July 1 when the second stage of the phase-in of the law took effect, extending the required checks to non-core workers.
Reynolds said childcare centres were willing to pay "a small user charge" such as the proposed $7 fee for vetting, but only if the fee paid for an efficient service.
Melanie Cotter of Prebbleton Childcare near Christchurch said she had lost four potential relief teachers because of vetting delays. In one case, she requested a police check in June and had still not had a response.
"They have taken up other employment," she said. "Some people are quite happy to wait, but for others, they are needing to work now."
She said the main problem was with relief teachers, who were often unqualified. Registered teachers and trainee teachers have all been vetted by the Education Council or their training institution, although Cotter said her centre's policy was still to seek police checks directly as an extra precaution.
Police communications manager Inspector Mal Schwartfeger said the vetting unit employed 23 staff with two more starting by the end of October.
"We are also recruiting a further three which will take the numbers up to 28, and we also have four casual staff," he said.
He said a statement on the police website that the vetting backlog had been cleared was removed Monday after police were alerted that it was out of date.