Child’s Play

It was one of those surreal conversations that lead nowhere.I was idly looking at a Situations Vacant column on a website, and “Malta” caught my eye. The people posting the advertisement wanted to employ someone for a temporary job here, this coming summer – as follows (certain details, as they say in the newspapers, have been removed to protect the innocent):

Fabulous Temporary job in stunning Malta – for 4 months. Sole charge of 14 month old girl 6 days per week as Mum will be working long hours. Own room with shared bathroom with baby in apartment in town centre. Excellent salary for the right independent, resourceful and experienced Nanny. English spoken in Malta which means you can involve baby in lots of activities with other children. Feb 14th approx 4 months. Arriving at the best time of year early Spring. Up to $450 per week for the right experienced candidate. If you have not worked as a sole charge Nanny before or not travelled independently this post would not be suitable. Excellent references and a current CRB essential.

Since CRB stands for “Criminal Records Bureau”, I could not resist replying to this advertisement.

Making it absolutely clear that I was not applying for the job, I suggested that these people go no further than these shores to employ the nanny. This would be practical on all counts – she would know her way around the Island and consequently, the best places to take the kid; she would speak English, as the advertisement required, but also the vernacular; her criminal record would be more easily accessible; and the child would have a “real” taste of Malta, inclusive of food, and traditions, rather than the scratching of the surface that a foreigner could offer…..

Quick as a flash came the reply:

How incredibly rude you are and clearly your current post does not keep you busy enough! Please refrain from any further pathetic emails or I will have no option but to report this abuse. As for your opinions they are irrelevant and pointless! Please do not email again.

The use of the word “post” indicated that they thought I was after the job myself – so I mailed them again, despite their order – and also because at the end of their mail there was the additional note that said:

WARNING!
This e-mail has been automatically generated. [this company] does not screen or censor the information contained in this e-mail and is not a party to any transaction between a candidate and employer. As a result [this company] has no control over the safety, security, accuracy or legality of the information provided and therefore cannot be held liable for any resulting loss.
For further information on bogus e-mail that have (sic) been sent through this site, please click on the following link (etc).
At this point, my curiosity was piqued even more; and several e-mails later it transpired that a nanny had actually been employed – through this American Agency – from Australia. The mind boggles.

A recent sting operation by Imogen Willcocks, the undercover BBC reporter, was aired on the flagship Whistleblower series on BBC1.

Having spent eight months applying for – and working at –childcare positions in the United Kingdom, Ms Willcocks discovered that “a new carer’s criminal records and references are never checked, yet they will immediately be left alone with young, vulnerable children.” Scary.

In Malta, where we are used to foisting our beloved kids upon grannies, aunties, neighbours, and other assorted kith and kin, until they are old enough to go to a Play Centre or Kindergarten. It never occurs to us that they will be left to cry themselves to sleep while their baby-sitter is in our bed with her boyfriend. We are not worried that our children are crammed into a room with a dozen others, in the sole care of a teenagers working for less than the minimum wage.

There were no induction courses, and no activities to keep the children occupied, other than television sets and potentially hazardous toys strewn around the unsafe play areas. Not once were the nursery assistants forwarded that, to guard against accusations of child abuse, they were to refuse to change nappies alone. They were not told what the adult: child ratio ought to be, and that before they got their licence proper, they had to be supervised y an adult at all times.

Even a specialist agency that supplies nannies willing to travel, such as the agency I had contacted, did not check Ms Willcocks’s CV, contact her references, or do a criminal records check… they didn’t even check her basic identity, so she could even have given a false name and address.

The tacit rule at Ofstead, the Agency empowered to make health and safety checks at childcare centres, is “If you don’t see a problem, don’t look for one. Take a quick look and get out.” Indeed, it was an Ofstead Inspector who tipped off the journalist.
So Ms Willcocks went undercover; and what she found made waves. Armed with a fake CV and fictitious references (which would probably have been rumbled in Malta since everyone knows everyone else); she soon discovered that she had forged them for nothing – because nobody even bothered to check them. But at least Ofstead checked her criminal records.
What I found unfair in all this was that only the substandard companies that employed her were named and shamed. Others, possibly even worse, were let off the hook simply because she did not investigate them.
In the end, Ms Willcocks even set up her very own Childcare Centre – and provided the Ofstead Inspector with a “wish list” of improvements that would make the rambling building child-safe. She obtained her childminder’s licence; and no one checked up on whether the alterations had been carried out.

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