Schools fear new legislation could put an end to billeting

Some schools are police vetting parents before billeting students on sports exchanges.
Louise Kennerley

Some schools are police vetting parents before billeting students on sports exchanges.

It has traditionally been a free and convenient way to accommodate students on school trips, but new legislation could spell the end for billeting.

As schools work out the best way to approach the Vulnerable Children Act some have canned billeting altogether because of fears they could be liable if somthing happened to their students, while others are police-vetting every parent willing to take in billets.

Principals say billeting has become a "grey area" for schools, despite the Ministry of Social Development saying parents involved in billeting are considered volunteers, making them exempt from mandatory safety checks.

St Patrick's College rector Neal Swindells says he is 90 per cent sure billeting will continue at his school, with ...
KEVIN STENT/ FAIRFAX NZ

St Patrick's College rector Neal Swindells says he is 90 per cent sure billeting will continue at his school, with protocols in place.

Wellington's Newlands College is one school that has decided to stop billeting. Principal Grant Jones said the school needed to be sure student's families were safe to have a billet, according to a whole range of criteria under the Act.

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That meant seeing two forms of ID, carrying out a risk analysis on the family, and running a police check on anyone in the house who was over 18.

"If anything happens in a household, where does the responsibility lie? It's going to come back straight to me as the principal, that's quite a risky undertaking for me," Jones said.

Sports exchanges were a good opportunity for kids to socialise with peers from other parts of the country, and if the consequence of the Act was that they might not happen anymore, it would be a real loss, he said.

Samuel Marsden Collegiate has made the decision to check 70 or 80 families willing to take a student in for an upcoming exchange.

"It hasn't been mandated, but is an example of what is best practice," principal Jenny Williams said.

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"It is quite time consuming, and I think that being a smaller school we're probably able to do it in a better way than large schools ... a lot are saying they won't billet anymore."

St Patrick's College rector Neal Swindells was "90 per cent sure" the school would continue to billet.

"The line we will take at the moment is that we will put a process in place for billeting, but we wouldn't go beyond that."

Student safety was paramount, but sports exchanges were important to the school, and it wanted them to continue, he said.

Sandy Pasley, president of the Secondary Principal's Association, said exactly what was required of schools around billeting was a "grey area".

If a decision was made at a ministry level that it was critical to police vet parents willing to take in students then more schools would consider paying for accommodation, making school trips cost more.

Schools were asking for more guidance over the legislation as they came to terms with it, Pasley said. 

Sue Mackwell, the Ministry of Social Development's national children's director, said mandatory safety checking did not apply to volunteers, and parents billeting school children were volunteers. 

Katrina Casey, head of Sector Enablement and Support at the Ministry of Education, said the ministry had developed a resource that provided an overview of police vetting requirements under the new Act, and had held workshops to help schools better understand it. 

 - Stuff

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