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Required: a licence to babysit

Can we see your licence to look after us? Keystone

If the government has its way, babysitters will in future be required to apply for a licence. Politicians and institutions are divided over the proposal.

This content was published on July 18, 2009 - 10:12

The cabinet wants to introduce the measure to guarantee minimum standards when children are cared for by someone outside the immediate family.

Political parties and institutions have until September 15 to provide feedback on the proposal to extend the law on foster children to include guidelines on childcare in general.

Each canton will be expected to create a department to oversee courses for childminders. While no one is opposed to this idea, there has already been much debate about the powers this new office shall be granted: awarding licences to childminders and crèches.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party favours a professionalisation of childminding, under certain conditions. Party spokesman Andreas Käsermann told swissinfo.ch that it would be acceptable, "if it involves long-term foster care or if someone earns all or most of their keep as a childminder".

Currently, only crèches and nurseries need to be licensed. The fact that childminders and foster families will in future need authorisation and attend an introductory course is not controversial.

What has sparked debate is that a licence will be required by relatives, friends and neighbours who look after someone else's child for more than 20 hours a week.

"The call for family members to acquire a childminding qualification is problematic," Käsermann said. "The Social Democrats will, in particular, carefully examine this part of the draft."

Hysteria

The centre-right Radical Party sees the requirement as taking away the rights of mothers, parents and families, according to parliamentarian Filippo Leutenegger, quoted in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

The state is once again caught up in a kind of "overzealous prevention and regulatory hysteria," said Marianne Binder, a spokeswoman for the centre-right Christian Democratic Party.

"I am confident I know who I can trust with my children within my own circle [of family and friends]," Susanne Meister, a mother of three daughters and former childminder, told swissinfo.ch.

"Ninety per cent of sexual abuse of children takes place within the circle of family and friends," countered Ulla Grob, head of the Swiss Association of Nurseries.

"If someone says you don't need to supervise relatives, I have to ask myself, who then?" Grob told the NZZ am Sonntag.

"Of course there are no guarantees that a relative gets along with the child they are looking after or provides it with a stimulating environment," admitted Sabine Wiedmann Bernauer.

False sense of security

Bernauer, president of the Swiss Association of Parents Organisations, spoke to swissinfo.ch in her capacity as a mother.

"But parents may be given a false sense of security if they are told that 'everything has been tested and is in order'," Wiedmann added. She explained that the authorities may choose to include formal criteria in an examination that has little to do with a person's babysitting skills, such as the space set aside for childminding and the type of toys available.

Meister finds it is unusual that only neighbours, aunts and uncles and friends will be subject to greater scrutiny. "No one will be required to check on parents or grandparents to see how they deal with their children and ensure that they are not neglecting them."

Wiedmann also thinks it is "illogical" to exempt grandparents. "It is not possible to check every detail to see if they are doing a proper job of childminding," she said.

The revised law will only require grandparents to declare, for statistical purposes, how many hours they spend babysitting.

Wiedmann understands the authors of the new regulations are trying to make child protection a greater priority. "But they have most likely been surprised by the consequences resulting from a situation in which everything is controlled."

Etienne Strebel, swissinfo.ch (Translated from German by Dale Bechtel)

Key facts

The government wants to introduce new measures to guarantee the well being of children looked after by someone other than their parents or grandparents.
It has proposed a complete revision of the law on foster children to include childcare in general.
The new regulation foresees the creation of a department in each canton to be responsible for licensing crèches and childminders – the latter to include relatives and friends who spend more than 20 hours a week looking after someone else's children.
Parties and institutions have until September 15 to provide feedback on the plan.

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