With summer camp registration in full swing, parents should be wary of the individual counselors assigned to care for their offspring on a day-to-day basis, according to Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child.
"Pedophiles often search out work with children," Kadman warned on Monday.
While there is a law stating that all institutions working with children must require their workers to provide a letter from the police stating whether they have a background in sexual crimes, many summer camps and companies that transport the children to them do not do background checks on their workers and the police do not enforce the law, said Kadman.
"The problem here is twofold: first, there are no checks, and second, there is simply not enough awareness of the requirements," he said.
"Last year we took a list of summer camps and called their directors," continued Kadman. "What we found was that 95 percent of them either did not have the required letters or they did not even know that they were required to produce such documentation.
"It is very easy, all the employee needs to do is take the name and ID number of a worker and run it by the police," said Kadman. "The police need to do what we did, go into the camps, ask for a list of workers and ask for the letters. If there are no letters then the camp [directors] must be prosecuted."
Gal Yardeni, who has been running weekly after-school programs and summer camps for children for the past 25 years, said that he has never heard of such a law.
"I lived in Los Angeles for three years and everywhere I went they asked for a letter from the police. I believe this is a very important issue," said Yardeni. "The demand needs to come from higher up. The city needs to request that every camp has those letters."
The director of a large Jerusalem-based summer camp, which caters to children from abroad, also said that she had not heard of the law requiring camps to ask for police letters from staff.
"I did not know about this law, I did not receive any information about it," she said. "But now I will double check the backgrounds of my staff."
Kadman pointed out that even on the official Education Ministry Web site under the section of summer camps there was no mention of checking into the background of staff working at camps.
"The ministry published a list advising parents what to look for when choosing a summer camp. First aid and shade are very important but they forgot to write that all camp workers need to have a letter from the police stating they have no criminal record," said Kadman. The National Council for the Child complained to the ministry last week and since then the Web site list has been modified.
"No one has explained this law to the camps or the drivers who take the kids there; the places say they do not know about the law," said Kadman.
Asst.-Cmdr. Suzy Ben-Baruch, head of the Israel Police's youth department, explained that in 2004 a law was brought into effect stating that anyone wishing to work in an environment with children needed permission from the police.
However, she said that there was no budget provided to raise awareness of the law to private individuals who were running programs for children.
"The law comes from the Education Ministry but the problem is with private camps who do not know about it. Parents need to be aware and ask to see the permission letters," said Ben-Baruch, adding that her department runs a wide range of programs for youth raising awareness to issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, as well as watching out for pedophiles.
"We run programs for those who request our services," she said.
Ben-Baruch added, however, that the law itself is problematic. "The letter will only highlight sex offenders who were sentenced to more than one year in prison," she said. "If someone received a lighter sentence it will not show up, allowing him to get a job with children. I believe the law needs changing."
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