Thursday, 29 October 2009

Adventure Playgrounds - why we say NO to parents

By the Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill (LD)

What has happened to the world!!! When a council fails to safeguard children they are, quite rightly pilloried in every newspaper. Yet, when we take a positive decision to safeguard children, by ensuring that all children left at a supervised play session are only left under the care of qualified CRB checked and legit staff, we get hounded for it! One journalist even declared we were breaching the human rights of the parents we don’t want hanging around!!!!!!!

The bottom line is we run two great adventure playground facilities that operate as a drop off for parents after school and at weekends. We have done this for years, no worries, parents happy and appreciative. At one playground a few parents started to stay around for all the sessions, this increased to the extent that staff felt they were spending more time worrying about what the parents were up to rather than watching and supervising the children! They should not have been allowed to stay that’s never been the policy, so yes we were lax in allowing it and have now decided to tighten up.

Imagine what those same papers would say if a child was snatched from the playground and we were accused of allowing free access of adults onto our site. Or worse still one of those adults was using it to acquire knowledge of and groom other children - yes sadly it happens we all know that. Again, we would rightly be pilloried . Those same parents don’t stay at school with their kids nor would any one expect them too. If parents want to play with their kids great there are loads of parks and places to go – we’ve got over 40 in Watford along with children’s centres and community centres; but our adventure playgrounds are supervised drop off schemes, where the only adults are our staff who will care for and look after your kids while you do something else. Bliss and oh and it’s free….. As a society we really can’t have it both ways.

The Heresiarch notes:

1) This piece first appeared on Ms Thornhill's blog, but it has since been removed.

2) Ms Thornhill was responding to the story that originally appeared in the Watford Observer, after parents complained that they had been banned from watching their own children using the facilities at two adventure playgrounds. It has since been reported in several national newspapers, and has drawn a typically forthright response by Henry Porter. He notes that the decision is "a fundamental breach of rights, but almost as serious is the offence to common sense."

3) Watford council claims that their refusal to allow parents to observe their own children using these public facilities is in accordance with government policy. They state, "Due to Ofsted regulations we have a responsibility to ensure that every authorised adult who enters our site is properly vetted and given a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check by Watford Borough Council."

4) Ofsted, however, deny that such guidelines exist. A spokesman is quoted by the Telegraph as follows:

"Ofsted would never seek to prevent parents and carers having access to their own children... Many settings operate very well with parents and carers present, and indeed this can be an important part of young children settling somewhere new."

It was, of course, Ofsted who a few weeks ago maintained that two policewomen would not be allowed to look after one another's children without being CRB checked and registered as childminders, so they can scarcely be regarded as lax when it comes to applying regulations. From where, then, did Watford Council get the idea that the rules should be interpreted so bizarrely?

5) Mayor Thornhill's lavish use of exclamation marks is oddly reminiscent of Glenda Slagg.

6) Thornhill genuinely seems to believe that parents pose a danger to their own and others' children. She writes of "the parents we don’t want hanging around", rather than "unknown adults". She also considers it "lax" that some parents were being allowed to watch their own children play.

7) Complaints about the presence of parents seem to have come from members of staff rather than from other parents. Thornhill writes, "staff felt they were spending more time worrying about what the parents were up to rather than watching and supervising the children!" Why were they worrying about what the parents were up to? Why should it be regarded as suspicious that parents took an interest in their children's play activities?

8) Since parents were not playing an official supervisory role at the playgrounds, they cannot be said to be in a position of responsibility. It is therefore illogical for Thornhill to claim that the decision has anything to do with ensuring that the children were "under the care of qualified CRB checked and legit staff".

9) The playgrounds are set up in such a way that it is easy to exclude non-related adults, and impossible to abduct children from the playground. The entrance to the facilities are controlled, and children have to be registered at the point of entry. Thornhill's melodramatic fears that admitting parents would lead to the playgrounds being infiltrated by paedophiles are demonstrably groundless.

10) Dorothy Thornhill was at number 43 on the Telegraph's list of the most influential Liberal Democrats in Britain, as compiled by Iain Dale with the aid of a panel of Lib Dem advisers. Dale described Watford as "a target seat for the LibDems at the next election" and added that "her tenure as mayor will prove crucial to their fortunes."

She Twitters at and her email address is

11) As Thornhill writes so eloquently, What has happened to the world!!!???

UPDATE (Important)