HUNDREDS of child protection officers are to be placed in churches as part of a crackdown on child abuse.

The Church of England said the volunteers would be trained to detect signs of child abuse and be recognisable figures for children to approach and discuss problems with.

More than 300 child protection officers across York, Scarborough and Middlesbrough are being trained, said diocese spokesman Martin Sheppard.

The move, which is being introduced nationally, comes alongside checks being administered by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) on people in the church, including Sunday school teachers, wardens and choir leaders.

Mr Sheppard said: "The officers, mainly lay volunteers, have to be approachable adults that children will feel comfortable with. People are entitled to know that they can entrust their children to people in churches."

Acting on a recommendation made by the House of Bishops three years ago, churches within the dioceses of Ripon, Durham and Newcastle are also implementing tightened child protection.

The Reverend John Carter, spokesman for the diocese of Ripon and Leeds, said officers were being placed because of the recent availability of CRB checks.

He said: "It is only within the past few months that the bureau has been able to handle all the checks on the church. Protection officers are being put in place as a person that is trustworthy.

"The officers wouldn't just be acting on behalf of the church, they will be there to detect abuse problems that may be occurring at home or in schools."

The names of child protection officers will appear in the 2003 diocesan directories. They will have the power to consult the police and social services over issues of concern.

Mr Carter said the move was not simply a reaction to one incident.

He said: "Look at the witch-hunt for paedophiles in the community going on at the moment, or the tragic cases of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

"The collection of distressing situations you read about every day makes you realise that you can never do too much."