Working with Children and Vulnerable Adults: safeguarding issues

Children and vulnerable adults need protecting from predatory and dangerous individuals who may come into contact with them at work, or where they are working voluntary with children and vulnerable adults. Following institutionalised failures particularly highlighted following a high profile case involving the murders of two young school girls by their school caretaker, new safeguarding legislation was introduced.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012) sets out important requirements of certain employers and organisations, and established a vetting and barring scheme.

Vetting and Barring Scheme

The vetting and barring scheme was introduced under the Act for the purpose of bringing together all relevant information into one place. The responsibility for the scheme is with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) which was formed in 2012. It enables employers and organisations to carry out background checks on potential workers to see if they are on the barred list of individuals who are barred from working in ‘regulated activity’ with children and vulnerable adults.

The DBS is responsible for deciding whether or not an individual should be placed on the barred list, and for processing requests for criminal records checks.

What is ‘regulated activity’?

Under the Act, a regulated activity is a particular job function of an employee as defined by the DBS. Regulated activities are split into two groups: activity with children and activity with adults.

There is no comprehensive list of jobs which are regulated activities, but they would include any activity that involves contact with children or vulnerable adults frequently, intensively and/or overnight (teaching, training, care, supervision, treatment and transportation, etc); school and care home activities; fostering and childcare; and activities of those in positions of responsibility, such as school governors and trustees. Guidance has been issued as to what amounts to regulated activity.

Getting a DBS check

Anyone working in, or taking part in a regulated activity must have a DBS check carried out before they can start their work. However, you cannot do it yourself. Usually, the employer/organisation will give the individual the appropriate form to complete, and they will send their request for a DBS check to the DBS.

There are different checks that may be made, depending on the nature of the work or activities to be carried out. The employer can request:

  • a standard check showing spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings
  • an enhanced check showing the same as a standard check – and any information held by local police that’s considered relevant to the role
  • an enhanced check with barred lists shows the same as an enhanced check plus whether the applicant is on the list of people barred from doing the role

Some self employed people, such as parents who employ private child care, can also carry out appropriate checks.

The DBS also runs an update service allowing applicants to keep their DBS certificates up to date, and employers to check a DBS certificate.

Are there any criminal offences under the Act?

Yes, under the Act, it is a criminal offence:

  • To take part in a regulated activity if you are barred
  • For an employer to take on an individual to work in a regulated activity if they fail to check that person’s status
  • For an employer to allow a barred individual to work in any regulated activity

An employer or an individual who is convicted of an offence under the Act can be fined up to £5,000. In addition, an individual who also commits a further offences, such as a sexual offence, when contravening these rules, may also be charged with a criminal offence under the relevant Act (eg. the Sexual Offences Act 2003), and sentenced if convicted.

Referrals

Under the 2006 Act there is also a legal obligation placed on employers to refer relevant information to the DBS. For example, if an individual has been dismissed from their job, or they resign, because they have harmed a child or vulnerable adult, then this information should be referred by the employer to the DBS.