By Chris Proctor

in Nacro comments

Effective safeguarding is founded on an organisation’s commitment to a set of values that have children’s welfare and wellbeing at its heart.

In my last blog I looked at the case of Vanessa George; a nursery worker who systematically abused young children in her care. While offences of this nature are always shocking, there was something about her being a female, a mother, an upstanding person within her local community, a popular member of staff; she didn’t conform to our idea of a typical child abuser.

But is there such a thing? In his review of cases of institutional abuse, Marcus Erooga (2009) suggests that it is almost impossible to detect potential abusers because they often are just like everybody else. It’s not reasonable, therefore, to expect employers to play detective and try to predict whether an applicant might abuse in a position of trust. However, employers can take preventative steps and implement safer recruitment procedures that evaluate risk and reduce the likelihood of abuse taking place.

Here are some of our top tips for recruiting safely (note that criminal record checks are only a part of this process):

1. Be clear during recruitment

You can help to deter potentially unsuitable applicants from even applying for a role if you are clear about the values of your organisation and your expectations from staff. Ensure job descriptions, person specifications and application forms are clear, unambiguous, and reflect the requirements of the role and the organisation’s commitment to safeguarding. Send candidates information about what is expected of employees and – if you are carrying out criminal record checks – when you will do this and the type of check required.

2. Don’t cut corners on your recruitment methods

Failing to do the basics well has been a recurring theme where abuse in positions of trust has taken place. We all have time pressures in our day-to-day roles, but poor recruitment decisions can have devastating consequences. Be sure to identify and train staff who will be involved in the selection process. Request criminal record declarations from applicants, but make sure that you tell them how this information will be assessed and what they can expect if they do make a declaration – not only will this encourage honesty, but failing to do this might deter potentially suitable candidates.

If you are recruiting for roles that involve regular work with children or vulnerable people, probe and evaluate attitudes and motivations carefully by developing clear interview questions and selection tools. Ensure that a minimum of two people shortlist applications using agreed criteria and identify any gaps where the applicant does not meet the necessary standards. Assess candidates using a range of selection methods wherever possible.

3. Check, double check, then check again

Make sure you verify the information that your shortlisted applicants have supplied. This includes ID documents, qualifications and criminal record information, where relevant. If there are discrepancies, don’t assume that the applicant has intentionally set out to deceive you; give them the opportunity to explain. This is particularly important with criminal record information, where the complexities of disclosure laws in the UK together with the raft of recent reforms make it incredibly difficult for individuals to know exactly what they need to disclose.

Obtain at least two references and follow up vague references (e.g. references which only give the dates of employment or are extremely brief) by phone.

4. Keep accurate records

If you have concerns about a shortlisted applicant’s criminal record, carry out a risk assessment. Remember that you are not expected to predict future offending, but you can gather relevant information to inform a risk assessment which can help you to justify the decision that you reach. If you decide to recruit the applicant, store a copy of the risk assessment, which should include any recommended safeguards to minimise risk, securely together with a copy of their disclosure statement (note that the disclosure statement is the individual’s self-declaration; you should not store copies of criminal record certificates).

5. Implement a robust induction process

Make all appointments subject to a probationary period. During induction of all new staff set clear expectations of acceptable behaviour and the boundaries of their role. Make sure that they have all the relevant training they require to be safe and effective in their role, including what they should do if they have concerns about the behaviour of another member of staff.

6. Regularly review and embed!

Laws change. Policies change. People change. I cannot tell you the number of organisations I speak to who seem to think that just because they have a safeguarding policy on their staff intranet, or organisational values on their website, that they have it covered. These need to be engrained in your organisation and staff. It’s no good doing a risk assessment and burying it in a personnel file to gather dust. All of these processes need to be subject to continuous review. All of your staff should be subject to regular supervision, focusing not just on what they are doing, but their attitudes, values and behaviours.

Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it’s resource intensive. But we only have to read the news to find out what can happen when we don’t invest in safer recruitment practices.

If you would like to find out more about how Nacro can help you with safer recruitment and criminal record risk assessment processes, please contact our Employer Advice Service on 0845 600 3194, or visit our training page here. You can also follow us on Twitter @Nacro_.