Police Checks when working with the vulnerable – a necessity and a legal requirement.
Police checks (National Criminal History Checks) are a common procedure in Australia for employment purposes. Many recruiters request a mandatory police check from candidates as part of the job entry process. This is mainly to verify the identity of the candidate, and to disclose important information regarding their police history which may affect their suitability for the role they apply for.
Australian police checks strengthen the employment screening process to protect the most vulnerable people in the community. By accessing the details of a person’s police background through a criminal record check, the organisation or employer can make an informed choice as to whether they post a threat to vulnerable persons. All applicants must be thoroughly assessed and approved for work in this sector.
Who Is Classified As A Vulnerable Person?
A vulnerable person refers to:
- Minors under the age of 18, i.e. a child or children
- A person over the age of 18 who is or may not be able to take care of themselves. This includes an inability to protect themselves against harm or exploitation.
In general terms, there are three groups of people in the community who are categorised as vulnerable persons. This includes children, the elderly and people with a disability. A National Police Check can be used for pre-employment screening for individuals working or seeking to work with any of these groups. There are also other types of checks which provide a more thorough screening for each group, such as Working With Children Checks and NDIS Worker Screening Checks.
What Makes A Person Vulnerable?
A person is classified as vulnerable if they are not completely capable of taking care of themselves, whether for physical or mental purposes. It could be for reasons of age, disability, physical or mental illness, trauma, or any other matter that makes a person less able to protect and care for themselves.
What Is The Vulnerable Sector?
The sector of industry which works with vulnerable people includes any type of setting where a level of care is provided. This includes the aged care sector, childcare and care for people with a disability.
People working in this sector are employed to support and care for the mental and physical wellbeing of people who cannot fully care for themselves.
Positions working with the vulnerable can include:
- Roles within Information and Technology services which handle sensitive information belonging to vulnerable people or where the employee has access to personal information
- Voluntary positions working in various community service industries such as mental health services, women’s services, homeless support, youth support, addiction support etc.
- Health professions such as doctor and nurse roles
- Carers, residential support workers and community support workers
- Any child-related employment, including health, education, child welfare, entertainment and religious sectors
What Requirements Are Needed To Work With The Vulnerable?
The main requirement needed for undertaking work with vulnerable groups is a National Police Check to produce a full criminal record check. This not only determines that the person does not have any prior convictions, but confirms that the person is who they claim to be.
An individual cannot partake in work, whether employed or voluntary, with vulnerable people without obtaining national police clearance.
Who Cannot Work With The Vulnerable?
Following the disclosure of a person’s criminal record check on a National Criminal History Check, the information will be assessed.
Having a criminal record does not definitely exclude you from working with vulnerable people. However, this is highly dependent upon the offences committed, and the role which you apply for. Each case is assessed individually by police authorities and many aspects are taken into consideration during the review. For example, this could include how long ago the offence happened, the nature of the offence, how relevant it is to the role, and the type and level of contact that the applicant will have with the vulnerable person.
Some prior convictions which include serious crimes will immediately prevent the person from working with vulnerable people. This typically includes murder, assault, sex crimes and cruelty to children.
It is the responsibility of the police agencies across Australia to ensure the disclosure of important criminal history on a National Police Certificate so that employers are made aware before hiring any individual.
Why Is A Police Check Important?
A police check is crucial for industries working with vulnerable groups whether children, the elderly or disabled persons. This is because the organisation must know who they are hiring and carry out a full risk assessment based on the individual’s background check. Mandatory police clearance strengthens the screening process to prioritise the safety and protection of those with a vulnerability.
An Australian national police check is highly common for pre-employment processes. Putting and keeping the vulnerable in safe hands is a top priority for police check requirements. Only fully screened and approved individuals should be given access to work with vulnerable people to ensure the best possible level of service and protection to those who need it.
The background check will reveal any prior offences committed by the employee/potential employee which will be reviewed to determine if these prior crimes could put vulnerable people in their care at risk.
Caring for vulnerable people is a serious profession, and a police check is vital for this industry.
What Protective Measures Are In Place?
When a person applies for a job working with vulnerable people, they are required to submit a police check for safety measures. Every National Police Check requires 4 identity documents and some personal information including names, date and place of birth, and 5 year residential address history. The document requirement is in place to better confirm and validate the person’s identity while checking for consistency in the person’s information.
When applying for a police check online, the applicant will be asked to confirm whether they are going to be working with children or vulnerable people. This gives the police agencies a better understanding of the importance of the criminal background check, and allows the application to be assessed correctly using the right protocol.
The authorities will then use spent convictions legislation and other relevant policies to determine the potential level of risk from the individual. The screening will review any patterns in behaviour, one-off offences, or crimes which could be linked to or have an impact on vulnerable persons.
There are other types of checks which are targeted to specific industries within the vulnerable care sector, including Working with Children Checks and NDIS Worker Checks for those working with people who are living with a disability.
Working With Children Checks
The Working With Children Check in Australia is another type of police check for screening people who work or seek to work with children, including volunteers. While each Australian state and territory has its own measures in place, Working with Children Checks are mandatory across Australia to ensure safe environments for children.
People who may require a this type of check include anybody applying for child-related work, such as the following:
- Accommodation services
- Child protection
- Coaching, clubs and sports
- Child health
- Child transport services
- Religious organisations
NDIS Worker Screening Checks
An NDIS Worker Screening Check is the assessment of an individual who works with, or applies to work with people with disability. This is different to a National Police Check in that it is more thorough, and is targeted directly to those who seek to work in disability services.
The assessment clarifies if the individual could be harmful to the disabled persons, or pose any sort of risk to them. This will prevent unsuitable candidates from being employed in certain roles that work closely with people with disability.
More information on NDIS Worker Screening Checks can be found on the website of the NDIS Commission.
Working With Vulnerable People Registration
The Working with Vulnerable People Registration is another type of check for individuals working with vulnerable groups. This is an assessment which is ongoing to ensure the eligibility of the individual employed or volunteering in a vulnerable persons environment.
Unlike the National Police Check which is a point in time check, the Working with Vulnerable People Registration is ongoing, performing regular reviews of a person’s criminal history or any other police related information. Whether or not you need this type of check is dependent on the legislation of different states and territories in Australia.
Spent Convictions Scheme
The general aim behind spent convictions legislation is to stop individuals from being judged by certain older, previous convictions by limiting the disclosure of such offences following a period of good behaviour. This is the case where convictions are less serious, or were committed a long time ago when the individual was a youth.
Under Commonwealth law, the spent convictions scheme is usually passed after a 10 year period if the offender has continued with good behaviour and has not reoffended in this time.
In many cases, individuals with spent convictions who apply for jobs working with vulnerable groups will have their full police history disclosed, no matter how long ago the offence took place.
How Long Is A Police Check Valid For?
A National Police Check is valid at the date of issue, which means the certificate only reports on offences up to this date. This is called a point in time check. While a national police certificate does not officially expire, organisations and employers must decide how often they require an updated check, and whether it is satisfactory to accept an old check.
How To Get A Check
A National Police Check can be obtained by applying for a police check online with an ACIC accredited NPC provider such as Worker Checks.
Some organisations will have their own protocol for obtaining a police check and will use particular providers. You should check this when applying for a job, but it is usually referenced in the job advertisement.
Your organisation or potential employer should inform you of any other types of police check you may need, such as checks for working in the childcare or disability sector. Organisations often use police checks as part of their own investigation into candidates, but some roles are required by law to include certain types of checks, such as Working with Children Checks and NDIS Worker Screening Checks.
How Police Checks Protect The Vulnerable
Police checks work as a proactive measure to prevent danger or harm coming to the people in society who are more vulnerable. By conducting a police check during the employment process before an individual begins working in the industry, the employer or organisation is informed of important information which may affect the decision as to whether the person applying for the role poses a risk.
People working with the vulnerable populations must be of good character, and not have any prior convictions or charges which could jeopardize the safety of the person or people under their care.
All organisations in the vulnerable care industry must ensure proper protocol is followed and measures are taken to keep those most at risk in the safest environment.