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Checking care workers: International evidence

2016 Conference Presentation

Workforce International

5 September 2016

Checking care workers: International evidence

Jill Manthorpe, King's College London, United Kingdom


Objective: This presentation summarises and discusses the findings of a desk-based international review investigating the checking of staff and volunteers working with adults who are vulnerable or at risk (or similarly defined) receiving social care in their own homes, or in day centres or residential care (long-term care facilities). In England, for example, as part of the government’s attempts to prevent harm to vulnerable people, employers in the health and social care sectors must check a data base holding personal details of criminal records to ascertain if any applicant or member of their workforce is barred from working with vulnerable adults or if they have a relevant criminal record that might indicate particular risk of harm.

Data and method: This review was undertaken in winter 2014/15. It mainly involved a research of internet-based material and databases in the English language. This was further informed by correspondence with experts and practitioners from different countries.

Results: The review located multiple practices internationally, ranging from no checks to substantial checks involving fingerprinting. Different national contexts revealed different reasons for carrying out checks. These extended from efforts to stop fraudulent use of government subsidies to minimising the risk of harm to vulnerable adults, and more positively to enhance user and public trust in care providers. A small number of countries place particular emphasis on the rights of individual employees to privacy and rehabilitation and this moral imperative overrides other policy goals.

An extensive range of factors was seen to influence the decisions made by countries on about the different paths they follow. Competing interests have to be balanced between imperatives such as protection and reassurance of the public; balancing the rights of offenders to privacy and rehabilitation with the need for public and vulnerable people’s protection; identification of offences that are relevant from those that may not be; provision of effective mechanisms for monitoring and controlling the employment of offenders where there is contact with vulnerable people versus discretion; and the costs of implementing systems and upon whom these should fall.

Several countries were found to have compulsory checks for those working with children, such as Australia, Italy, and New Zealand. Without exception a history of sexual abuse offences against children appear always to be as viewed as potential grounds for exclusion from care work or other forms of contact with children. Considerations related to vulnerability among adults varied according to locations and personal characteristics.

Policy implications: Overall our review highlighted a lack of clarity in publicly available documents about the potentially multiple policy goals of different schemes and suggests that there may be advantages to clarifying the options available from other countries and from seeking high quality evidence about the effectiveness of such checks.