Enquire before you hire: The importance of pre-employment screening in schoolsSeptember 4, 2016
Schools and other institutions working with children must apply a range of pre-employment screening practices when recruiting staff. Simply verifying a current Working with Children Check is not good enough.
The aim of pre-employment screening in schools is to make it as difficult as possible for perpetrators to work with children. One tool familiar to all schools will be the various State and Territory legislation that requires employees having contact with children to undergo a “Working with Children” test (or equivalent). However, in its interim report, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse warned against relying only on the mandatory Working with Children Checks. While screening of this nature can be effective in identifying known perpetrators from working with children, it does not detect perpetrators who do not have records of abuse – which is likely to be the majority of cases.
Tragically, the Royal Commission heard many case studies where comprehensive pre-employment screening practices did not occur, and as a result unsuitable people gained employment in child-related work and went on to sexually abuse children in their care.
It is therefore imperative that schools implement a range of recruitment practices to supplement mandatory pre-employment checks in order to safeguard children. In Victoria, the implementation of these practices will also be necessary to comply with the Child Safe Standards. In particular, Child Safe Standard 4 relates to ‘screening, supervision, training and other human resources practices that reduce the risk of child abuse by new and existing personnel’.
Critically examine a candidate’s application and employment history
Schools should critically examine written CVs and job applications for potential signs of a perpetrator. For example, evidence given in the Royal Commission suggested that staff involved in recruitment should be alert to candidates with ‘unusual attitudes about children’, such as:
- Applicants saying they have ‘special relationships’ with children.
- In one case reported to the Royal Commission, a perpetrator had written in his CV that his career ambitions were ‘To work with kids and help them experience life, love and friendships in an environment where there are no walls or boundaries’.
A candidate’s CV may also identify gaps in their employment history that should be explored. Where this is the case, further enquiries should be made to ascertain the reason for such gaps.
Structured employment interviews
Face to face, structured interviews gives the employer an opportunity to clearly articulate the school’s commitment to child safety, and its policies and procedures in place to prevent child abuse. Value-based or behavioural interviewing techniques allows the employer to observe a candidate’s response to these practices.
Proof of identity and verification of qualifications
It is not enough to accept a candidate’s assertions regarding their qualifications. Ensure that checks are done to verify that a candidate actually holds the purported qualifications and registrations. Photographic evidence should also be obtained to verify a candidate’s identity.
Thorough reference checks
Do not simply rely on written references provided by a candidate. A thorough reference check should involve:
- direct contact with previous employers if the candidate consents, otherwise their application may not be progressed;
- questioning referees about any concerns they might have regarding the candidate’s suitability to work with children; and
- being alert to vague or evasive references – there may be an underlying issue.
Candidate self-disclosure declarations
We recommend that schools ask job candidates to complete self-disclosure declarations which require the candidate to declare if they:
- have been subject to allegations of prior unprofessional conduct;
- been charged but not convicted of a criminal offence; or
- have been the subject of any disciplinary action relating to prior unprofessional conduct.
Schools should check other sources of information publically available which may identify suspected or substantiated child abuse, such as case law databases of Court and Tribunal decisions or disciplinary body proceedings.
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