It is with pleasure that I have Debbie Alcock, of Influential childcare as my guest blogger. Debbie has been in childcare for over 30 years, 19 of these spent in inspection and regulation, first with the London Borough of Barnet and then with Ofsted. She has held many positions in Ofsted: as a policy writer, inspector, team manager, area manager and lastly as a regulatory inspector dealing with serious concerns and safeguarding. She currently works as a freelance trainer, consultant and writer. In addition, Debbie plays a strong part in the Ofsted Big Conversation and is the London lead for NEYTCO.
“Disqualification by association is one of the 11 reasons that a person may be disqualified from working with children. Since the 1989 Children Act there has been legislation preventing a child being cared for where there is a person with convictions of a certain type living or working in the same premises as the provision. For childminders this meant lodgers, partners, sons and daughters as well as gardeners or cleaners. For nurseries this meant cleaners, drivers of nursery vehicles, cooks and administrators or others if the nursery was in dual use.
However, since 2008 this has developed as we gain a greater understanding of those people who intentionally harm and groom children. We know that most paedophiles groom children and in order to gain their opportunity to abuse they first groom the adults around them. A person who works in a nursery becomes a figure of trust in the community. Parents will know that DBS checks have been done and see a nursery worker or childminder as a ‘safe’ person who they would trust their children with. The partner or nursery workers’ associates, for example, will use this as an opportunity to begin to groom the parents, maybe offering to do odd jobs to befriend them. As a result, and after several cases, the law was expanded to safeguard children by extending these rules to include the families of nursery workers, not just those who would be in close proximity or living on the premises where children were cared for.
The terminology used in the regulations means that if you are lucky enough to be able to afford a gardener or a cleaner, if they are disqualified then you, as a nursery worker, are also disqualified.
Don’t forget that this applies to convictions as well as cautions, reprimands and upcoming cases. It also applies to those who are on the EYFS register as well as the voluntary and compulsory register. It also applies to schools and voluntary organisations, such as the Scout movement.
On the whole, this is a practical precaution to safeguard children. However, it is not just offences that disqualify people, there are an additional six reasons:
- court orders made regarding own children;
- any ban from foster care;
- cancellation of registration as a childcare provider;
- certain orders or notices given to social care managers and owners;
- refusal of a childcare application to register, after April 2007, having received a caution for a disqualifiable offence; and
- if they are on one of the barred lists held by the DBS.
Some of these issues would seem to present little risk to children when we are talking about a person who may live with a nursery worker. But some of these are high risk.
Here are two examples of what may occur:
- A lady found out that she was disqualified from caring for children in a nursery when she declared that her husband of twenty-five years had been convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, commonly known as ABH. Her husband was 45 and this occurred when he was 19. He had been out drinking with friends and agreed they had all had too much to drink. A fight broke out and he got caught up as he tried to get his best friend out of the way. The police arrived and arrested everyone. He sobered up in the cell overnight and was charged with ABH in the morning. In those days there was no CCTV and his lawyer advised him and his friend to plead guilty as it was a first offence and the sentence was likely to be a small fine and community service. He did this, but years later as laws changed he now found that not only was he disqualified from working in any capacity with children but so was his wife. In the years that had passed he had gained qualifications, was working professionally (but not with children and vulnerable adults) and had children of his own. There were no other convictions or cautions on his DBS. A waiver is now needed if his wife wants to continue to work with children.
2. A teenage girl was embarking on a career in childcare. She applied at a setting that would support her to gain qualifications. Her mother had been a childminder for many years and she wanted to build her career using the positive experiences she had gained. During the recruitment process it was found that she was disqualified by association as her mother’s childminding registration had been cancelled. It was cancelled because she didn’t pay the annual fee. The teenager now needs a waiver if she wants to continue to work with children.
The waiver process is in place for people to challenge disqualification and an expert panel, who are able to assess the risks a person may present, will make decisions about the disqualification. These could be that a disqualification is lifted, or it could be refused, but sometimes there are conditions attached such as the person may not collect the nursery worker or be on the premises at any time even for a social event.
Waivers can take time to obtain and no employer may employ a disqualified person – to do so is an offence.
The hard part for employers is that you must not ask a nursery worker for the details of another person’s criminal past, you may only ask if they know of any reason that they are disqualified.
A challenge was made in court about the relevance of some older and less serious crimes. This was successful and there is now a filtering process, meaning some old convictions, cautions and reprimands no longer need to be revealed. The DBS provides a comprehensive guide and some wording you can use when developing your own declaration forms.
Don’t forget that of the 11 reasons for disqualification, only five would come up on a DBS check, the others are for you to make your own forms about and ask the right questions.”
Follow Debbie on Twitter: @alcock_debbie
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