It’s fairly common knowledge that people who work with children or vulnerable adults have to go through a process of being checked to make sure they’re suitable for the job and don’t have any criminal history which makes them inappropriate for working with these groups. There are separate organisations which administer these checks depending on whether you work in England and Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, but the process is basically the same for all workers. There is however more confusion when it comes to volunteers – who gets checked and who doesn’t?
There are often no hard and fast rules when it comes to which volunteers need to go through the checking process and which do not. Some cases are clear; a parent going into to school to take small groups of children away for extra reading or someone running a netball team on their own will require to be checked, and the school or netball organisation will provide the process for getting this done. But what about parents helping on a school trip or someone who volunteers at the tea bar in the hospital? This is more of a grey area. Schools will have their own policies, and will be able to let volunteers know what is expected. Many schools do not require parents to go through checks just to help out on an ad-hoc basis, only when their volunteering is regular. Teachers and other staff will take other precautions when working with volunteers without checks such as making sure they are always supervised and never left in sole charge of a group of children. Volunteers should be made aware of what they should and should not be doing – as much for their own protection as that of the children.
Applying for Checks as a Volunteer
The process for applying for checking or disclosures is the same whether the applicant is in paid employment or working on a voluntary basis. The applicant first fills in the form, and then has it checked by the body through which they are applying for the check to be done. At this stage their identity will also be checked and the applicant will have to show identity documents such as passport, driving licence or utility bills. The form will then be sent to DBS, Disclosure Scotland or AccessNI for processing, and in a few weeks, a certificate will be issued stating any criminal convictions. The main difference for volunteers is the cost. All three bodies who issue checks recognise the contribution that volunteers make in all sorts of ways to society, and waive checking fees for people who are volunteering with recognised organisations. You should therefore not be asked to pay a fee towards having your checks done as a volunteer, so query it if you are asked for money.
Once you’re in the system, the process for vetting a volunteer is just the same as for anyone else. Processing times vary depending on where you are in the country and getting a certificate issued can take anything from a few days to a month or more.