Father Christmas is approaching his busiest time of year. As all children know, the real Santa is hard at work creating toys for well-behaved kids, and so delegates the responsibility for chatting to children and finding out what they want to a team of helpers. Taking your kids to see Santa is a time-honoured British tradition, but times change and with increasing awareness of child protection issues, does anyone employing a Santa in a department store, or someone volunteering to stand in for Santa at a charity event need to have a DBS check?

Frequency and Intensity Test

The problem which many employers encounter is that applying for DBS clearance takes time. Long backlogs have been experienced in some parts of the country, which could mean that by the time Santa’s DBS check has been processed, we’re almost at Easter. The best rule of thumb is the so-called “frequency and intensity” test. If someone is going to be working or volunteering for more than four days over a month, or once a week, they will need to be checked. Therefore, someone being Santa at a school Christmas Fayre will probably not need to be checked, but someone working full or part time in a department store would.

Previous DBS certificates

There’s no need to re-do DBS checks on an annual basis, so if someone has worked for a store on a seasonal basis before, there’s no need to do checks again. Best practice advises that DBS checks should be redone every three years. If an employee has registered with the DBS Update service the process is even simpler; they can give the employer the log on details and password, and the employer can check the prospective worker’s DBS status immediately. Department stores and other large employers who are recruiting workers to staff their grottoes should where possible use the Update service as it makes the whole process much more streamlined. Remember that although Santa is the main feature of most grottoes, the same principles to elves, helpers and other seasonal employees working with children.

Good Practice for Child Protection

If you’re organising a grotto or “visit Santa” experience which doesn’t fall into the category of needing DBS under the frequency and intensity test, that doesn’t mean that Santa can be allowed to get on with things without any precautions to safeguard children. There’s no need for suspicion and paranoia; organisers should ensure that parents or carers enter Santa’s house or grotto with their children and do not leave them alone with Santa and that there is always someone playing the role of an elf or other helper and ideally, that person should have a DBS check. It’s often said in the press that children “aren’t allowed” to sit on Santa’s knee any more – this is not the case but it is good practice to wait until the child asks if they can sit with Santa rather than Santa inviting the contact. Most professional Santas are well aware of the steps which they need to take to protect themselves, but volunteers might need a gentle reminder.