Work to rule: Working with vulnerable

New scheme will assess those who work with vulnerable adults and children.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 follows the findings of the Bichard Inquiry - the inquiry into child protection procedures launched after the conviction of Ian Huntley for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. It recommended that "new arrangements should be introduced requiring those who wish to work with children or vulnerable adults to be registered".

The act lays the foundation for a new vetting and barring scheme, which will be phased in from autumn 2008. The overriding aim of the vetting and barring scheme will be to help avoid harm, or risk of harm, to children and vulnerable adults.

The scheme aims to prevent individuals who are deemed unsuitable from taking employment that would give them access to children and vulnerable adults. It will do this by providing employers with a more effective and streamlined vetting service for potential employees and barring unsuitable individuals from working, or seeking to work, with children and vulnerable adults at the earliest opportunity.

If individuals are barred from the scheme, they cannot carry out what the act refers to as "regulated activities". This is any activity that involves contact with children or vulnerable adults and is of a specified nature - for example, teaching or care. It will include any activity allowing contact with children or vulnerable adults in specified places, such as schools or care homes, and will apply to certain defined positions of responsibility, such as school governorships and trusteeships of certain charities.

Under the act, there will be tough penalties for those employers who fail to carry out the necessary checks or recruit people who have not been approved by the scheme, including fines of up to £5,000. It will be a criminal offence for a barred individual to seek a job in a regulated activity working in close contact with children or vulnerable adults. Employers and parents will be able to check online that prospective employees have been approved by the scheme.

Vetting decisions will be reviewed when new information becomes available, and employers who have registered interest will be notified when individuals cease to have approval.

The responsibility for taking barring decisions will lie with an independent statutory body - the Independent Safeguarding Authority. The application process for decisions will be run by the Criminal Records Bureau.

- Emma Burrows isa partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors.

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