Safer Recruitment: Learning the Lessons from Serious Case Reviews

Safer recruitment is an effective first step in keeping dangerous people away from vulnerable children and adults and a crucial part of the safeguarding process. Safer Recruitment covers everything from writing the job description to shortlisting, checks, and references, interviewing and using induction and probation periods to ensure you have hired the right person.

It is a broad topic, but we hope we will be able to offer you some practical guidelines that you can embed into the procedures within your establishment.

It is important to note that the practices of Safer Recruitment should be applied to all individuals working with children and young people whether paid or voluntary.  The examples listed below focus on schools, however, the same principles apply to sports teams, social clubs and other organised or extra-curricular activities that children and young people may participate in.  

How Prevalent are Child Protection Concerns in the UK? 

Below are some key findings from the UK NSPCC research into the prevalence of severe child maltreatment, abuse at home, in school, and in the community, from adults and peers:

  • 1 in 5 children in the UK have experienced severe maltreatment. Children abused by carers or parents and almost 3 times more likely to witness family violence.
  • 1 in 3 children in the UK have seen sexually abused by an adult - There are strong associations are found between maltreatment, sexual abuse, physical violence and poor emotional wellbeing including both self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
  • Over 73,000 recorded offences in the UK including rape, online grooming, and sexual assault against children 2019/2020 – up by 57% in the last 5 years.
  • Between 2012-2018 at least 160 professionals in UK boarding schools had been charged with carrying out sexual assaults.

With these statistics in mind, it is shocking to know that 2 years is the minimum time offenders are listed on the registry in the UK and that only 15% of countries worldwide even have sex offender registry laws. These statistics set the scene and help us understand why safer recruitment is so important and to recognise the dangers schools may face.



Learning the Lessons from Serious Case Reviews*

*Please note some of this content can be upsetting

Ian Huntley

In 2002, Ian Huntley, a school caretaker in Soham, was sentenced to life imprisonment after the murders of two schoolgirls. The two 10-year-old girls, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, disappeared and after an extensive search by police, their bodies were found. Ian Huntley was the senior caretaker at a local school and Maxine Carr, Huntley’s girlfriend, was a teaching assistant at the school the girls attended.

Prior to his appointment at the school, nine allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against Ian Huntley. This information was never shared with the Soham police and the school Huntley worked for were unaware of the many complaints women filed again him none of which he had been prosecuted for. He had been described as domineering, violent and controlling, and there had also been complaints of consensual and non-consensual sexual activities with young girls, many beneath the legal age of consent.

This shocking case forced a focus on safer recruitment. After Huntley’s trial, an inquiry began and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (now known as the Disclosure and Barring Service or DBS) was launched.

Barry Bennell  

Former football coach Barry Bennell sexually abused large numbers of boys from 1970 until the early 1990s and was described by the judge at his criminal trial in February 2018 as the “devil incarnate”. During the time when he committed this abuse, Bennell was involved with several professional clubs including Manchester City, Crewe Alexandra and Stoke City.  

During the time Bennell was associated with Manchester City, the Club was not aware of allegations of his abuse. However, senior management of the Club were made aware of rumours and concerns about Bennell’s conduct yet his activities were not monitored. Members of staff were also aware that boys were staying overnight at Bennell’s house which the club did not investigate.  

Bennell used his respectable status gained through his association with professional clubs and organisations to access children and young people, where he would proceed to befriend, groom, and abuse them.  

On 17 March 2021, Clive Sheldon QC published his long-anticipated independent review into allegations of child sexual abuse in football and how sexual abuse of children was allowed to take place within the sport. Read more on the Sheldon Report HERE. 

Richard Huckle

One of Britain’s most prolific predatory pedophiles, Huckle from Ashford, Kent, was grooming and abusing children between 2006-2014. For nearly a decade Huckle travelled around South East Asia visiting schools and orphanages, posing as an English teacher.

At the time of his arrest in 2014, the freelance photographer was compiling a manual to teach fellow pedophiles how to abuse children and avoid detection. He had even bragged online at the ease of targeting impoverished children compared with those from wealthy western backgrounds.

He was jailed in 2016 after admitting 71 charges of sexual abuse against children aged between six months and 12 years old, although his number of victims is suspected to be closer to 200.  

Safe Practice in Recruitment

Based on these serious case reviews we can conclude that there needs to be a global effort to share information on paedophiles, many of whom travel to conceal their history and prior convictions.

Safer Recruitment is the method of designing your recruitment process to deter people from applying for roles with vulnerable groups, and to identify and reject them if they do. A well-planned and structured recruitment procedure and process is vital in ensuring the best person is recruited for the role, and to determine whether someone is suitable to work with children. 

Schools have a legal responsibility to do all that they can to stop dangerous people from gaining access to their pupils and students. They are in a good position to proactively deter individuals by having checks in place, confirming and following up on professional references, requiring proof of identity, criminal checks, and contacting authorities of other countries they have lived in to ensure there is no criminal history.

DBS Checks for Under 18's

In September 2012 the UK government made it mandatory that children/young adults over the age of 16 must have a DBS check when applying or volunteering for roles that require one. Children under 16-year-olds will also require a DBS check when taking part in volunteering, part-time work or unpaid work experience which involves regulated activity with those under 18, even if the individual is also under 18 and over 16 themselves.  



3 Stages to Safer Recruitment 

  1. Deter - to stop unsuitable people from applying for a position. Sending out clear messages in job advertisements that your organisation has strict recruitment policies in place to protect vulnerable children and young people
  2. Identify and Reject - unsuitable people lie to get close to children, any details they give must be checked, cross-referenced and applicants screened
  3. Prevent and Reject - follow up with a rigorous induction and probation period to check the right person has been appointed. Continue to train staff and promote a safe culture within your organisation. Check out the training we offer for Safer Recruitment. 

Laws and Policies to ensure everyone is treated fairly

You want to ensure that your organisation is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people and you will expect all staff and volunteers to share this commitment. It is vital for all members of staff to have copies of these policies.

  • Safer Recruitment Policy – robust policies that cover the recruitment process
  • Equality and Diversity – The Equality Act to ensures equal opportunities and that everyone is treated fairly and considerately
  • Rehabilitation of Offenders Policy – part of DBS code of practice, any work involving children means previous offences must be disclosed
  • Whistleblowing Policy – provides members of staff with guidance on how to raise concerns internally and confidentially

The Single Central Record

The Single Central Record (SCR) is a register that records all the essential recruitment checks that are undertaken prior to a person being appointed to a role.

It is important all staff are checked; full-time staff as well as part-time, including teacher trainees on salaried routes. For support staff make sure to request written confirmation from any third parties that this individual has passed their checks. Under no circumstance should a volunteer be left alone with children if no checks have been obtained and the same applies to Governors who also work as volunteers. All activities involving relativesguardians, visitors and contractors on school premises must be supervised

It is also important for organisations to have policies for school trips, sports events where chaperons are necessary, overnight stays and any other organised or extra-curricular activities that children and young people may participate in. 



Remaining Vigilant 

While using a safer recruitment process gets you a long way towards helping to protect vulnerable people, it can never guarantee child safety completely and should be part of the wider safeguarding process. Have clear safeguarding policies and procedures and ensure that all staff and volunteers are aware of them and understand them. This includes processes for reporting concerns, ensuring that everyone knows what they are and that they are responsible for following them. All staff should feel confident that they could spot warning signs and feel empowered to report any concerns they may have. 

Never think that enough has been done to ensure a safe culture, learn from experience and if necessary, adapt your policies and procedures accordingly. 

Posted Date

25th March 2021

Georgia Latief
Marketing Content Manager

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