Government to allow cohabitees of serious offenders to work in nurseries

By Neil Puffett

| 03 July 2018

The government is to change regulations so that people who live with serious offenders can get a childcare job in nurseries and schools, amid concerns the current system is unfair.

Regulations relating to disqualification by association in nurseries and schools are set to change from September. Picture: Adobe Stock

Currently, childcare workers can be disqualified because someone who lives or works in their household has been cautioned for, or convicted of, certain offences. Offences that currently lead to an automatic "disqualification by association" include sex offences, murder and kidnapping.

The government launched a consultation on possible changes to the rules in 2016, after concerns were raised that they were not fair and proportionate. The consultation received 440 responses, the overwhelming majority of which (78 per cent) indicated that the disqualification by association arrangements are "unfair".

"It is clear from the consultation responses that there is a significant consensus that the current arrangements are widely considered unfair and that they represent a disproportionate response to the risk to children," the government response states.

"We do though want to ensure employers are aware of and are able to respond to safeguarding risks, including cases where providers and employees are at risk of undue influence from members of their household.

"We are committed to continuing to work with providers and other stakeholders to raise awareness of how to identify and mitigate potential risks."

The government said it will strengthen existing guidance to reinforce importance of existing safeguarding policies, including the requirements on all employers to conduct safe recruitment checks.

"It will also encourage employers to consider whether their policies are clear about the expectations they place on staff, including where their relationships and associations outside of the workplace may have implications for the safeguarding of children," the response states.

"Our aim is to help employers create the right culture and environment, so they can safeguard their employees' welfare and help them manage children's safety."

The government also said it will amend regulations relating to childcare workers who are foster carers, who have adopted children in their household, or who were once in care themselves, are no longer automatically disqualified. The regulations for childminders working from home will remain the same.

The changes, which are due to come into effect from September, have received a mixed response from the sector.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said she welcomed the government's clarity on this issue and is pleased it has listened to the early years sector.

"The existing rules about disqualification by association were very complicated and unclear," she said.

"We first highlighted this to the Department for Education a number of years ago and developed resources to help nurseries manage this issue.

"Nurseries must have robust safeguarding procedures which should ensure that all children are safe while any practitioners whose household arrangements are looked into carefully remain in situ."

However, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said he has concerns about the changes.

"Any changes to government regulations impacting schools and early years providers should always have the safety and wellbeing of children as their utmost priority, and so we are both disappointed and concerned that the government has decided on a wholesale removal of existing disqualification by association rules," he said.

"We know that the current rules are often a source of confusion and difficulty for early years providers and it's clear that steps to make these rules clearer and less onerous for practitioners have been long overdue.

Nevertheless, it is vital that this is balanced with the need to ensure the safety of the children attending schools and early years settings and so while we recognise that this decision is supported by the majority of consultation responses, we still do not think that the government's chosen approach strikes this balance."

He added that he was disappointed that the consultation was limited to schools and group providers, and did not look at arrangements for childminders.

"While we recognise that there are key differences between the way in which these settings operate, and that this will inevitably have an impact on the way that disqualification by association rules should be applied, this was never a reason to exclude childminders from the scope of the consultation completely," he said.

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