Why background screening is essential for community workers

Healthcare, community work and social work are some of the most selfless, altruistic and admirable industries to engage in – whether as a career path or in a volunteer capacity. These vocations are focussed on the wellbeing of others, and meeting the needs of the vulnerable in our community.  

There are, of course, many facets to these types of work, including aged care, charity work, youth work, counselling, caring for those with disabilities – all differing in their nature and obligations. What they all have in common, however, is managing the welfare of vulnerable people and sensitive information. Because of this, it is essential that those working or volunteering in these fields are trustworthy, and that this is verified through background checks. 

The types of check required may differ based on the role, but two very common ones are police checks and reference checks. We’ll go through the value and importance of these in relation to social and community work. 

Police Checks 

National Police checks are conducted for safety compliance and so employers can make informed decisions about a candidate’s suitability to a role. For example, it would be inappropriate for someone who has been convicted of a sexual crime to work with or around children. It may also be inappropriate for someone who has been convicted of a drug-related offence to work in healthcare with access to prescription medications. These checks are essential in ensuring the safety of individuals and organisations. 

A national police check runs the candidate’s name against Australian police records to identify disclosable outcomes. These include findings of guilt, but do not display spent convictions (greater than ten years old), traffic infringements, or findings of non-guilt. 

This result of the police check is sent to the relevant employer or organisation to aid in their hiring process. Note: if you have a criminal history, this does not necessarily mean you cannot be engaged in community work. In fact, many people find that their experience informs their decision to enter the social work sector. A person can only be disqualified from a position based on their criminal history if it relates directly to the inherent requirements of the job, as detailed by the Australian Human Rights Commission

Reference Checks 

Reference checks are the human element of screening, a more subjective background check. These provide a window into a person’s past behaviour, both professionally and personally. References have been shown to be one of the most heavily-weighted checks by employers in deciding which candidates move forward.  

Jobs in healthcare, social and community work revolve around people, so a candidate’s social skills and personal conduct are of great relevance and importance. Just over ten years ago, the Quaker’s Hill Nursing home went up in flames as a result of an individual trying to conceal his theft of prescription medications. Eleven people died as a result of the blaze, and the man responsible was sentenced to life imprisonment. It was later discovered that he had provided outdated references, and had a history of vandalism, suspensions and risking patient care. This highlighted the value of conducting thorough background screening, and following up on references.  

A person’s previous workplaces provide an accurate snapshot into their past behaviour, informing employers of likely future behaviour. Therein lies the value of reference checks, particularly in the field of social work, where safeguarding vulnerable people is of the highest priority.  

Other Checks 

While Police checks and Referencing are two of the most common background screening tools, other checks are often required. These may include working with children checks (also known as blue cards or working with vulnerable people checks) and credit checks (to prevent financial fraud).  

Background screening is a vital step in the sectors of healthcare, social and community work. These checks ensure that vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, or those with disabilities are protected and cared for by trustworthy individuals. Police checks and referencing are just one level of safeguards applicants must go through to work in these fields, but they are a very important step, not to be underestimated.  

Written by Mary Snowden.


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