· 2 min read · Features

HR's role in safeguarding children


The focus on the role of HR in safeguarding children has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Recently this issue has been brought into sharp focus again by cases such as teacher William Vahey who was found to have previous child abuse convictions but went on to gain a position at an elite London school.

HR has played a much bigger part in helping to safeguard children over the past decade, with many organisations changing their systems to ensure they are employing appropriate people to work with children. But sadly we are still seeing the consequences of poor practice and we know these can be devastating. 

The harrowing murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells highlighted the need for change in systems as early as 2002. The Bichard Inquiry into the case of these two school girls revealed a stark number of HR failures in relation to Ian Huntley. Previous investigations into the college caretaker for sexual crimes hadn’t been identified by police checks, references weren’t obtained correctly and Huntley’s work history hadn’t been checked for accuracy.

After this information came to light, more robust systems were implemented nationally, including that all applications for positions in schools should be subject to a requirement for enhanced disclosure criminal record checks. 

We at the NSPCC were also keen to help stop adults such as Ian Huntley from working with children – which is why we now work with organisations to explore how they can make their HR practice safer. We know that safer recruitment is about much more than obtaining a satisfactory criminal record check on candidates, which is why we offer consultancy services to review policies, procedures, and practice, and work with organisations to better understand their culture and the impact this has on safeguarding. We offer advanced interviewing techniques and specialist courses that help you to adequately risk assess any disclosures. 

Research indicates that not all child abusers actively target organisations for that purpose – some are opportunistic and some are situational – and that is why taking a robust approach to safeguarding through HR is so important.

Those extra checks can tell you so much more about a person; it is about ensuring that the information you have about a candidate is consistent, can be verified and is accurate. It is about assessing whether a candidate has the right attitude, values and behaviours to work with children. And it is about employers providing staff with a thorough induction and training to help them understand exactly what is expected of them. 

But we also need to remember that safeguarding goes beyond the recruitment stage. In 2013, Jeremy Forrest, a teacher at a secondary school, was convicted of child abduction and sexual activity with a child. Staff at the school had failed to act on the concerns of pupils or identify his inappropriate behaviour.

Similarly in 2012, Nigel Leat, a primary school teacher, was convicted of 36 sexual offences against children at the school where he taught. The serious case review that followed found that the schools management had failed to act on the concerns of staff and parents about his inappropriate behaviour with pupils.

It is vitally important that those we are trusting to work with children and young people will keep them safe. By considering a safeguarding perspective through HR you can ensure you are doing everything possible to protect the children and young people you work with. 

If you would like more information about how the NSPCC can help with safeguarding call 0808 800 5000 (option 3) or email organisationalsafeguarding@nspcc.org.uk

Anyone who has concerns about a child or wants advice can contact the NSPCC for free 24 hours a day, by calling 0808 800 5000, emailing help@nspcc.org.uk, texting 88858 or using an online reporting form. They can choose to remain anonymous if they wish.

Donya Pourzand is the NSPCC’s HR safeguarding consultant