As pressures grow on sports clubs to produce and capture the best individuals at an increasingly early age, they must ensure that there are adequate procedures in place to protect the welfare of youngsters.

In Autumn 2008, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (the Act) 2006 will come into full force. It will extend fully to England and Wales whilst some provisions will also extend to Northern Ireland.

The primary aim of the Act (which introduces a new ‘Vetting and Barring Scheme’) is to help avoid harm, or risk of harm, to children and vulnerable adults. It aims to do this by preventing those who are deemed unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults from gaining access to them through their work. The new scheme will cover employees and volunteers in the education, care and health industries, so affecting some 11.3 million people.

Individuals who come into contact with children or vulnerable adults through a regulated activity will need to be vetted and registered with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). A regulated activity is widely defined as any form of teaching, training or instruction of children; any form of care for or supervision of children as well as any form of advice or guidance provided wholly or mainly for children, if the advice or guidance relates to their physical, emotional or educational well-being.

The ISA will assess every employee or volunteer who wants to work, or is already working, with vulnerable people. Individuals will be barred either automatically – if they are convicted or cautioned for certain offences (for example violence and any form of sexual offence) – or following a decision by the ISA which, in reaching its decision, will take into account other offences, cautions, or any relevant information. If individuals are barred, they will be included in the barred list established and maintained by the ISA. If individuals are considered suitable, they will be admitted onto the ISA register which will be monitored and maintained by the ISA and will be accessible by employers.

Employers will also have an additional obligation to refer any information they have about an individual, which would render them unsuitable, to the ISA.

Impact….

The impact on clubs and leagues, which run sports youth clubs or training groups, will be significant. The law will require all current employees and volunteers, as well as any potential recruits, to go through the vetting process and be registered with the ISA.

The sanctions are also noteworthy. It is illegal to employ an unregistered person and if an individual is recruited or is already employed whom an employer knows is unsuitable to work with vulnerable groups this can result in imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000 for the employer.

What employers should do...

There will be a need for everyone involved in sports teaching and training from coaches, referees to welfare officers and medics - who have access to children, to be registered with the ISA.

This will mean that individuals will need to undergo a ‘Criminal Records Bureau’ (CRB) check. CRB checks are a way of checking an individual’s history to make sure they do not have any convictions that might mean that they are not safe to work with children. Employers will need to ensure that these checks are carried out on existing employees and volunteers as well as for future recruits. The Act requires a person to apply for his own record from the CRB. The process is rigorous and bureaucratic, and currently costs £64 for each check to be carried out by the CRB. Once the vetting process has been completed, the individual can be registered and lawfully employed to work with children and vulnerable adults.

Existing employees and volunteers

From 2010, existing employees and volunteers with no CRB check must apply for ISA registration. Even if current employees have already been through a CRB check, it is best practice to begin by checking staff whose CRB records are the oldest. Without a clear record, none of these individuals can be registered with the ISA and therefore cannot be lawfully employed.

New employees and volunteers

From October 2009, new job applicants will need to apply for ISA registration and employers cannot recruit workers who are not ISA registered. It may be prudent for sports clubs to require any new applicants for jobs with the club to make sure that they are registered with the ISA in advance of applying for any role which would potentially bring them into contact with children. This could be required as criteria which will need to be met before an applicant is even considered for a job, through recruitment adverts in newspapers etc.

October 2009

The new Vetting and Barring Scheme is presently being phased in but the government aims to have it fully operational by October 2009. Individuals cannot be registered until the system is in place, however, employers should be aware of the new legislation and put into place steps in preparation for when the Scheme is fully set up.

Sports clubs will need to ensure that they comply with the new legislation in order to avoid committing a criminal offence. The aim of the new legislation is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people – the very people whom sports clubs are looking to recruit, train and retain for the club’s future success. The fact that children and young people (under 18s) are now to have greater statutory protection should assist clubs in their quest for the stars of the future as parents will be reassured that, in complying with the new law, clubs will be less likely to expose their children to the risk of inappropriate behaviour from coaching staff and others.

Further information about the scheme, including a “Vetting and Barring Scheme Overview” and a sign-up for updates, is available online at:

http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/socialcare/safeguarding/vettingandbarring and http://www.isa-gov.org.uk/