Does anyone in your organisation work with children? Here’s five steps to improve your recruitment practices

Everyone cares about the safety of kids. But making your organisation safe for children starts long before you bring on new staff or volunteers. From advertising and conducting interviews to performing background and reference checks, the safety of the children starts with your organisation’s core recruitment practices.

Which is why in January 2016 the Victorian Government imposed compulsory new minimum child-safe standards on organisations that work with children – though you don’t have to be in Victoria to benefit from them.

Based on the Victorian standards, here’s how you can make your organisation more child-safe at each of the five key stages of the recruitment process:

1. Selection criteria

Developing a strong and clear selection criteria is important for many reasons – mostly, to determine that candidates have the skills to do the job. But it’s also a valuable first step in minimising the risk of hiring someone who poses a risk to children.

Your selection criteria should clearly state the experience, qualifications, qualities and attributes expected from the successful applicant, and outline the supervision and accountability processes in place.

Examples of appropriate selection criteria include ‘experience working with children’ or ‘demonstrates an understanding of appropriate behaviours when engaging with children’.

Through the selection criteria, make sure candidates can demonstrate their understanding of or experience in working with children, particularly when it comes to children with special needs and those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

2. Advertising

In order to demonstrate your commitment to protecting children and deter would-be offenders, your advertisements should:

  • Include a message about your organisation’s commitment to child safety;
  • Include a reference to your organisation’s code of conduct and child-safe policy;
  • Inform applicants that your organisation will undertake rigorous reference and background checks, including a Working With Children Check, and police record and identity check;
  • Include a statement on your organisation’s commitment to the safety, participation and empowerment of all children, including those with a disability; and
  • Include a statement on your organisation’s commitment to cultural safety, inclusion and empowerment of Indigenous children, their families and communities.

Further, consider reaffirming your organisation’s commitment to diverse communities by encouraging people from Indigenous and culturally/linguistically diverse backgrounds to apply.

3. Interviews

When your organisation works with children, there’s a lot at stake in getting things right with your interview process.

First, make sure you have the right interview panel. Beyond just the manager of the person to be hired or an HR person, you might include a member of the community that the person will be working with – for example, a person with a disability or a person from a culturally and/or linguistically diverse background.

Next, the child-safe standards recommend open-ended interview questions that will give you an insight into the candidate’s values, attitudes and understanding of professional boundaries and how they would behave in certain situations.

Examples of these types of questions include, ‘Tell me about a time you had to manage a child whose behaviour you found challenging?’ or ‘Can you share an example of a time you had to comfort a distressed child?’

Throughout the interview process, be sure to ask for more information if you feel the candidate hasn’t provided enough. Other things to look out for include unexplained lengthy gaps in employment history, evasive or inconsistent answers, or if the applicant claims not to need supervision.

4. Pre-employment screening

Working With Children Check

All states and territories have legislation requiring people doing child-related work (and who are not exempt) to have a Working With Children Check (WWC). All applicants – both paid and volunteer – should hold a valid WWC, or provide evidence of having applied. And in the case of the latter, does your organisation have appropriate processes to follow up pending applications?

Police checks

It’s important – though often not easy – to ask candidates if they have any criminal convictions, findings of improper conduct, or formal disciplinary action taken against them in previous roles. This might involve asking the candidate to sign a declaration as part of their application, but asking in an interview is important, too. Just explain that your organisation takes child safety seriously, which is why you’ll be asking them about these issues.

Reference checks

To get a strong insight into an applicant’s character and skills, ensure you speak to at least two referees – ideally previous managers, who are likely to provide you with more accurate references, rather than colleagues or friends. And where possible, speak to referees who can provide insights into the candidate’s experience working with children.

If a candidate is uncomfortable providing any of their past direct managers as a referee, make sure they have a satisfactory reason for this.

Some questions to ask include:

  • How long have you worked with the candidate?
  • Can you provide me with the responsibilities of the position they held?
  • What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate?
  • Do you have any concerns about the candidate working with children?
  • Would you employ the candidate to work with children again?

You might also like to ask behavioural questions like, ‘What did the candidate do when they had to comfort a distressed child?’

Additional checks

Identity checks are also important – be sure to check the candidate’s driver’s licence or passport, as well as certified copies of any necessary qualification documentation.

5. Probation periods

Usually between three and six months in length, probation periods can help you assess a new staff member’s suitability for both the job and organisation before committing to permanent employment.

If any concerns emerge during the probation period, it important to consider whether they should remain in the job or organisation, rather than just giving them ‘another chance’.

You could also consider utilising this period to provide new staff members with closer supervision, additional training and other support needs.

To find out more about the new standards and how you might apply them to your organisation, see the Child-Safe Standards Resources on the Victorian Department of Human Services website.

How do your organisation’s practices compare to these standards? If your organisation has practices which could help others, please share in the comments below.

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