There are currently around 55,000 fostering families in the UK and, according to the Foster Network, around 30,000 children go into care each year.
Legally, foster caring is considered a job and children requiring foster care are some of the most vulnerable people in society. Therefore, it is essential that those taking the responsibility to care for them are not only fit and healthy, but safe. As such, criminality checking is a legal requirement for all foster carers, to ensure that prospective fosterers have no previous criminal convictions which might affect their ability to safely care for children.
The authorities providing criminality checks in the UK are Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), covering England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland (DS) and Access NI (Northern Ireland).
There are three main levels of DBS checking: Basic – which only checks for unspent convictions, Standard – which looks for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands, and Enhanced – the highest level of check which reveals spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings, reprimands and any other relevant police data. Foster care is considered a “regulated activity” and as such, there is a legal requirement for foster carers to have a full Enhanced DBS check before they can be cleared for fostering.
But it is not just the foster carers themselves who require criminal background checks. All members of the fostering household over 18 are legally required to undergo DBS checking. Some local authorities also require criminality checking on those aged 16-18. There may also be a necessity to carry out criminal background checks on anyone in the extended network who might have regular unsupervised contact with the foster child; such as babysitters, people who collect from school and anyone who stays overnight in the house regularly.
It is illegal for a person to seek work, or an employer to knowingly employ someone who has been barred from working with children. Fostering providers must fully ensure that carers are suitable for the fostering role before recommending someone for the position.
The Foster Network estimates that a further 5,900 foster families will be required in the next twelve months to ensure there are enough foster homes for the children that need them. Carrying out Enhanced DBS checks on all prospective foster families can help safeguard the future of these vulnerable young people.