The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 (the Act) introduced measures that will ensure that children can be better protected from abuse and neglect both in their homes and in the community. This advice is for the health and disability sector on requirements under the Act.
A key objective of the Children’s Action Plan is to develop a safe and competent children’s workforce who can better identify, support and protect vulnerable children. Children’s worker safety checking and child protection policies are initiatives to support the workforce to collectively build knowledge and skills to keep children safe.
Children’s worker safety checking
Children’s worker safety checking helps identify the small number of people who pose a risk to children. From 1 July 2015, new government safety checking regulations made under the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 that required all paid employees and contractors who work with children for state-funded organisations to be safety checked started to be phased in. The regulations also apply to people doing unpaid work with children as part of an educational or vocational training course (eg, trainees or students).
The regulations set out clear standards to achieve more consistent, higher quality safety checking across the entire children’s workforce in New Zealand.
When do the safety checks need to be done?
These regulations have been phased in from 1 July 2015, with this phasing happening over four years for new and existing employees and contractors. This phased approach provides organisations with enough time to comply with the new regulations and also prioritises safety checking of their children’s workforce. This means that safety checks are not required to be done all at once and will assist New Zealand Police to manage demand for the vetting service. The key dates for conducting the children’s workforce safety checks are:
- 1 July 2015 – all new core children’s workers must be safety checked before starting employment or engagement as a children’s worker from this date
- 1 July 2016 – all new non-core children’s workers must be safety checked before starting employment or engagement as a children’s worker from this date
- 1 July 2018 – all existing core children’s workers must have been safety checked by this date
- 1 July 2019 – all existing non-core children’s workers must have been safety checked by this date
The entire state-funded children’s workforce is required to be safety checked by 1 July 2019 and workers need to be rechecked every three years.
What does the safety check involve?
Workforce safety checks involve gathering a range of key information about a person and evaluating this information to determine whether they pose any risk in being employed working with children.
The regulations require that the worker safety checks include:
- identity verification
- police vetting
- reference checks
- employment verification checks
- checks with professional registration bodies or licensing authorities
- a risk assessment that considers the specific child safety related risk.
From 1 July 2015, all these steps of the safety check must be completed before a person is employed or engaged to start in a new role as a children’s worker.
For existing children’s workers who are already employed or engaged by the organisation, fewer checks are required and these checks do not need to be completed until 1 July 2018 (for core children’s workers) and 1 July 2019 (for non-core children’s workers). For all children’s workers the safety check needs to be updated every three years and there are requirements to be followed for this.
Who has to be safety checked?
All paid new and existing employees and contractors who work with children (up to 17 years of age) in a state-funded organisation that provide regulated health services.
Regulated health services
- Services provided at a public hospital.
- Services provided at a publicly-funded medical practice or facility, including blood and cancer centres, treatment centres, outreach clinics, and mental health services.
- Services provided through medical practices belonging to primary health organisations (PHOs).
- Services provided by health practitioners.
- Well Child / Tamariki Ora services (eg, Plunket).
- Home-based disability support services.
- Residential disability support services.
- Ambulance services.
- Maternity services, including lead maternity carers and midwives
The Vulnerable Children Act has created two categories of children’s workers, core children’s workers and non-core children’s workers.
A core children’s worker is defined as:
- a children’s worker who works in or provides a regulated service
- who has primary responsibility or authority for a child or children
- involves regular or overnight contact with a child or children
- who works alone with a child or children – work must take place without a parent or guardian of the child being present
- includes for example, doctors, nurses, paediatricians, youth counsellors – who see children or young people (up to the age of 17) in their clinics or office.
Non-core workers are those who have regular but limited child contact, eg, general hospital staff, health administrative staff.
Self-employed, sole practitioners and owner operators – Cross Agency Independent Safety Check Service
A Cross Agency Independent Safety Checking Service (the Service) has been set up to ensure that ‘self-employed’ children’s workers or sole practitioners who receive state funding are able to be safety checked in accordance with the safety checking requirements under the Act.
On behalf of the Ministry of Health, CV Check (NZ) Ltd, an external supplier, will carry out safety checks for the following groups of children’s workers:
- LMCs, funded under the Notice made under section 88 of the NZ Public Health and Disability Act 2000 Primary Maternity Service Notice for the provision of Maternity Services.
- GP owner operators
- Owner operator Dentists contracted under the Combined Dental Agreement
Find out more about the Service and what it means for LMCs funded under the s88 Notice - Fact Sheet - information for Maternity Service providers (Word, 51 KB)
CV Check (NZ) Ltd will also carry out safety checks for other children’s workers on behalf of the other specified agencies.
This Service has been established as a ‘user pays’ service and the costs will range between $130 (excl. GST) for existing workers and $290(excl. GST) for new workers. The cost vary because under the Act there are different safety checking requirements for new and existing children’s workers. Under the Act safety checks for children’s workers are required every three years.
The Service will involve gathering a range of key information about a person and evaluating this information to determine whether they pose any risk in being employed working with children.
Specifically the Service will include:
- identity verification
- police vetting
- reference checks
- employment verification check
- information from relevant professional organisations
- a risk assessment that considers the specific child safety related risk.
Following completion of a safety check using the Service, the applicant (the children’s worker) will be provided with a report confirming that they have met the safety checking requirements under the Act. This report will be valid for three years. If during this three year period a children’s worker changes jobs they may not have to be re-checked i.e. the safety checks are transferrable and can be relied on, if all the safety checking requirements have been met.
Organisations don’t need to repeat a safety check for a person, if they have previously conducted one or if a check was done on their behalf by another organisation within the last three years to the required standards and adequate records have been kept. An organisation can use safety check information completed on their behalf by another organisation, if they are confident it meets the necessary requirements and they have a process in place to verify the identification of the worker.
“On behalf of” means that organisations need to know and agree who can undertake check on their behalf, and who they can rely upon to provide evidence of previous checks. Within health, DHBs, PHOs and general practice can rely on checks undertaken by CV Check, and by each other. Further information about this process and to begin the application process, visit the CV Check website.
Trainees or students
Safety checks apply to people doing unpaid work with children as part of an educational or vocational training course (eg, a trainee doctor or student nurse on placement as part of their medical/education qualification). Most training providers already undertake safety checks as part of their normal vetting process at the pre-registration/enrolment stage and before students go on their clinical placements. Providers will need to ensure their existing safety checks and practices meet the new safety checking regulations.
Organisations will need to ensure that the safety check has been done on their behalf by the training provider and to the new regulations before engaging the trainee as a children’s worker.
- Questions and Answers for Children’s worker safety checking regulations (Word, 191 KB)
- Questions and Answers for Children’s worker safety checking regulations (PDF, 352 KB)
- Fact sheet for Children’s worker safety checking regulations (Word, 185 KB)
- Fact sheet for Children’s worker safety checking regulations (PDF, 252 KB)
- Vulnerable Children (Requirements for Safety Checks of Children’s Workers) Regulations 2015
- Children's worker safety checking under the Vulnerable Children Act. An interpretative guide for applying the regulations
- Vulnerable Children Act Scope of the Safety Checking requirements
- Fact sheet: Information for dentists (Word, 61 KB)
- Fact Sheet - information for Maternity Service providers (Word, 51 KB)
- Announcement: Availability of Service for DHBs, PHOs and General Practice (Word, 178 KB)
- Q&A: Self-employed children’s workers (Word, 220 KB)
Under the Vulnerable Children Act a workforce restriction has been developed preventing people with certain serious convictions from being employed as a core children’s worker, unless they have been granted a Core Worker Exemption. These convictions are specified in Schedule 2 of the Act.
If a Core Worker Exemption is granted, it will last indefinitely, unless it is revoked.
The workforce restriction has applied since 1 July 2015 to people seeking new roles as core children’s workers, prohibiting their employment unless they held an Exemption. For employees and contractors already employed in core workforce roles the restriction will apply from 1 July 2016. This means that organisations can no longer continue to employ or engage these staff in a core children’s worker role from 1 July 2016.
Core children’s workers who have been convicted of these offences have until 1 July 2016 to apply for a Core Worker Exemption, or they will no longer be able to continue in these roles.
Core Worker Exemption
If an individual is granted a Core Worker Exemption, it is (subject to conditions) no longer against the law to employ that person as a core worker.
It is up to the individual to apply for the exemption and provide all the necessary documentation.
Applying for an exemption
It is up to the children’s worker to seek a Core Worker Exemption, and all Exemptions are granted through one process. This process, administered by the Ministry of Social Development, is for all people seeking a Core Worker Exemption, even those that work in the health, education or justice sectors. Employers cannot grant an Exemption themselves.
You can apply for a Core Worker Exemption during training to work in the children’s workforce, before you are employed, or while you are already employed in a core children’s workforce role.
You can also read more about workforce restriction and the process for applying for a Core Worker Exemption on the Oranga Tamariki website.
Information for Employers
Further information for employers is provided on the Oranga Tamariki website: Vulnerable Children Act requirements - About the Act.
When the transition period for existing core workers ends on 1 July 2016, if employers believe that a core worker they employ or engage has a conviction for a specified offence and does not have a Core Worker Exemption then they must apply Section 28 of the Vulnerable Children Act 2014.
Section 28 outlines a process of suspension and possible termination that employers or funders must follow. In addition to suspending or terminating the person, employers may also respond by moving the person into another position outside of the core children’s workforce. Once a person has a Core Worker Exemption they can then recommence work as a core worker.
These requirements apply even if an employee has made an application for, but has not yet been granted, a Core Worker Exemption.
Non-compliance may lead to criminal prosecution. As outlined in Section 28 of the Vulnerable Children Act, a specified organisation that contravenes subsections in Section 28 commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000.
In the health and disability sector, organisations contracted by the Ministry of Health and district health boards that provide children’s services must adopt child protection policies.
Child protection policies must:
- be written
- cover the provision of children’s services
- contain matters related to identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect.
The Ministry’s child protection policy
Under the Act the Ministry is not required to adopt a child protection policy, as we do not provide services directly to children, but doing so reflects our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of all children in New Zealand.
The Ministry’s new child protection policy addresses both our obligations as a funder of contracted services for children and their families/whānau, and our obligation as an employer of staff who may become aware of concerns about children’s welfare, either through their work or in their private lives.