Recruiting safely during coronavirus

Last updated: 26 May 2020 Topics: News Type: News

We know there are many challenges with recruiting staff and volunteers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Being unable to meet candidates in person, needing to recruit lots of new staff or volunteers in a short space of time and finding out that referees have been furloughed can make the recruitment process more difficult to manage.

But children’s welfare remains paramount. Whether paid or volunteering, it’s important to make sure that anybody working with children or young people is suitable to do so.

We’ve put together some guidance to help you recruit safely whilst observing social distancing guidance.

This step-by-step guide will take you through:

  • choosing the right candidate
  • vetting, disclosure and barring checks
  • starting employment.

Want to find out more?

Our guidance on safer recruitment can help you make sure the people you recruit are suitable to work with children.

View our guidance


Online training

Take our online safer recruitment courses to find out what you need to know when recruiting someone to work with children and young people.

Education sector


Other sectors


Choosing the right person

Choosing the right person

Before you start the recruitment process, take time out to consider whether you need to be recruiting new staff or volunteers at the moment.

Think about how you will train, support and supervise new employees once they have started. Do you have the capacity to do this remotely if people are working from home? How will this work in practice?

If you do need to recruit new people, your school, organisation or group should have a safer recruitment policy and procedures which you can follow. Consider how you can adapt to the current circumstances whilst still following your policy and procedures, for example by using video conferencing technology to carry out remote interviewing.

> Find out more about writing a safer recruitment policy and procedures

Here’s what to take into consideration when recruiting new staff or volunteers during this time.

Advertising the role

It’s important to advertise the role accurately. Your job advert should include a statement about your commitment to keeping children safe and you should make it clear that you follow safe recruitment practices.

If the role requires a criminal records check, this should be stated in the advert.


You should make sure you still have a fair process for shortlisting and that you follow the same criteria for each candidate. Consider how you can use technology to shortlist effectively, for example by having a video call with the panel.

Remember that any information about applicants, including application forms, should be shared securely.

Self-disclosure forms

Self-disclosure forms give candidates the opportunity to tell you confidentially about any unspent criminal convictions, child protection investigations or disciplinary procedures they have on their record. If the role requires an enhanced criminal records check, you should also ask applicants to disclose any unprotected spent convictions and cautions.

Applicants should send completed self-disclosure forms in advance of an interview. You should only check the forms of candidates who have accepted a conditional offer.

> Learn more about self-disclosure forms

> View our example self-disclosure forms


Plan the interview process in advance so that it’s fair for each candidate and everyone is asked the same questions. Think about how you will find out about people’s values and attitudes towards working with children and young people.

There should be at least two people on an interview panel and you should use video conferencing technology to ensure interviews can still be carried out face-to-face.

> Find out more about interviewing for roles working with children


You need to ensure that applicants can submit application and self-disclosure forms securely. Any forms and information will need to be shared securely with those involved in the recruitment process and stored safely by your organisation.

If you’re recruiting remotely, make sure that all meetings to shortlist applicants and the interviews are confidential. If the panel are working from home, make sure that they can’t be overheard by other members of their household. You should also consider their surroundings, for example the background should be neutral.

You also need to plan how you will destroy any confidential records relating to recruitment in line with your organisation’s safer recruitment procedures.

Young volunteers

You might have young volunteers who want to get involved with your organisation during the pandemic. You should make sure they are recruited safely and supported throughout the process.

> Find out more about recruiting young volunteers

Vetting, disclosure and barring checks

Vetting, disclosure and barring checks

You should carry out appropriate checks to make sure the people you recruit are suitable to work or volunteer with children and young people.


You should get at least two references for a candidate. It’s best practice to send a standardised form to referees, to ensure you get all the information you need. Make sure you send any forms securely.

If a referee is unable to give a reference because they have been furloughed, consider if there’s someone else in the organisation who could give a suitable reference.

You could arrange to speak to referees over the phone as well as getting written references to help verify that references are accurate.

Checking self-disclosure forms

You should only check self-disclosure forms once a candidate has accepted a conditional offer. Review the information and assess whether the candidate is suitable for the role and your organisation.

Criminal records checks

You must carry out the necessary criminal records checks before appointing someone to a role that involves working or volunteering with children. You need to ensure the people you’re recruiting don’t have anything on their record that makes them unsuitable to work with children and young people.

Staff or volunteers who are undertaking regulated activity in England, Northern Ireland and Wales will need enhanced with barred list checks.

Regulated activity with children means carrying out any of the below activities frequently or with intensity (more than three days in a 30-day period or overnight).

  • Unsupervised activities: teaching, training, instructing, caring for or supervising children; providing advice/guidance on wellbeing, or driving a vehicle only for children.
  • Working for a limited range of ‘specified places’ with the opportunity for contact with children and young people, for example schools, children’s homes, childcare premises.
  • Unsupervised intimate or personal care of children.
  • Health care (including by a registered health professional).

In Scotland, anyone carrying out regulated work with children needs to undergo a Protected Vulnerable Groups (PVG) check. Regulated work with children can be paid or voluntary. It usually involves:

  • working directly with children
  • teaching or supervising children
  • providing personal services to children
  • caring responsibilities.

The frequency and intensity requirement doesn’t apply in Scotland.

> Find out more about regulated work and activity

Usually, you need to check a candidate’s identification documents face-to-face in order to apply for a criminal record check and the checker must be in physical possession of the original documents.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has published guidance for employers in England and Wales on checking identification while limiting in-person contact during coronavirus (DBS, 2020a).

Fast-track emergency criminal records checks are also available for certain sectors whose work is vital to the coronavirus response. We’ve summarised the guidance about these in the next tab.

What to do if vetting checks raise concerns

If any concerns are raised from references or vetting checks, your organisation should assess whether the candidate is suitable for working with children.

You must pass on information to relevant authorities as necessary, such as the criminal records agency, professional bodies or police.

> Learn more about this in our online course

What do to if you can’t gather all the information you need

If you have been unable get all the necessary checks and references, you will need to complete a risk assessment to decide if it’s safe to appoint new staff or volunteers.

If there are gaps in someone’s employment history, or you’ve been unable to contact referees, consider if there is someone else who could provide a reference for this time, such as an organisation the candidate has volunteered with.

Use your risk assessment to decide whether the information you have received is sufficient, or whether you would be unable to safely appoint that individual at this moment in time.

> Learn more about what to do if vetting checks raise concerns

Fast-track criminal records checks

Fast-track criminal records checks

Some changes have been made to the systems for criminal records checking in each UK nation to help speed up the process of hiring people who are necessary for the coronavirus response.

This includes:

  • health professionals
  • those working in children’s social care.

Fast-track emergency checks for health and social care roles

England and Wales

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is offering free criminal record checks for people applying to work or volunteer in some healthcare and social care roles (DBS, 2020b).

For roles involving regulated activity the DBS can provide a free ‘fast-track’ check to see if the candidate has been barred from working with children and vulnerable adults (DBS, 2020b).

If the fast-track check doesn’t show that the candidate has been barred from working with children and vulnerable adults, the candidate can start work before they receive their full DBS certificate. However, whilst waiting for the full check to be carried out, organisations must also put appropriate safeguarding measures in place. This could include not leaving the person unsupervised with children and young people (whether online or offline) (DBS, 2020b).

Organisations could also consider how new staff and volunteers could support existing, fully checked team members rather than working directly with children (Care Quality Commission (CQC), 2020).

Employers can consider using a previous DBS check provided it is:

  • from the last three years
  • for the same level (standard or enhanced) as the role applied for
  • for the same workforce (children and/or adults) as the role applied for

(DBS, 2020b).

Employers recruiting for paid staff in response to the coronavirus pandemic can consider accepting checks previously issued for volunteer roles (DBS, 2020b).

Health and social care providers recruiting staff with fast-track checks or using an older DBS check from a previous employer must demonstrate that:

  • it is essential the person starts work for the purpose of responding to coronavirus
  • they have obtained satisfactory evidence of the person’s fitness to carry out their role
  • they have done all they can to gather relevant information
  • if sourcing information has been impossible, they have used their own judgement to assess the suitability of the person
  • they have risk-assessed the situation and put measures in place to mitigate any risks

(CQC, 2020).

Northern Ireland

Health and social care employers recruiting staff or volunteers in regulated activity can get free emergency barred list checks from AccessNI. This checks whether an individual is on the list of people barred from working with children.

If the individual is not barred from working with children, they can start work provided their employer has:

  • applied for a full enhanced disclosure check
  • put appropriate supervision in place until the full check has been obtained.

A candidate cannot start employment without confirmation that they are not on the barred list or having undergone a full enhanced disclosure check (Department of Health, 2020).


Disclosure Scotland is prioritising criminal records checks for workers in the following sectors:

  • healthcare
  • pharmaceutical
  • childcare
  • social work
  • social care
  • prisons and justice

(Disclosure Scotland, 2020).

During the coronavirus pandemic, there are no fees for urgent checks for people working in these sectors (Disclosure Scotland, 2020).

The Care Inspectorate usually advises that care service providers review their employees’ membership of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme (PVG) every three years. This is the system used for criminal records checks in Scotland. During the pandemic, this regular review is not necessary (Care Inspectorate, 2020).

If an existing employee in care services is moving into a new role, their employer should carry out a risk assessment to decide whether a PVG update is necessary (Care Inspectorate, 2020).

If someone working in care services has previously been a member of the PVG scheme for working with adults, but will now be working with children (or vice versa), their employer should carry out new PVG checks (Care Inspectorate, 2020).

Starting employment

Starting employment 

The induction process is particularly important when recruiting remotely.

Recognising and responding to abuse

Make sure all new staff and volunteers understand your safeguarding and child protection policy and procedures, and know what to do if they are worried about a child. If you update or amend your child protection policy in light of the current situation, any changes or updates should be shared with all staff and volunteers.

> Learn more about updating your child protection policy

> Read more about recognising and responding to abuse

All staff and volunteers who will be working with children should complete child protection training as part of the induction process.

> Find out more about our introductory child protection training

Our online safeguarding awareness course for people who enter or visit families’ homes helps people recognise and respond to the signs of abuse and neglect. We’re temporarily making this course free so everyone making deliveries or offering doorstep support to families can learn what to do to protect a child during this challenging time.

> Take our free online course

Codes of conduct

It’s important that all staff and volunteers know how to behave when they’re working with children and young people. Set out your expectations clearly.

Make sure new staff and volunteers read and understand your organisation’s code of conduct. This should include appropriate behaviour when working with children and young people online.

Online safety

If you’re working remotely with children and young people, staff and volunteers need to understand how to communicate safely.

> Read more about online safety during the pandemic

> Find out more about social media and online safety


You should make sure new staff and volunteers are supervised. As well as giving them support until they are confident in their new role, it helps ensure they are behaving appropriately around children and young people.

You should do this regardless of whether your new recruits are working face-to-face or remotely with children and young people.

It’s best practice for an adult not to be on their own with children. However, in some settings, for example in teaching, an adult will regularly be on their own with a class or group. And if you’re providing counselling or therapeutic support, work needs to be done one-to-one.

You should never let staff and volunteers work unsupervised with children and young people unless it is safe to do so. This includes making sure all relevant vetting and barring checks have been carried out.

> Find out more about working safely alone with children

Checking suitability

You should arrange to meet new starters in person, as soon as it is permitted and safe to do so. This will enable you to double check that a candidate is suitable. This includes viewing original identification documents and criminal record check certificates. You should also have in-person meetings or reviews and observe the person working with children. You might also want to have a longer induction/probation period until you can meet in person.

You should continue to monitor all your staff and volunteers even when their induction has finished. Make sure they continue to follow your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures. If anyone behaves in a way that’s inappropriate towards a child you must take the necessary action.

> Find out more about preventing abuse by people in a position of trust or authority

Young volunteers

You might have young volunteers who want to get involved with your organisation during the pandemic.

> Find out more about how to support them and keep them safe

Want to find out more?

> View our safer recruitment guidance

> Take our online training on safer recruitment in education

> Take our online training on safer recruitment (non-education)



Care Inspectorate (2020) Coronavirus. [Accessed 05/05/2020].

Care Quality Commission (2020) COVID-19: interim guidance on DBS checks and other recruitment checks. [Accessed 05/05/2020].

Department of Health (2020) COVID-19: pre-employment vetting guidance: health and social care providers (PDF). Belfast: Department of Health.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (2020a) COVID-19: changes to DBS ID checking guidelines. [Accessed 05/05/2020].

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (2020b) COVID-19: free-of-charge DBS applications and fast-track Barred List check service. [Accessed 04/05/2020].

Disclosure Scotland (2020) Criminal record checks for coronavirus (COVID-19) response workers. [Accessed 04/05/2020].