Aged care is an occupation that brings with it the responsibility of working with individuals who are elderly and possibly infirmed or disabled. It is an industry that touches most members of our community in some way and it is little wonder that it is under constant scrutiny when it comes to the integrity of the individuals placed in positions of trust in aged care environments.
In 2007, the Department of Health and Ageing implemented police check requirements for Commonwealth funded aged care organisations (“Approved Providers”). Police Certificate Guidelines were developed to assist organisations and were updated in March 2017. These guidelines are “intended to complement robust recruitment practices and are part of an approved provider’s responsibility to ensure all staff and volunteers are suitable to provide care to the aged”.
This article looks at what these requirements are and options for aged care providers to ensure full and ongoing compliance.
What legislation outlines the background checking requirements for aged care organisations?
Requirements are detailed in the Commonwealth Government’s Aged Care Act 1997 (“the Act”) which is supported by 22 Aged Care Principles that outline what is required by the Act. Several of these principles cover aspects such as police checks, record-keeping, ensuring compliance and community visitors.
What is the basic requirement?
Approved Providers must ensure that a national police check has been undertaken for relevant individuals. Results of the police check must be obtained in the format of a certificate or report and detail:
- The individual’s full name and date of birth;
- The date of issue; and
- A reference number or similar.
The Police Check Guidelines specify that it is “best practice” to have a national police check undertaken for the purpose of working in aged care.
Who must police checks be undertaken for?
Checks must be undertaken for individuals who are:
- Staff members over the age of 16 and likely to have either supervised or unsupervised access to care recipients; or
- Volunteers with unsupervised access to care recipients who are over the age of 16 (except where they are a full-time student, then over the age of 18).
Individuals contracted through agencies that provide staff may be considered staff members by the Act. The agency and the Approved Provider should have a contract in place that states that all individuals put forward under this arrangement have current police certificates that do not preclude them from working in aged care.
When should a police check be undertaken?
The police check should ideally be undertaken prior to an individual commencing work, although there are allowances made for exceptional circumstances. In these cases, the circumstance must relate to essential care being provided, an application for the police check needs to be made prior to the date of commencement and the individual is required to be supervised during this time.
In these instances where a police check has been applied for (but not yet completed) for a new staff member or volunteer, a statutory declaration is required stating that the individual has not been convicted of a precluding offence. A template for such a statutory declaration is provided in the Police Check Guidelines.
Police checks are required to be renewed every three years for all relevant individuals. Approved Providers must also put in place “reasonable measures” to ensure that individuals notify them if they are convicted of a precluding offence within that three-year period.
Does this only cover Australian criminal records?
Yes, a national police check will only cover offences where the candidate has been convicted in Australian states and territories. All staff or volunteers who have been a citizen or permanent resident of a country other than Australia when over the age of 16 are required to sign a statutory declaration stating that they have not been convicted of a precluding offence.
What records of police checks need to be kept?
Approved providers must ensure their records demonstrate that they hold:
- a police certificate not more than three years old for all relevant individuals;
- proof that an application has been made for a police check for new staff or volunteers; and
- a statutory declaration for relevant individuals.
Where police check certificates or reports are held by the individuals themselves or agencies, the Approved Provider needs to sight the original or true certified copy and the information and associated reference number should be kept on record.
All records must be kept in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Commonwealth) and should include a register of staff and volunteer police check information, including police certificate reference numbers and expiry dates.
Which offences preclude employment in aged care?
The Act specifies that an individual is unable to be employed or to volunteer in an aged care if they have:
- A conviction for murder or sexual assault; or
- A conviction of (and sentence to imprisonment for) any other form of assault.
All individuals with such offences should not be employed or accepted as an unsupervised volunteer. If a current staff member or volunteer is convicted of a precluding offence, it is the responsibility of the Approved Provider to ensure the individual does not continue in this role.
What about other offences?
The Police Check Guidelines recommend that any convictions highlighted by police checks that do not specifically preclude the individual from aged care should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. An approved provider’s decision regarding the employment of a person with any recorded convictions must be rigorous, defensible and transparent. Aspects to consider are listed as including:
- the individual’s access to care recipients and level of supervision;
- relevance of the conviction to the role;
- whether preclusion from employment is proportionate to the type of conviction;
- how long ago the conviction occurred;
- employment history since (and any references);
- the individual’s attitude to the offence;
- any patterns;
- the likelihood and consequence of an incident occurring; and
- treatment strategies that could be implemented.
The Police Check Guidelines provide further information regarding discrimination on the basis of criminal record.
Is there a specific type of police check that needs to be undertaken for aged care?
Convictions can become considered “spent” under state, territory and Commonwealth legislation. Although the specifics vary from state to state, a conviction generally becomes a “spent conviction” if a person has had a ten-year crime-free period from the date of the conviction. This means that if a general police check is undertaken for a candidate with a spent conviction, the conviction will not be disclosed by this check.
However, police checks are able to be undertaken that reference the individual’s exposure to “vulnerable persons”, which covers children, the aged and the disabled. If a police check is undertaken specifically for working with vulnerable persons, a partial exclusion to the Spent Conviction Scheme is applied to the check for relevant offences. This means that any offences that fall into this category will be disclosed, regardless of when the offence was committed in the individual’s background.
A vulnerable persons police check will disclose serious offences, sexual offences and offences against the person for employment/engagement in positions/occupations involving the care, instruction or supervision of vulnerable persons. This is the specific type of police check that should be undertaken for working in aged care.
Are aged care organisations audited?
Compliance with police check requirements is monitored by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency and Approved Providers need to have procedures in place to demonstrate that they are meeting these requirements by recording and monitoring their individual requirements.
What options do aged care organisations have for compliance?
Aged care organisations have two options for having required police checks completed to ensure compliance:
- Facilitating these themselves through the Australian Federal Police or other police service; or
- Engaging a third party provider that is accredited with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to undertake these checks on their behalf.
How can PeopleCheck assist with police check requirements?
PeopleCheck undertakes many police checks for Approved Providers to assist organisations to comply with the Aged Care Act 1997.
PeopleCheck offers the following:
- Full accreditation by ACIC;
- Police Certificate templates that comply with the Act’s specific requirements;
- A flexible system whereby either organisations or individuals themselves can request police checks;
- National police checks with a partial exclusion to the Spent Convictions Scheme for vulnerable persons so that relevant convictions are disclosed;
- Same day/one day initial results for police checks (cases where a possible name match is identified that requires additional research by the relevant state police authority can take up to 15 working days);
- Online system to facilitate 24/7 ordering and the retrieval of police check certificates;
- Invoicing model that facilitates billing individuals directly for their police check if required;
- Easy notification system confirming the receipt of an order for a police check, which can be used as proof for new staff members/volunteers; and
- Annual re-screen alert feature, where ongoing compliance is ensured by PeopleCheck notifying our clients when an individual’s police check is due to be renewed after three years.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2012 and has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness – August 2018.
Aged Care Act 1997 (Commonwealth)
Accountability Principles 2014 (Commonwealth)
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Office of Aged Care Quality and Compliance – Police Certificate Guidelines – March 2017
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission – www.acic.gov.au
Spent Conviction Scheme – http://www.privacy.gov.au/law/other/criminal
For more information on how PeopleCheck can assist with your organisation’s aged care background checking requirements, please contact us via phone at +612 4023 0603 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org