Should schools ask for vetting checks on host families?


NOTE THAT this guidance has now been updated in the light of Keeping Children Safe in Education 2016 (in force from 5th September 2016).

My interpretation of Keeping Children Safe in Education 2016 Annex E is this: Whether or not the host family are paid to take care of children, the school as a regulated activity provider should complete Enhanced DBS checks for the adults in the family. (Source: KCSIE 2016 Annex E)


When schools take pupils to other countries, they sometimes enhance the experience of the visit by staying with host families, but how should this type of visit be managed from a safeguarding perspective.

Should schools seek to require vetting checks and DBS-type disclosures from families in other countries?

What checks can be undertaken in England on families who host children from other schools and overseas?

Keeping children safe in education

The government’s statutory guidance ‘Keeping children safe in education‘ refers to host families in Annex C: Special Circumstances, paragraphs 2 – 6. The guidance is not conclusive and schools will need to ensure they can show they have undertaken a full risk assessment and have been able to mitigate any areas of concern. Schools must show the effectiveness of their safeguarding procedures and they are judged on how they manage the potential outcomes.

Placing students with host families raises safeguarding risks. Part of managing that risk is educating pupils to cope with all kinds of risks by understanding what they may be and how they can begin to tackle those challenges themselves. Conversely, spending time with a family in another country will offer a unique perspective in learning to managing risks there with local experts.

Note: This is an interpretation of the statutory guidance and not a statement of law. This article only concerns the situation in England, different rules apply in other parts of the UK.

Regulated Activity

In England, vetting is undertaken when a person is performing a ‘regulated activity’. In general, regulated activity is teaching, caring for or supervising children without the person being supervised themselves.

DBS Factsheet: Summary of Regulated Activity relating to Children

Three types of host families

There are three potential situations: families in other countries who look after exchange students in a reciprocal arrangement when their children stay in England; people who look after children having been selected to undertake that role and who are paid to do so; and companies who specialise in working on behalf of schools to find accommodation in a family home. Each circumstance requires a different answer. These three situations can take place in England or abroad.

In the first example, my view would be that parents looking after a student in their own home alongside their own children, without payment, would not be in ‘regulated activity’. Other countries have their own laws to take into account.

The second situation, where a school selects people for children to stay with and who are paid to take care of those pupils, is more straight forward. In this case, under the law in England, this is regulated activity under the ‘Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006’ and would probably be described as “private fostering”. In such cases, all the adults in the household (some would argue all over 16, as that is the minimum age for a barring check to be requested) should be vetted by the Disclosure and Barring Agency.

In the third case, where a company provides hosts for the school and payment is made, that arrangement is likely to be deemed “private fostering” by the ‘Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006’ and the third-party company is responsible for undertaking checks and demonstrating that they have done so.

Finally, it must be remembered that checks in other countries will be subject to their own laws. There is wide variability in the ease with which checks can be obtained and the quality of those checks. The DBS has no jurisdiction in other countries.

Summary

In summary, if the host family are not being paid to care for the young person, but are doing so as part of a reciprocal arrangement, my interpretation is that this is not regulated activity and therefore there is no requirement for a DBS check. However, if payment is being made, in England that would be ‘regulated activity’ and DBS checks would be required. In another country, laws there would dictate the relevant vetting checks.

Added May 2016

My interpretation of Keeping Children Safe in Education 2016 Annex E ‘Children staying with host families’ is that where a school organises the hosting arrangements, this is ‘regulated activity’ because the school is a ‘regulated activity provider’. This means that the school must ask adults in the host family to complete Enhanced DBS checks, regardless of whether they are paid for the hosting or not. In another country, laws there would dictate the relevant vetting checks.

Please note that I am not a lawyer and unqualified to give legal opinion. If in any doubt, please contact an education law provider, such as Veale Wasbrough Vizards LLP , Browne Jacobson LLP or Stone King LLP .

Safeguarding is about managing risk

Schools should still ensure that they look carefully at all the potential safeguarding issues and make arrangements that keep young people safe. The most important starting point will be excellent planning and liaison with the exchange school and their families. One aspect of this will be clear written expectations and boundaries; another will be ensuring that pupils can urgently contact a member of staff from their own school should that be necessary. Other aspects would include thinking about sleeping arrangements and what happens should the student become unwell whilst away from the main group or in the home of the host family.

Further Information

Somerset County Council has a useful guidance document about Exchange Visits.

Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) also has relevant information and guidance.

What does your school do?

If your school undertakes exchange visits, how do you tackle safeguarding on overseas trips? I’d really like to hear your thoughts – twitter @ConsultantHead or email me at andrew.hall@successinschools.co.uk.

Feedback

From @gdmorewood on twitter:
“We always ‘vetted’ host families for our French exchange over last 5 yrs – very difficult with diff rules/attitudes in other countries. We can ask for checks via host school and local authorities, but in addition to that direct family contact from well before useful. For me most imp is getting our parents/carers to speak with host parents/carers and young people via Skype/FB etc.”

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