Police check delays build backlogs in recruitment and fostering

voluntary sector has reacted with dismay to the Criminal Records Bureau’s
failure to meet its targets, pointing to the effects it has on their work.
Derren Hayes reports.

message on the Criminal Records Bureau telephone information line gives an
immediate clue that all is not well in the government agency, launched in
March: "Applications are currently taking five to six weeks and we cannot
provide any information regarding your application if you are phoning during that

However, care organisations from adoption
agencies to residential home providers are reporting waiting times twice that
long. Children’s charity Barnardo’s has only had 25 per cent of its CRB checks
processed, while another organisation still has 450 checks outstanding.

But at least the CRB has been constant in
sticking to its mantra of "no information": it has so far failed to
give any explanation to organisations for the delays.

The CRB, an executive agency of the Home
Office set up in partnership with private company Capita, was established in
April to carry out checks – officially known as disclosures – on anyone who is
going to be working with, or caring for, children or vulnerable people to
verify their suitability. Department of Health, Department for Education and
Skills and national and local police records are all checked as part of the

There are three levels of disclosure: basic,
standard and enhanced. Most people working in the care sector require enhanced
disclosures and so far it is with these that most of the delays have occurred.
With the increase in the number of regulatory bodies that legally require
checks to be done, the demand for CRB disclosures is growing dramatically.

Umbrella organisations such as associations
and employers, which handle the administration for the CRB checks, say some
delays are up to three months and growing.

David Pearson, director of the Churches Child
Protection Advisory Service, says the CRB’s performance has been patchy, with
some disclosures being processed in a week and others taking over two months.

He also says there is no pattern to the
inconsistencies. "You could put in checks for two people living in the
same area, working for the same organisation and providing the same information,
but one will come back very quickly and the other will take two months."

This delay is causing major problems for the
adoption and fostering process, the staffing of elderly and children’s care
homes and short-term government initiatives for vulnerable people.

Last week, Community Foster Care, a
Gloucester-based agency, received 150 CRB disclosures that had built up over
the past three months. Administrator Jean Tucker says the delays meant many
prospective foster parents’ applications had stalled. "We can’t use these
people or put them on the training course until we get the CRB checks
back," she says. "It has left many prospective carers in limbo and we
received no explanation from the CRB as to why the delay had occurred."

In Essex, where around 134 checks have been
outstanding for more than three weeks, the social services department has been
forced to take a different approach.

Sue Cook, the county’s manager for fostering,
adoption, children’s residential services and family centres, says: "What
we’ve done, rightly or wrongly, is put people through the training first based
on careful consideration of the individual cases. We’ve had to balance up the
risk of the adopter being disappointed and our resources being wasted against
the delay to children."

She says prospective adopters have been very
patient but admits unless the situation improves dramatically the government’s
drive to speed up the adoption process could be undermined. Last year, Essex
carried out 1,800 checks related to adoption and fostering cases.

The delays are also creating a plethora of
staffing problems for social services departments and care providers. Some
children’s and older people’s residential homes are facing the prospect of
closure, severe financial losses, or having to breach the new National Care
Standards Commission regulations.

The NCSC requires all care home managers to
be registered with it by August, which involves having a CRB check. Care
workers also need to be registered by April 2003. The NCSC originally said
carers and managers couldn’t work until CRB checks were completed, but have
recently relented and now allow them to work under supervision while
disclosures are pending.

Frank Ursell, chief executive of the
Registered Nursing Home Association, says the NCSC regulations cannot work
because they are "so far away from the reality of how a home runs".

He says many homes with fewer than 25 beds
often have only one or two staff working at night, making supervision almost
impossible. "They will be faced with a choice of two ills: you either
employ somebody and allow them to work with vulnerable people until the check
comes through or you close."

Established residential homes are already
closing because of spiralling costs and Ursell believes if the NCSC is unwilling
to be flexible, even more will close.

The Association of Independent Child Care
Providers, a coalition of 16 private sector companies running nearly 200
children’s homes, has warned that the backlog will mean many managers will miss
the August deadline, forcing providers to either close homes or employ agency

Chairperson of the association David Ayers
says he has 40 managers waiting for checks. "I’ve got the people but they
can’t start work. Homes can’t operate unless they are fully staffed. My
directors are having to help staff homes."

Joan Jerrett, secretary of the National
Association of Independent Resources for Children, says she knows of a number
of care home owners who are looking to sell because they are unable to afford
to have extra supervision but equally unable to have staff not working while
checks are being processed.

"You can’t afford to pay staff for doing
nothing," she explains.

The effect of the delays on numbers of
permanent social workers has also forced Essex to turn to agency staff. But
Cook warns that numbers of agency staff could also start to fall if checks
don’t improve.

The new CRB code of practice requires agency
staff to be checked annually, while permanent staff will need to be checked
every three years. "This situation could become untenable if checks on
agency workers don’t come through in time," Cook explains. "We’re
likely to have periods where people aren’t going to be able to work."

Erica De’Ath, chief executive of the National
Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations, says some organisations are
losing potential staff because they can’t be confirmed in posts until the CRB
checks have been made.

"To avoid this, others are recruiting
and appointing and having to pay staff who cannot start working on projects
until the checks are through," De’Ath adds.

The CRB puts the delays down to
"teething" problems because of the enormous amount of work it has
taken on. It’s employing more staff to process checks and has outsourced data
inputting to a company in India.

The Home Office insists that the situation is
starting to get on track and the CRB is telling organisations it will be
meeting its targets by late summer. It is fast-tracking applications – turning
disclosures around in one week – for particularly time-sensitive government
projects such as the street crimes initiative running during the summer.

But if some checks are being fast-tracked, it
means others will take even longer. "If you start fast-tracking some then
you are making a judgement that those are more important than others,"
complains Pearson. For most, the waiting game is far from over

CRB aims

Basic disclosure: 95 per cent within one week.

Standard disclosure: 95 per cent within one week.

Enhanced disclosure: 90 per cent within three weeks.

Response to written correspondence: within one week.

Response to dispute over contents of disclosure: 95 per cent within one week.

Answering telephone calls: 90 per cent within 20 seconds.

Meeting targets?

Received: 206,153 requests for enhanced disclosures (73,000 in the last three

Issued: 58,000 enhanced disclosures (31,000 in the past three weeks)

Turnaround in three weeks: 25 per cent of disclosures.

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