Most people working in aged care will be aware of the need for staff and volunteers to obtain a Police Certificate or to undergo a Police Check.
These checks help an organisation to protect and to minimise the risk, to the best of their ability, to vulnerable people. It is the responsibility for aged care services that receive Government funding to ensure that all staff and volunteers, who work directly with, or have access to clients, have undergone a National Police Check (National Criminal History Check).
How Do you Apply for a Police Certificate?
Police certificates, not more than three years old, must be held by:
- all staff members who are reasonably likely to have access to care recipients, whether supervised or unsupervised; and
- volunteers who have unsupervised access to care recipients.
These checks can be obtained by completing the request for a National Police Check and forwarding through the Police Service. Alternatively, an online application can be made using a CrimTrac accredited agency. The request needs to cover working in the aged care industry.
Of course, when a Police Certificate comes across your desk you have to decide if the information contained supports the employment of the individual in the aged care industry.
So what types of offences and convictions would preclude, or stop, someone from being employed in aged care?
A person has a precluding offence if either of the following is on their Police Check Certificate:
- a conviction for murder or sexual assault; or
- a conviction of, and sentence to imprisonment for, any other form of assault.
This means they cannot work in aged care – ever – not even if this happened many years previously.
Be aware that a suspended sentence is also a ‘sentence to imprisonment’ – Legal Services Commission of South Australia.
All decisions made by the organisation about precluding or employing a person based on their Police Check need to be documented. The documentation should show the date the decision was made, the reasons for the decision, and the people involved in the decision.
To be consistent, it is a good idea to use a template when reviewing Police Certificates, that way you won’t forget to look for something. It will also allow you to document the process in case someone asks why you did or didn’t employ someone.
Sometimes an organisation needs to employ a staff member at short notice, such as when there are staffing shortages. In this instance, a temporary arrangement can be to have the staff member complete a Statutory Declaration.
Statutory declarations are generally only used in two instances:
- For employing essential, new staff or volunteers who have applied for, but not yet received, a police certificate; and
- For any staff or volunteers who have been a citizen or permanent resident of a country other than Australia after turning 16.
In these two instances, a staff member or volunteer can sign a Statutory Declaration stating that they have never, in Australia or another country, been convicted of murder or sexual assault, or convicted of, and sentenced to imprisonment for, any other form of assault.
Of course in a remote setting, gaining a clear Police Certificate can be hard for various reasons. The problem many coordinators face is how to keep their services operating. In these settings, it can be difficult to recruit people with the right cultural background, experience and aptitude. In some smaller remote communities we find people who have offended in their youth but who have now settled down and are good workers. And of course, in a smaller community the individual may also have greater access to older people living in the community outside of work as these elders are often their grandparents, uncles and aunts. So what can you do?
Where you have identified a past offence that may be considered a risk, even though it may be a minor risk, there are ways to mitigate it. This could include supervision of the person by having all staff working in pairs, having the staff member provide care at the aged care centre under direct supervision at all times, or you could assign the staff member to a non-contact position.
This does not include precluding offences – it doesn’t matter how many years ago this occurred, they still cannot be employed in aged care!
Police Certificates have an expiry date.
Lastly, Police Certificates only last three years. After that time the person will need to apply for another certificate. It is good practice to note when the Police Certificate is due for renewal in the organisation’s Police Check Register and remind staff three months out. If a staff member has not produced an updated Police Certificate by the time their Check expires they will need to be suspended from direct, unsupervised care work until they provide the new certificate.
So to summarise:
- All aged care staff and volunteers who have contact with clients must obtain a Police Certificate;
- The organisation must review the Police Certificate and decide if there is reason to preclude an individual from working in aged care or manage any identified risk;
- All decisions must be clearly documented;
- All staff must obtain a new Police Certificate every three years.