Vulnerable Children's Act - what you need to know

17 May 2018

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 was introduced to provide greater protection for children, requiring specified employers, who are funded by government, to conduct safety checks on workers who have regular contact with children as part of their role. The Act prohibits people with specific serious convictions, such as child abuse, sexual offending and/or violence convictions, from being employed. However, people with these convictions may apply for an exemption, which will allow them work as a core worker. 


The Act has changed the way people who work closely with children are checked and employers are responsible for safety checking their employees. Employers can be charged with an offence under the Act for failing to comply and could be liable of fines up to $10,000.


The safety checking regulations apply to organisations that receive government money to provide regulated services to children. These organisations will need to safety check anyone they pay to work with children. Roughly 280,000 people meet this definition, including roles for schools, early childhood services, school bus services, public hospitals, medical practices belonging to primary health organisations, publicly funded providers of social or support services, and providers of services approved under legislation to work with children.


The requirements to conduct safety checks came into effect in a staggered way where from 1 July 2015, all employers have had to safety check new core workers and from 1 July 2016, all new non-core workers have had to be checked.


The next date to be aware of is 1 July 2018 for all existing core workers the requirement to safety check will be extended to cover all existing core workers and repeated three yearly thereafter. Then from 1 July 2019 the requirement to safety check will be extended to cover all existing non-core workers.


What is the difference between ‘Core’ and ‘Non-Core’ workers?


‘Core children’s workers’ are employed by the state sector or government funded organisations to provide regulated services. In the course of that work, the person is either:

• the only person present; or

• is the children’s worker who has primary responsibility for, or authority over the child or children present.

Examples of roles that may meet this definition are doctors, teachers, nurses, paediatricians, youth counsellors and social workers.


‘Non-core worker’ simply means a children’s worker who is not a core worker. Examples of roles that may meet this definition are: non-teaching school workers, general hospital workers and many social and health workers.


The new requirements don’t apply to volunteers unless the volunteering is part of an educational or vocational training course (e.g. a student teacher at a school as part of an education qualification).

A good practice would be to have a robust hiring process including:

• verifying that the potential children's worker identity exists by checking two original primary identity documents, one of which must have a photo

• an interview of the potential children's worker

• obtaining a work history covering the past five years

• obtaining a reference from at least one referee not related to the potential children's worker

• obtaining and considering information from a New Zealand police vet

• evaluation of the above information to assess the risk the potential children's worker would pose to the safety of children


What if you are not a specified organisation under the Act?

At this stage the new rules do not apply to those who work with children through organisations or groups that are not directly or indirectly state funded.


However, children attend so many groups and activities that receive no state funding, such as sports groups, church groups, and other leisure activities and obviously a child is no less vulnerable to abuse from a non-funded organisation staff or volunteer than a state-funded one.


If there is no police vetting in these groups that could make them very attractive to those wanting to harm children. Therefore businesses, unfunded non-government organisations, and voluntary organisations that are not a specified organised are encouraged to adopt the new standards voluntarily.


While it may seem burdensome to some, the rules have been put in place to protect children so we have a duty as a community to ensure the safety checks are carried out and done so appropriately.


If you are covered by the Act, you need to ensure you’re complying with the new requirements. Our legal team can provide advice as to whether your organisation is covered, and what to do to comply. We can also provide assistance with drafting relevant policies which comply with the Act, and with taking action against employees whose safety checks do not meet the requirements of the Act.


Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please contact the OSEA Legal Team for legal advice or for any questions specific to your workplace.


Angela MacKenzie

Solicitor


Legal Team

Diana Hudson, Managing Solicitor 03 456 1804 / 021 816 469 diana@osea.org.nz

David Browne, Solicitor 03 456 1812 / 021 225 6938 david@osea.org.nz

Angela MacKenzie, Solicitor 03 218 7962 / 021 756 809 angela@osea.org.nz

Grant Walker, Advocate 03 455 5165 grant@osea.org.nz