DBS checks in fostering (England)

Fostering services in England have an obligation to undertake statutory checks  - an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service Certificate,  often known as DBS checks - on all fostering applicants and other household members aged 18 and over.  This is to enable assessing social workers to consider any criminal convictions, cautions or other information held by the police that raise issues of concern. These can then be explored in relation to the household’s suitability to foster and so to help prevent children from being placed in potentially harmful situations. This brief guidance addresses some guiding principles when undertaking DBS checks for everyone involved in fostering.

Key points to consider

Fostering services are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of children they look after in foster care, therefore all appropriate checks during the assessment and approval of foster carers, including other adult household members and where appropriate support carers, must be given the utmost  priority and completed to the highest standards.

Fostering services need to be clear in their local policy and practice between the differences around regulatory requirements to undertaking DBS checks (involving regulated activity) for fostering households, staff and panel member, and repeat checks where professional judgement deems such checks to be necessary and appropriate.

Who should have a DBS check?

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) carries out criminal record checks for specific positions, professions, employment, offices, works and licences included in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and those prescribed in the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) regulations. The following groups would be subject to DBS checks:
  • fostering applicant, and other adult  household members
  • staff and volunteers
  • panel members
  • administrative workers
  • foster carer support network.

What are the different types of DBS checks?

 There are three types of DBS checks available (dependent upon eligibility criteria):
  • Standard: this checks for convictions (spent and unspent), cautions, reprimands and final warnings.
  • Enhanced: this is the same as the standard check and includes any additional information held by the police that is relevant to the role the person is applying for.
  • Enhanced with barred list checks: similar to the enhanced check, but also includes a check request of the DBS barred list for children and/or adults  (which is a list of individuals who are unsuitable to work with children and/or adults because of past convictions.)

When DBS checks are needed

 DBS checks are undertaken during initial fostering assessment and HR recruitment processes:
  • Initial checks - DBS checks will be undertaken for fostering applicants and other adult household members during assessment and is a requirement in accordance with Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011: Regulation 26 (1A) - Part 1 of Schedule 3.
  • Recruitment process/procedures - for staff and panel members.
  • Repeat checks - most fostering services have established as good practice to routinely update criminal records checks for their approved foster carers, other adult household members, sometimes for individuals involved in the care of any children via the foster carer support network, panel members and employed staff workforce.  This is not a regulatory requirement but is subject to local policy and practice.
  • Change - any changes to household, including a staying put arrangement.
The DBS legal duty to refer guidance form places a legal duty on employers and personnel suppliers to refer any person who has:
  • harmed or poses a risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult;
  • satisfied the harm test; or
  • received a caution or conviction for a relevant offence.

How a DBS check takes place

The DBS update service is available online and allows applicants to keep their DBS certificates up to date and employers to check a DBS certificate.  However, fostering services must remember that the update service undertakes checks against the named individual and does not include other 'soft' information in relation to the address and other members of the household that is included in an enhanced check.