All international school staff must follow school policies, accreditation standards, and local laws in recruitment and hiring. Your accreditation agency can provide additional guidance.
Q. What does safer recruitment and hiring entail?
A. “Prominent safeguarding statements on all recruitment documentation; comprehensive training for those involved in selection of candidates; identity checks; criminal records checks; robust reference pro formas and application forms that include safeguarding questions; rigorous checking of employment history, references and qualifications; and effective interview techniques that ensure adults are suitable to work with children are all important,” according to international employment guidance from Farrer & Co. Emphasizing child protection may make your organization less attractive for those with a propensity to harm children, and more attractive to those who will protect them by responding to inappropriate or harmful behavior.
An employment lawyer says, “Safer recruitment is the organization’s first opportunity to prevent abuse. If carried out effectively, safer recruitment practices can enable organizations to detect and reject unsuitable candidates…and deter individuals looking to target (those) with relaxed standards.”
Q. How can interviews help ensure we’re hiring safely?
A. Interviewers should have training on behavioral indicators of offenders, high risk applicants, and Values Based Interviewing (VBI) techniques that identify attitude and behavior patterns. Best interview practice includes using scripted, open-ended questions with follow ups, asking experiential (tell me about a time when…) as opposed to situational (what would you do if…) questions and having another individual take notes so the interviewer can better evaluate answers. In addition, question applicant’s references or previous supervisor by phone or video using open-ended and pointed questions such as, ‘in what situation would you rehire this person?’ or ‘have concerns about this person’s suitability been raised?’ For more information see the guidance in Recruitment Practices.
An HR professional says, “Be aware of available resources and best practice. Experts agree that background checks and screening measures can promote an ‘illusion of safety’. Having probing conversations with references is your most valuable tool because a background check that looks real can be bought on the street. Adopting an attitude of ‘it could happen here’ is a critical part of cultivating an ethos of protection.”
U.S. Department of Justice guidelines state, “If the applicant’s hiring cannot be delayed until completion of screening, the applicant should be restricted to situations in which another worker is present. The applicant should never be alone with vulnerable individuals.”
Q. I’m a teacher and I’m worried I can’t provide a background check for some countries where I’ve worked. Shouldn’t the school help me?
A. Currently, it may be difficult in some countries to obtain a background check if you are no longer resident. Obtain documentation from a national source, or local law enforcement before you leave the country. Prospective employees should show attention to this matter and describe how they have attempted to meet the new standards for background checks. Review individual country guidelines here.
An HR professional says, “Many countries do not release information to third parties and data protection laws would apply in many cases. There are many resources available to assist in acquiring checks. Your accreditation agency or recruiter can recommended online services. The hiring school must have safe recruitment strategies in place and provide appropriate induction training so they may choose to assist you, but it remains your responsibility.”
Q. I’m a school official, and someone I want to hire cannot produce a background check from long ago. What do I do?
An HR professional says, “Make sure that all possible due diligence is followed. Has the person been able to get a statement from the school to confirm that to the best of their knowledge, nothing untoward happened during their time there? Conduct a formal risk assessment before you make a decision to hire. This should be documented with reasons given, signed by Head of School, and kept safe in the personnel file.
Q. My school head hires staff without checking references, and I don’t think any of the staff at my school have had background checks. What is my responsibility as an HR professional?
A. Follow your accrediting organization’s core practices with diligence. If your school does not meet core staffing standards it will lose accreditation and is exposed to lawsuits. Speak to the Head of School and work out a plan to correct this practice which should include any adults in the employee’s household living on school grounds with access to students. Review the ITFCP Essential Recruiting Practices here.
An HR professional says, “Not all schools have an HR department so this responsibility may lie with school leadership. Your host country may have legislation and applicable regulations to consider as well. Best practice would dictate that the school have a Safe Recruitment Policy in place. If no background checks are being conducted this school is extremely unsafe. Would you want to work at such a school?”
Q. What are the reporting procedures for a member of staff who has been dismissed for behaving inappropriately with a child? How do we handle requests for references?
A. The process for allegations should be explained in the school’s child protection policy and during intake training. Violations of the staff Code of Conduct are grounds for dismissal. When an allegation is determined to be credible, the school will generally conduct an internal review or risk assessment. Depending on the severity of the allegation, this may be done by a senior member of staff, HR professional, or an independent expert or adviser. During this process the accused is removed from contact with children and may secure their own lawyer. A colleague or HR staff member should be designated as a contact for the accused staff member to keep them updated on the review process. All accusations, findings, and decisions should be documented and securely retained.
An HR professional says, “If the staff member has been dismissed for behaving inappropriately with a child follow local laws regarding references. Many countries make exceptions to privacy requirements for professionals working with children and employee contracts can be constructed to permit sharing of unresolved safeguarding concerns.”
Q. What is best practice around employment contacts and release clauses?
A. A quick glance at recent headlines demonstrates that non-disclosure agreements and release clauses that seek to protect the reputation of the school do not stand up to scrutiny in the event of a sexual abuse allegation. They also may be superseded by local laws. One of the best safeguards is robust child protection policies.
An HR professional says, “Being strong on child protection is an inducement for excellent staff. Being hired by a school with high standards adds professional value. Firm child protection language is not something candidates are shying away from, it is something they expect and see as a benefit.”
Employment applications and employment contracts should be drafted in consultation with local legal counsel and should specify what actions the school will take if information comes to light concerning inappropriate behavior – either during or post-employment. Schools may even wish to take steps to formally remove the restrictions imposed by previous non-disclosure agreements.
Legal experts in the child protection field generally recommend that employment contracts contain language that provides assurances where no safeguarding concerns are raised and reserves the right to decline to give a reference in cases of unresolved safeguarding concerns.
Specific to settlement agreements, a legal professional says, “We would normally never advise a school to enter into a settlement agreement with someone against who safeguarding concerns have been raised and are being investigated. Schools should always seek advice from local lawyers on privacy, information sharing and other related employment law.”
The material appearing in these pages is intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice or used as such.