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Checking care workers: a scoping review of the international evidence

Final Report

Better safe than sorry 2016

About this report

Many people will have experience of needing a ‘criminal record check’ if they work with people using health or care services in the UK. Millions of such checks (now termed Disclosure and Barring Service checks in England) are conducted annually for those working or volunteering with groups considered vulnerable, such as older people. 

This report summarises the findings of an international review of evidence about the checking of staff and volunteers working with adults who are vulnerable or at risk (or similarly defined) receiving social care and support from non-professionals. The purposes and processes of such schemes are outlined. The authors found that the  context of increasing geographical mobility of care workers and growth in the direct employment of care workers in many countries, are important factors behind such schemes but that a small number of other countries take a different approach to rehabilitation of offenders.

'Our review found a variety of practices, ranging from no checks to substantial checks involving fingerprinting,' says Jill Manthorpe, Professor of Social Work and Director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. 'Different national contexts revealed different reasons for carrying out checks. These extended from efforts to stop fraudulent use of government subsidies to minimising the risk of harm to vulnerable adults, and more positively to enhance user and public trust in care providers. A small number of countries place particular emphasis on the individual employees’ rights to privacy and rehabilitation and this moral imperative overrides other policy goals. We found little evidence related to the consumer rights of people using care services. Interestingly, the preventive value of such schemes was in most countries presumed rather than available as evidence for scrutiny.'—4 May 2016

More about this study

The aim of this study was to: describe the procedures, aims and outcomes of such activity in other countries (including other UK countries); identify evidence on the value of different approaches taken; and draw out messages for English policy and practice in respect of recruitment checks and referrals to regulatory or other bodies.


2013 – 2016

Research team

Jill Manthorpe and Valerie Lipman (SCWRU)


Department of Health, Policy Research Programme


In England, a system of pre-employment checks on care workers (including criminal records and ascertaining whether workers have been barred from working with adults at risk) has developed over the past 20 years. Little is known, however, about international systems of pre-employment and current employment scrutiny of care practitioners.


A scoping literature review drew on systematic searches of the evidence from social care employment outside England. The review accessed a range of relevant databases including criminology databases, and we undertook searches of other websites and made contact with relevant stakeholders to retrieve material.


This final report was published in 2016.


The study will inform the development of policy and practice in pre-employment checks and safeguarding.

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