General Election 2024

Read our updates on issues relevant to charities for the upcoming election. Learn more

Choosing staff, volunteers and trustees

This page is free to all

Use this page to understand how to think about safeguarding during recruitment, including role descriptions, interviews, getting references, and when to carry out criminal record checks.

Before you start

As soon as you start thinking about bringing a new person to work in your organisation, you must consider how to make sure that person will be safe and responsible. This applies to staff, volunteers and trustees. Putting safeguarding first helps you create a safe and positive environment for your team and everyone you work with.

If your organisation works directly with children or adults at risk you should follow a detailed best practice guide for safer recruitment. However, even in a small organisation, you should use some elements of safer recruitment.

Three key principles will help make sure you’re putting safeguarding into practice when choosing your staff and volunteers:

  • Your processes must relate to the level of risk involved. Don’t burden people with too many responsibilities for a low risk role.
  • Your requirements must suit the risk of each role. Don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach for all staff and volunteers.
  • You must review this at least once a year, check you are following your plans and make sure they are working well to keep people safe from harm.

Understanding the roles

Firstly, you must clearly set out responsibilities for a role. A role description helps you decide the level of risk involved and what steps you’ll take when recruiting. This is a mixture of following legal rules and making judgement calls.

The role description helps everyone be clear what’s expected of the person.

Interviews and references

It’s essential to get to know people before you bring them into your team, whether they’re staff or volunteers. A two part approach works best. Start with an interview or chat so you can form your own opinions, then get references from others so you can check the opinions you formed.

Interviews also offer a chance to discuss safeguarding so the people understand your organisation’s commitment to safeguarding and what’s expected. Talk about your organisation and its values when you recruit new staff or volunteers, so people entering the organisation know what’s expected.

Checking criminal records

A key element of safeguarding is knowing when to check the criminal history of a potential employee or volunteer (known as disclosure and barring checks in England and Wales). For some roles (called regulated activity) you must, by law, request a check. For other roles you are allowed to make a judgement call as to whether it’s appropriate and proportionate to do so. For other roles, the level of check you can ask for is limited depending on what they do and how they are supervised.

If you decide to get checks, you must also be ready to know how to respond to the results. Under the law on rehabilitating offenders, you must only take into account offences that are relevant to the role you have available when deciding whether someone should join your organisation.

Getting people started

The time when an employee or volunteer first joins you is an opportunity to make sure they understand how your organisation does safeguarding.

Make sure you have an induction session or process where new staff and volunteers learn about key elements of safeguarding. This should include your code of conduct and the procedures they are most likely to need.

Next, you need to think about the right training for new staff and volunteers. Training should give a general overview of how your organisation does safeguarding and then be tailored for specific roles.

Next steps

Last reviewed: 18 June 2021

Help us improve this content

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 June 2021

Back to top

Sign up for emails

Get regular updates on NCVO's help, support and services