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The Evolution of DBS Checks: When Did They Become the Norm?

Background checks are a standard part of the hiring process in many industries. Employers seek to ensure the safety and integrity of their workplace, particularly when dealing with vulnerable populations or sensitive information.

One crucial tool in this endeavour is the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, which provides valuable insights into an individual’s criminal history.

But when did DBS checks emerge as the norm, and what factors contributed to their widespread adoption?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the evolution of DBS checks, from their inception to becoming a cornerstone of safeguarding practices across various sectors.

Early Origins: The Need for Transparency and Safety

The roots of background checks can be traced back centuries, as employers sought ways to assess the trustworthiness and suitability of potential hires. However, formalised background screening processes, akin to modern-day DBS checks, began to emerge in the mid-20th century.

In the United Kingdom, concerns about child welfare and protection played a significant role in shaping the evolution of these checks.

The Birth of the CRB: A Turning Point

In 2002, the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was established in the UK, marking a pivotal moment in the history of background checks. The CRB was tasked with providing access to criminal records information to help organisations make informed recruitment decisions, particularly in roles involving work with children or vulnerable adults.

This marked a significant step forward in safeguarding practices, offering employers a standardised process for assessing the suitability of candidates.

Transition to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

The CRB underwent several changes over the years, with one of the most notable being its merger with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) in 2012. This merger led to the creation of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which assumed responsibility for processing requests for criminal records checks and maintaining barred lists for individuals deemed unsuitable for certain roles.

Legal Mandates and Regulatory Requirements

The increasing prevalence of a DBS check can be attributed in part to legislative measures and regulatory requirements. Various laws and guidelines mandate background checks for certain positions, particularly those involving work with vulnerable populations or access to sensitive information.

For example, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 set out requirements for checks on individuals working with children and vulnerable adults, reinforcing the importance of robust safeguarding measures.

High-Profile Cases and Public Awareness

High-profile cases of abuse or misconduct, particularly those involving individuals in positions of trust, have also contributed to the normalization of DBS checks. These incidents have underscored the need for thorough vetting processes and heightened awareness of the risks associated with inadequate background screening. As public awareness of safeguarding issues has grown, so too has the demand for stringent background checks to mitigate potential risks.

Sector-Specific Adoption and Best Practices

Certain sectors, such as education, healthcare and social services, have been early adopters of DBS checks due to the nature of the work involved and the populations served. Over time, other industries have followed suit, recognising the value of comprehensive background checks in maintaining trust, protecting stakeholders and mitigating liability. For instance, retail has seen a rise in checks carried out, even e-commerce stores, like Funky Socks, have integrated the check into their hiring processes.

Streamlining Processes and Enhancing Accessibility

Advancements in technology have played a significant role in the evolution of DBS checks, making the process more efficient and accessible for both employers and applicants. Online application systems, electronic disclosures and automated processing have streamlined the vetting process, reducing paperwork and turnaround times.

Conclusion: DBS Checks as Standard Practice

DBS checks have evolved from a niche safeguarding measure to a standard practice in many industries. The establishment of the CRB and subsequent transition to the DBS marked important milestones in the development of background screening processes in the UK.

Legislative mandates, public awareness campaigns and sector-specific best practices have all contributed to the normalization of DBS checks as essential tools for ensuring transparency, safety and accountability in the workplace.

As safeguarding remains a top priority for organisations across diverse sectors, DBS checks are likely to continue playing a central role in recruitment and risk management strategies for years to come.