I have somehow found myself sitting on the PTA committee of my son's primary school and at a recent meeting to discuss the School fair, my legal knowledge came into its own. The discussion? Does the volunteer 'playing' Santa need to be subject to a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check (previously known as a CRB check)? A hot debate ensued and I was faced with a dilemma – do I pipe up with the answer and risk disagreeing with some of the persons present or keep quiet? In the end I did neither – the poor volunteer identified was already DBS checked and so the question became irrelevant (although I am now faced with some very awkward questions from my son regarding why Santa looks just like his friend's Dad).
However, given that the Christmas season is almost upon us, I thought it would be helpful to set out the position – should you be contemplating putting on a Santa's grotto. The short answer is that in most circumstances, no, Santa does not need to be subject to a DBS check. However, you should note:
- Following the introduction of new Safeguarding rules the requirements regarding the vetting of volunteers who may come into contact with children changed.
- Santa should not have unsupervised access to children and anyone who undertakes a 'regulated activity' will be subject to a DBS check.
- 'Regulated activity' related to children which requires a DBS check is set out in the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and includes the care for or supervision of children.
- Clearly Santa is going to come into contact with children but in order to qualify under the definition, the activity must be carried out 'frequently' or the 'period condition' satisfied. To be carried out 'frequently' the activity needs to be carried out once a week or more, on an ongoing basis. The 'period condition' is satisfied if the individual carries out the activity on more than three days in any period of 30 days; or the activity is carried out between 2am and 6am. In most cases, Santa only has to fulfil his grotto duties once a year, usually during the day, and so it's unlikely that they would ever cross the threshold to require a full check. Obviously the position would be different if Santa was required to put in a more regular appearance.
However, notwithstanding the position regarding a DBS check, given the amount of media attention surrounding child protection issues, anyone putting on a Santa's grotto should clearly choose their Santa volunteer wisely and exercise common sense. The Safe Network has produced some guidance which includes:
- Whenever possible, organisations should invite those volunteers or members of staff who have already undergone DBS checks through their employment or profession to act as Santa and his assistants.
- Parents should remain with their child at all times.
- It is best practice for Santa to be accompanied by at least one other person at all times (and ideally this person would be DBS checked); this is in addition to any adult that accompanies the child. If that level of support cannot be maintained at any point during the day then you should consider letting Santa ‘go off duty’.
- The arrangements must be such that there cannot be any possibility of Santa being placed in unaccompanied ‘one-to-one’ contact with a child in a ‘private’ place such as a grotto.
- Although Santa, and his assistants, should not invite children to sit on Santa’s knee, some children may wish to: if it is the child’s wish it may be allowed with the parent’s consent.
In addition, you could consider asking the volunteer to provide references and undertake an informal interview for the role. If you are a school, it is also advisable to make them aware of the School's child protection policy.