For many organisations, particularly those working with children or with adults with disabilities, the passing of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, enacted in March 2013, would not have demanded much of their attention beyond a cursory glance to ensure that their well-embedded practices were in line with the legislation. However, for organisations who work with people with drug and alcohol problems, this legislation promised clarity on questions that have been on the agenda of drug and alcohol services for many years: are our clients ‘vulnerable adults’? Can we have people working with our clients who are awaiting vetting? What types of criminal record will mean people cannot work with our client group?
Unfortunately, the legislation did not deliver the clarity that organisations working with this client group hoped for. The definition of ‘vulnerable adult’ remains unclear in the legislation and it remains unstated whether certain groups often considered vulnerable, such as people with addiction or elderly people, fall under the new legal definition of a vulnerable adult:
…someone suffering from a disorder of the mind, whether as a result of mental illness or dementia, has an intellectual disability, is suffering from a physical impairment, whether as a result of injury, illness or age or has a physical disability.
It is possible, indeed likely, that people who are in addiction and who are suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, paranoia and depression, or presenting with other co-morbid physical or mental health issues would fall under the definition. Given that people attending addiction services frequently present with such co-morbid issues it is likely that an organisation providing addiction support services occasionally or regularly provide services to people who fall directly under the definition above.
Beginning Work Prior to Vetting
In the past, it has been common practice for organisations that provide drug and alcohol support to allow a person to begin work, often with a more limited range of duties, prior to achieving Garda Vetting. It is also common practice for organisations to hire workers on a fixed-term or casual contract for service, such as facilitators and tutors, for example, without acquiring Garda Vetting for them. However, it seems clear in the law that if you presume your client group to fall under the definition of vulnerable adult then you cannot hire someone and have them start work or a training or education scheme that involves them working with that client group until Garda Vetting has been achieved. It is important to note that the law does not define what offences preclude someone from working with the client group, but leave this to the discretion of the management of the organisation. The law requires that the organisation protect their clients, but does not give specific details about how they should do this.
Risk Management: what does this all mean?
Currently, the waiting times for a report from the Garda Vetting bureau can take a considerable amount of time, creating significant delay on recruitment processes for organisations that are already stretched to provide services and protect the interests of their client group. As a response to this challange many organisations have stringent risk management strategies to ensure that where they can’t acquire Garda Vetting but choose hire someone to undertake work to support their clients that clients are not put at risk such as ensuring the person does not work in a 1-2-1 situation with clients until the Garda Vetting has been achieved.
The law does not specify that people attending drug and alcohol support services are by definition vulnerable adults. Any decision an organisation takes based on the presumption that their client group or some of their client group are not under the jurisdiction of this legislation may benefit from keeping clear records of any risk management decisions taken with the aim of protecting the client group in relation to recruitment and selection of staff and workforce management.