What are the adequate procedures required for safeguarding and why do organisations find this such a challenge?

Sir Roger Singleton, former chief executive of Barnardo’s and a leading adviser to the Government on safeguarding children introduced the topic of the first GoodCorporation Business Ethics Debate of 2017. He began with a summary of the five key factors that are central to a better understanding of safeguarding.

  1. Despite the focus on Stranger Danger, children are usually abused by members of their family or people known to them, often those in positions of trust
  2. Power relationships play a significant part in abuse. Family members, teachers, coaches, religious leaders all have significant influence over a child’s future which, when exploited, both facilitates the abuse and explains why children stay silent.
  3. It can’t happen here: too often there has been a deeply held belief by many adults that because those who have legitimate relationships with their children (teachers, coaches family members or religious leaders) are known, this provides a guarantee of safety.  Until relatively recently, this belief that “it can’t happen here” has also created a climate of concealment, prioritising the protection of reputation over full disclosure and proper investigation.
  1. The changing nature of abuse: 20 years ago, the prevailing view was that physical and sexual abuse was something that occurred between men and boys, with some abuse of teenage girls by men. While this continues, new forms of abuse have developed which we must acknowledge:
  • A small but noticeable increase in abuse by women, often of teenage boys and girls
  • The increased availability of adult pornography (internet and late night TV)
  • The availability of child pornography on the internet

These developments have created increased opportunities for adult abuse and for the abuse of younger children by older children. In addition, we have also seen an emergence or rise in the following:

  • Sexting and the transmission of explicit material by phone
  • Neglect of children by adults often with mental health or drug problems
  • Domestic abuse
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Encouraging children to watch and hear sexual acts
  • trafficking

Many organisations could come into contact with children who have been subject to these abuses and must be aware of the signs.

  1. Issues for people working with children
  • We need to give more attention to prevention and the promotion of safe working practices. This goes beyond DBS checks to safer recruitment, induction, training, supervision and regular briefings. Staying up-to-date is vital.
  • Get beyond the paperwork. Safeguarding is long on guidelines. Three issues are key:
    • Know how to spot ALL the signs of abuse and neglect
    • Know how to respond to a disclosure
    • Know what to do next
  • Be vigilant, but be sensible. Being mindful of keeping children safe should not undermine our trust in those colleagues who work with children. We need to balance that trust with a proper regard for the safety and well-being of our children, understanding what is right and speaking out when things go wrong.

The discussion centred around the problems many organisations face in embedding good safeguarding practice with an additional focus on the approaches taken that were felt to be most effective. Below is a summary of the points raised.

Barriers to good safeguarding practice:

  • The difficulty in creating a co-ordinated and centralised approach to safeguarding that can then be disseminated to and embedded in all affiliate organisations.
  • The complexity of many organisations can impede the ability to ensure that practice is understood and acted upon. In some organisations the decision-making process is unacceptably slow meaning it can take years to effect a change. Boards and trustees need to understand their responsibilities for safeguarding and the need to have good practice in place.
  • Taking a tick-box approach to compliance can lead to an assumption that an organisation is a safe place. Good safeguarding relies on creating the right culture, where this is not embraced at the top, best practice cannot be properly established.
  • Safeguarding practice needs to move from being reactive to being proactive. Policies and processes alone are not enough – a determined abuser can always find a way around the system.
  • A lack of training to recognise the symptoms and signs of abuse.
  • An over-reliance on DBS checking can lead to misplaced confidence that safe recruitment is in place.
  • Be wary of always taking a risk-averse approach – children and young people, particularly those with a history of abuse need to be helped to build resilience, to accept and engage in ‘normal’ activities.

Approaches taken to embed adequate procedures for safeguarding:

  • Some organisations are using qualified therapists, psychologists and childcare experts to help manage safeguarding and to advise on possible signs of neglect and abuse.
  • Where third parties are the ones who work with children and young people organisations are ensuring that the protocols and procedures of the third party are rigorously checked, in particular that the right people are being employed.
  • Ensuring that the organisation has a clear understanding of all forms or abuse and that all employees who come into contact with children and young people have an awareness of the signs and symptoms is essential.
  • Culture, leadership and education are key – creating the right culture will do more to stop abuse than anything else.
  • Training is more important than policy – make any policy clear, concise and up-to-date, but above all ensure that good practice is properly embedded through the right training.
  • Speaking out: children and young people need to know that it’s OK to say no, that they must speak out if subjected to any abuse and that they will not suffer any detriment for doing so. Organisations must invest in education, training and good reporting networks.

The GoodCorporation view:

Safeguarding should be about putting in place positive measures to enable children and vulnerable people to take part in activities, rather than stopping them from doing so. Developing a strong culture which promotes safeguarding and encourages transparency and disclosure is the best way to protect children and young people from potential abusers. Creating and maintaining this culture is everyone’s responsibility.

Our goodblog on adequate and robust procedures for child protection outlines our view of best practice. GoodCorporation’s safeguarding framework provides a useful overall guide to good safeguarding practices.