Child protection: how can businesses ensure robust and adequate procedures?

David Beckham’s condemnation of child abuse in football on Desert Island Discs is a reminder that while there is a framework for protecting children in the UK that is firmly rooted in legislation, policy and principles, child protection is everyone’s responsibility.

Safeguarding children and vulnerable people is not just about preventing sexual or physical abuse: it is multifaceted, covering the creation of a safe environment and ensuring that a child’s health and development are not impaired. For organisations, while avoiding harm is clearly the primary motivation, prevention should be highly prioritised with careful risk assessments conducted to ensure that proper systems and processes are in place to prevent abuse.

Organisations should:

  • conduct regular child protection and safeguarding risk assessments and monitor the implementation of any actions required
  • use the risk assessment to develop an appropriate and long-term child protection strategy
  • assess whether the right policies are in place and, where there are gaps, ensure that appropriate procedures are developed
  • ensure that staff and managers are committed to implementing these policies and abiding by them – this is everyone’s responsibility if children and vulnerable people are to be kept safe
  • ensure that safeguarding sits at the heart of the organisation, ideally in the risk or health and safety function
  • ensure that staff are trained in recognising safeguarding concerns, what to do and who to speak to, if they occur
  • reporting channels must be in place; issues raised must be treated seriously and carefully to ensure that there is confidence that the right actions will be taken if a concern is raised
  • ensure that the designated person with responsibility for safeguarding has the knowledge and authority to investigate and escalate any allegations or concerns appropriately, contacting the relevant authorities as needed. They should also be empowered to drive change within the organisation as needed.
  • ensure that appropriate and suitable people are recruited to the organisation with DBS checks conducted where permissible and a comprehensive record system maintained
  • consider complex issues such as parental consent, data protection and the use of children’s images in marketing, as these should all be included within the safeguarding policy area
  • internal or external audits of policy implementation are recommended; performance can be measured and benchmarked if appropriate to give appropriate governance assurances
  • where third parties have any interaction with children, the adequacies of their safeguarding practices should be checked before an agreement is reached. Contractual requirements and close monitoring should be used where necessary to ensure that the organisation’s standards are met and that children are properly protected. Sanctions should be imposed where necessary.
  • For those organisations working abroad the risks can be greater: awareness of the issues is often lower, there is little or no screening and fewer procedures in place. Companies should be mindful of this and take care to ensure that their child protection and safeguarding policies are being properly implemented

Safeguarding children is a high-profile issue and while mandatory reporting has been ruled out, it is wholly unacceptable for an organisation to do nothing if it has any information about abuse. While employees should be protected from false accusations and confidentiality preserved pending the outcome of any investigation, child protection should override all other concerns. Organisations must investigate any allegations immediately, reporting to safeguarding authorities when necessary.

Clear guidance and training so that people in the workplace know what to do is essential, but it is equally important that there is a proper understanding of the real risks so that the practices put in place are proportionate.

The current focus on child protection in many high-profile cases in the UK is forcing corporates to consider whether they have adequate safeguards in place. In addition to the steps outlined above, organisations should remind staff that child protection is everyone’s responsibility, making it explicitly clear that no concern is too trivial to be raised.