FA’s review of abuse in football must look forwards as well as back

Since the first revelation by ex-Crewe defender Andy Woodward in mid-November, the allegations of historical abuse in football have escalated to alarming levels, presenting a very real crisis for the sport.

To date, 98 amateur and professional clubs have been linked to allegations of abuse, twenty-one police forces have opened investigations and a dedicated sexual abuse line, set up by the NSPCC and supported by the Football Association (FA), received 860 calls in the first three days; more than three times as many as the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal. The NSPCC has since made more than 60 referrals to a range of agencies across the country.

Investigations are also taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The FA has begun an internal review, led by Clive Sheldon QC, to look not just at what officials and clubs knew and when, but also at the steps taken at the time. The focus of the review is historical but it does indicate that the FA will consider what lessons can be learned and make recommendations as appropriate.

However, unlike the Dame Janet Smith Review of the BBC following the Savile scandal, the terms of reference do not include a review of existing child protection policies and procedures at either FA or club level. Ensuring that there could be no repetition of the appalling abuses by Savile was rightly of paramount importance to the BBC. Consequently, the one overarching recommendation of the Dame Janet Smith Review was that the BBC review and independently audit not just its child protection and safeguarding policies, but also the policies and systems in place that enable people to raise concerns and make complaints.

While the historical perspective is clearly vital, the FA should also be using the review to look forwards, ensuring that abuse on this scale can never happen again. This should entail a review of existing child protection policies and guidance to ensure they conform with current best practice and should be undertaken at club level as well as by the governing body. This would also address the public nervousness that has not surprisingly been raised about what might be happening now.

So what should the FA be recommending as best practice?

  • A review of existing policies and procedures and benchmark these against recognised best practice
  • A risk assessment to ensure all child protection and safeguarding risks have been properly identified and addressed in policy and procedure
  • Ensure that the child protection and safeguarding policies are endorsed by the board or equivalent and communicated prominently throughout the organisation
  • Ensure screening and training procedures for those working with and looking after children are robust and fit-for-purpose
  • Ensure that those working with and looking after children understand the definition of abuse and can recognise the signs
  • Create a safe and supervised environment that caters for the needs of children and protects their vulnerability
  • Review whistleblowing policies to ensure that an effective system is in place for raising concerns and making complaints confidentially, both from inside and outside the organisation. This should include a clear policy on notifying the police or social services in cases of imminent or on-going danger or suspected abuse
  • Ensure that child protection and safeguarding measures are regularly reviewed at a senior level and that any issues identified are dealt with appropriately

GoodCorporation works with organisations to assess and strengthen their child protection and safeguarding policies using our child protection framework. We worked with the BBC to review the corporation’s existing child protection and safeguarding policies in the wake of the Savile scandal. Our initial findings were incorporated into the Dame Janet Smith review. As part of the BBC’s response to that review, we have just completed a further assessment of their child protection and whistleblowing policies to monitor progress against our initial recommendations.

The BBC’s child protection and safeguarding approach is now considered to be industry leading.