Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to hopefully inform, create debate and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child’s voice and how what they tell us informs the work we do.
Hi and welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. Now over the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of six programmes related to safeguarding in the voluntary and community sector or VCS for short.
Chris Cloke who was, until very recently, the NSPCC’s Head of Safeguarding in Communities and who worked for the NSPCC for over 30 years, was drafted back in to facilitate these podcasts. Chris has a huge wealth of experience and knowledge in safeguarding and in the VCS (voluntary community sector) and so we were really pleased that he came back to provide his expertise.
The podcast you’re about to listen to focuses on VCS groups and organisations who are new to safeguarding. Chris sat down and had a chat with Heidi Bradley and Cate Meredith.
Heidi works for England Athletics and she’s one of their club support managers, as well as being an ambassador and adviser for Brass Bands England on safeguarding.
Cate is one of the NSPCC’s Senior Consultants for Safeguarding in Communities. She lends her expertise to organisations in the VCS to ensure that their safeguarding responsibilities are supported, understood and met.
Heidi, Cate and Chris discuss what organisations need to consider and address when thinking about their safeguarding responsibilities and they also provide advice, tips and guidance to support this.
Chris began by asking Cate what the legal requirements for safeguarding are that new organisations need to consider.
So, a lot of it isn't about the law, it’s about good practice rather than the law. But having said that, there are some very key pieces of legislation and there’s lots and lots of different bits of legislation that have a bit of a bearing on safeguarding and we could spend the rest of the day probably listing what all those are.
One of the things to remember is that the law can depend on where you are in the UK. In England, for example, some of the key legislation that we rely on are the two Children Acts: the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004. Whereas in Scotland, for example, Scotland has its Children and Young People Scotland Act 2014 that forms the legislative framework for its safeguarding arrangements and then it has things like Getting it Right for Every Child and its own national guidance. Similarly, in Northern Ireland and in Wales, they have their own legislation and their own guidance.
But one of the things that all the legislation has in common, wherever you are in the UK, is that it encourages us and reminds us that safeguarding children and young people, protecting children and young people, is everybody’s responsibility.
It’s something that all of us working with children and young people, involved with children and young people share: that no one organisation can actually do that by itself and that isn't a safe way to operate and it’s not safe for any organisation to think that it can do it by itself.
It has to take responsibility but part of doing that is working together with other organisations to provide a network of care for all children and young people.
Does it come as a surprise to those organisations who are setting up that they need to address safeguarding, do you think?
Yes, I think it does actually. I think that a lot of organisations say things like, “well, you know, what we’re interested in doing is running an art club for young people so what’s that got to do with safeguarding?” and sometimes also organisations can become quite anxious about it.
They can think “oh, goodness, does that mean that we can’t take children out?” for example, or “does that mean that every single person who comes anywhere near the organisation has to have a DBS check?” and they can feel quite overwhelmed about that and or else they’ll think, “oh that’s all just too much, so we’re not going to anything at all” and some of them, sadly, even think “well that’s all just too much, we’re not going to bother, we’re not going to even try and set up that club that we were wanting to do”. And that is a real shame if organisations feel that because it is the thing that can be done in a proportionate way and step-by-step and it can sound overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming because support is out there.
So, when you have those discussions with these groups who are setting up, you’re able to really take a proportionate approach to it and so it doesn’t need to be so overwhelming?
Absolutely, yes and obviously what a huge, big multimillion pound organisation is able to do and is required to do, is different in scope and detail from what a little community arts club meeting on a Tuesday night is going to be able to do.
The values and the aim is the same but in practice what people do has to be proportionate to what they’re able to do and what their resources are.
Heidi, is there anything you’d like to add?
I think some of the points that Cate’s made are also valid for organisations that have been existing for a long time. So, some of the brass bands that I’ve worked with have been in existence for over a hundred years an obviously whilst the committees have changed throughout that time, it’s about bringing some of those organisations up-to-speed on current legislation and helping them to understand what they do need to have in place.
A lot of organisations, a lot of brass bands now, are running their own youth bands as music within schools is reducing, so they’re taking on that responsibility themselves and it’s just helping them understand what they would need to have in place in order to bring those children into a safe environment.
And when you’re working with those brass bands and they’re needing to address safeguarding issues, are you finding that they’re overwhelmed by it? What sort of response are you finding bands are having?
I think similarly to Cate, to start with they’ll want to know what the legal position is. And one thing I will say on that is that the Working Together document and some of the documents that Cate mentioned, they are very readable, they’re not full of legal speak so it is worth taking a look at them and maybe pulling out the section that’s relevant and sharing that with your committee.
They don’t know what they don’t know. So they maybe feel a little bit overwhelmed. They may be a little bit unsure about asking volunteers for police checks or looking at some safer recruitment practices but once you kind of explain the reasons for that and that it actually helps keep the volunteers protected and safe as well as keeping the young people protected and safe and just doing a little piece of development work with that organisation to help them understand what needs to be in place, I think it suddenly becomes a lot more manageable. And I guess it’s about not trying to do everything all at once but just looking at individual sections of it.
Clearly, voluntary and community sector organisations and groups are very varied and so they can be very large groups, you can get very small groups, they can be recreational, they can be meeting particular needs. So we’re talking about a very wide range of organisations. Do they all need to have the same things in place in order to protect and safeguard children?
I think there are some basic things that it is important for all organisations to have regardless of what they’re actually doing so basic things, for example, like some basic policies and procedures.
It’s important for somebody working or helping or volunteering in that organisation to know who to talk to and what to do if, for example, they’re worried about a child. And that doesn’t matter whatever it is that the organisation’s doing, whether it’s a sport-based organisation or whether it’s a faith organisation or whether it’s about running outdoor activities or whatever it is - there are clearly going to be basic things like that.
Things like making sure that the people who are working for or volunteering for that organisation are people who are suitable people to be working with children. That’s again, a basic thing that runs across everything really.
Things like making sure that the way in which activities are run are done in a way that minimises the risk of serious accidents, that they’re properly risk assessed for example, things like that.
So, yes, there are those basic things that are very important but beyond that, I think it’s really important that an organisation thinks of itself as being something that is unique and that the way in which it keeps people safe - children and young people and adults as well, if it’s working with adults, and its own staff and volunteers - has to be in a way that fits comfortably with what it actually is doing.
It has to be something that doesn’t get in the way of what it is that it’s trying to do and so the organisation really can’t just sort of lift a template or a kind of a model from a website or from another organisation and say, “well we’re going to do it exactly the same as this organisation” because they can’t because they need to actually make it something that fits for them.
It has to be a bespoke suit of clothing rather than an off-the-shelf thing really. And the other important thing about that is the process of doing that, the process of getting those things right for that individual organisation is a dynamic process that takes the people who are involved with that organisation along as well. And so it’s owned by that organisation and hopefully also by the children and young people there as well. So it’s something that they have made for themselves and for their children and young people which is a good thing to do and a thing for which every organisation should be proud. They should take pride in having done that.
Heidi, it seems to me that the world of brass bands and the world of athletics might be very different although obviously there could be similarities. What’s been your experience? Do you think there is, you know in terms of what organisations need to have in place, are you finding that athletics and brass bands need to have the same things in place?
Certainly to a point there are some things, so as Cate mentioned around key policies and procedures, there’s certainly some crossover there. But I think it’s important for the organisation to understand where they kind of sit within their bigger world. Within athletics, we have a very structured governing body and a very straight reporting process within the sport that needs to be utilised. But within a voluntary organisation, they may feel that they’re a little bit more alone, so having to understand what policies and procedures they need in place in terms of what their reporting structure should look like.
So there’s certainly some differences there and I also feel it’s important to look at the environment of what that organisation is trying to do, to almost see it from the child’s perspective of what should they have in place. So some key things around sport could be about progression, of making sure that their talented athletes get the opportunity to reach their potential but without potentially over-training and making sure that they’re in age-appropriate groups or training in appropriate groups; whereas with the brass band world, it’s much more multi-generational but that on a different side, obviously brings different things to consider in terms of safeguarding when, for example, they’re going away to a competition and there might be some social time that they maybe need to consider.
Do you think it’s helpful if an organisation can have somebody who takes the lead on safeguarding?
Yes, I think that leadership is very important when it comes to taking an organisation to a place where it’s safeguarding arrangements are in place. That isn't going to happen by osmosis, it’s not going to happen without somebody actually taking the time and putting in the work to make that happen. And it’s important that that person either is, or is supported by, somebody who is at a very senior level in the organisation rather than it being delegated to a new member of staff who’s perhaps joined in a fairly junior position.
That isn't a good way for it to be done. That doesn’t mean that other people can’t also have a role in helping to put things in place and helping the organisation to move forward, that’s really important, but the person leading it needs to be somebody who is in a senior position.
How important are policies and procedures and what should they cover?
Well, yes Chris, they are very important and they’re very necessary even for small organisations.
I think for a helper or a volunteer who is maybe thinking about how to respond to a child that they’re worried about or maybe if they have some anxiety or worry about somebody else, another member of staff even, or somebody else working in the organisation, or there are things in the organisation that they’re uncomfortable about, or somebody wants to make a complaint, or all of these things, what somebody on the receiving end of those concerns needs is a really clear way forward so that they know what to do. The organisation owes it to its children and young people primarily but also to its staff and its volunteers to provide them with that clarity around what is expected of them.
Another area where it’s important to have, I don’t know if it is exactly a procedure, but it’s a code of conduct, really clear pointers as to how people should behave when they’re around children, what is alright and what is not alright.
Often what can happen and when things go wrong is not that an organisation has been infiltrated by somebody who has a motivation to abuse a child - clearly, that can happen and is a risk and it’s something not to minimise - but often what happens is that people get into situations and get a bit out of their depth. Maybe they’re trying to deal with a behavioural issue with a child for example or maybe a child has developed an attachment to that person or even a crush or an inappropriate attachment to that person and then the member of staff or the helper’s thinking, “oh goodness me, how do I deal with this?” and so then things like a code of conduct is really important and it’s also something that can be used as a bit of yardstick.
If there are concerns about somebody’s behaviour, one way of seeing if this actually a concern is by looking at the code of conduct and saying “well, to what extent does what that person has done depart from what we are saying in our code of conduct?”. So things like that are some of the procedures and processes that are really important but they’re not the only thing that’s important and they’re not going to work unless other things are in place as well. And some of those other things, for example, are good governance, so it’s really clear about who is responsible for what and where do lines of accountability lie and how do decisions get made and all of that kind of thing.
Attention to health and safety - and clearly there can be an overlap between health and safety and safeguarding as we’ve suggested already - but that’s really important.
Things like good financial management. An organisation can get into all sorts of a mess with its safeguarding if the finances are in a mess, so that needs to be there as well; and also, good processes around not only how staff are recruited in the first place but also how they’re supported and how they’re managed and supervised and that is something that often we think is just for big organisations to do. Big organisations obviously must do that and they’re going to have probably quite detailed processes around appraisal and performance management and discipline for dealing with when things go wrong but small organisations too, in a proportionate way, can also do things about that.
Someone who is volunteering for a small organisation should have somebody who is actually taking responsibility for making sure that they’re all right and making sure that the work that they do is appropriate and is something that they can manage and fits with what they want to be doing and sits down with them and goes through those things with them And if things are going wrong, then actually doesn’t allow that to get worse but actually picks it up and nips it in the bud whilst it can still be nipped in the bud.
So, these are some of the things really that organisations need to be thinking about alongside their procedures and alongside their policies.
So, it seems that all the measures that you’ve been describing are very important and that safeguarding and child protection needs to be right but those other provisions governing other areas are also important and they need to integrate it and reinforce each other.
Heidi, you’ve been developing policies and procedure. When it comes to implementing them, what’s been your experience in terms of working with your colleagues within your organisations?
Oh, I think first of all, I can understand when I’m working with say a brand-new running club, for example, that they’re very excited to get going and or somebody wants to set up a new junior section for example and they’re very keen on purchasing equipment and getting the activities right but it is very important to get these policies and procedures in place in the background. I’ve had many calls over the last eight years that I’ve been involved in England Athletics where something has gone wrong and they’ve not had that procedure in place and it’s caused a lot more stress and confusion and possibly volunteers stepping down because they’ve not really had that process in place to deal with it.
So I guess my big message is to kind of do it during the quiet time rather than when something has happened and you are kind of having to do that retrospectively.
We often hear when we talk about organisations and groups that there’s a culture within that organisation or group or a set of values. How does safeguarding relate to that?
I think every organisation has a set of values that run throughout that organisation in all its activities, including its safeguarding activities, but not just its safeguarding activities and sometimes those are articulated and out there in the open, and sometimes they’re not, but even when they’re not out in the open, it doesn’t mean that they’re not there. And clearly what is a useful exercise and a helpful exercise for any organisation is to try and think about what are the values and principles that underlie the work that they do and are they the values and principles that they would want to be there? I think actually doing a little bit of work about that and understanding and sharing that within the organisation can be very helpful and if safeguarding can be linked to those as well, then it helps to make sure that safeguarding is truly embedded in the organisation and it isn't a sort of add-on activity that can then easily sort of fall off the end.
And a key part of that culture might also be how far we listen to children and young people and give children a voice and that must relate to child protection and safeguarding too.
Heidi, have you thought about how important it is in terms of safeguarding to listen to what children and young people are saying?
Yes definitely and part of the action plans that I maybe help new athletics clubs write or even existing athletics clubs, is around what can they have in place to kind of hear the children’s voice and it might be something simple like looking at the training kit.
I know one organisation recently has changed one of their training tops because the young people didn’t like it. They didn’t like the colour, it wasn’t trendy enough or there was some reason and similarly with my youth band, we got them to choose their uniform because the adult band is quite a traditional uniform and the children wanted something that was a little bit more up-to-date I guess. So just thinking things like that of how can we kind of engage them and keep them interested and enjoying it.
So just looking at communication channels and what information would you want, what do you want to understand from the children to keep them enjoying and keep them safe within the environment.
How long does it take an organisation to get up-to-speed with safeguarding?
Well that’s a question that a lot of organisations themselves ask when they get in touch. They’ll say, “right we’re setting this up and we’ve got to get going by the beginning of September and it’s sort of halfway through August now, so we just need to get our safeguarding sorted out and then we’ll be ready to roll”. And sometimes we have to disappoint them and say, “you know, it’s going to take you a bit longer than that really to get to the point where you’re ready to start”. But even when you’ve actually started, Heidi’s point about keeping safeguarding on the agenda is absolutely crucial because you never actually get to the end of it. It’s something that has to continue to flow through all the work that an organisation does all the time that it’s doing its work.
So, the whole thing about reviewing safeguarding arrangements, building on them, developing them, all that kind of thing is going to continue for as long as the organisation continues as well and that’s how it should be and so that is what we say.
Similarly to Cate, I don’t think you can necessarily put a time on it but I think it is important to scope out what they feel that they should have in place at the start so that they are aware of what they need to work through and then look at identifying some priorities.
When I’m working with athletics clubs, we tend to separate it with what is child protection - so what’s the actual policies and procedures they need in place for reporting - and what’s more safeguarding and welfare.
So when an organisation’s starting up, there is a lot to consider. How does an organisation make a start in all of this?
Have you got any tips Cate in terms of how an organisation can make a start?
Well thankfully, there are lots of things to help an organisation get started with its safeguarding.
One of the things that we would recommend to organisations is that they take a look at our introductory guide. For those people who know about NSPCC resources, they might think of this as the Are they Safe Guide?, but this has now been rebranded as the Introductory Guide. The way that that works is it takes an organisation through nine steps towards safer practice and they include things like putting in place essential policies and procedures, and identifying leaders, and getting support with the work that you’re doing, and codes of behaviour and so on… And then by the time an organisation has got to the end of step nine, then as we’ve said before, it doesn’t mean that they’re all sorted with their safeguarding but they’ve made a really good start.
I think it’s also important from the outset to look at how the welfare officer can in particular, but also other key members, can keep up-to-date with key information. So is there any newsletters that they sign up to where they can get that regular information and then feed that into hopefully the regular item on the committee meeting?
Otherwise, we can have a big enthusiastic start and then maybe two or three years later, policies and procedures are starting to get out-of-date so just from the outset finding a way to keep up to date with everything.
We’ve spoken a lot about policies and procedures. I’m almost tempted to say isn't it all just a bureaucratic exercise?
What difference does it make to children and young people in the organisation?
Well it is an exercise and sometimes it can involve a bit of bureaucracy but that’s not really what it’s about.
It is very much about making sure that when children and young people are getting involved in all the activities that voluntary and community sector organisations run, that they’re going to be safe. What we do know is that all over the UK, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of children and young people who all the time are getting involved in activities that are run by members of our community and that’s a fantastic thing. That is a really, really positive thing and it can yield huge benefits for children and young people. But what is really sad is if those benefits are overshadowed by the organisation not getting its safeguarding right and that young person may be having an adverse experience, an abusive experience, within their organisation, or that they have an abusive experience elsewhere and try and tell somebody in the organisation and it isn't dealt with properly.
And we all know how damaging abuse can be to children and young people growing up and how long lasting those effects can be and clearly, we all want that not to happen.
Obviously, there are certain legal aspects to it and there’s certain processes, particularly with working in sport and you’re working with a national governing body, there’s certain processes that an organisation needs to adopt. But I guess it’s understanding why you need to do that and as Cate mentioned, it’s about those young people having a safe space and a real opportunity to flourish which is what the people who are volunteering in the organisations ultimately want. From an organisational perspective, having those right things in place is ultimately going to help keep members within your group because if they’re not enjoying themselves they’re likely to vote with their feet and leave. So, building that safeguarding culture and that safe place for young people can only develop more members and hopefully, maybe, they’ll come back long term to volunteer so it builds that culture and that sustainability of your organisation as well.
In terms of setting up a new voluntary or community group, there’s quite a number of things in relation to safeguarding that the founders need to get their heads round.
Is there training that people can go on?
I think sometimes people who maybe feel a little bit taken by surprise that they have to even think about safeguarding in the first place and so perhaps don’t come from a background say at work or something like that where they’ve had to get to grips with what we mean when talk about safeguarding, some people in that sort of situation might want to consider an introductory course. You can do that online and get lots of information from that online course that the NSPCC provides about what we do mean when we talk about safeguarding and child protection, different types of abuse and some of the signs and indicators to look out for if you are concerned that a young person might at risk of abuse and what some of those key responsibilities might be on how to respond if you do have those concerns.
So that can be a good place to start for people who actually are very new to safeguarding. And there are other courses as well, there are courses that are specifically for nominated safeguarding leads. There are courses looking particularly about things around recruitment for example and also for smaller voluntary and community organisations, we can offer quite bespoke training around safeguarding issues that are particularly relevant to them.
And if someone is wanting support - peer support - how can they get that sort of support?
Heidi, have you any thoughts on that?
Well I think by attending those training course, not only does the information that the tutor provides give you more confidence in going back to your committee and explaining what they may need to do but also meeting those people on the courses. There might be somebody from a completely different environment that you can keep in touch with afterwards and just kind of learn from and share resources with.
There’s lots of resources obviously online but sometimes it is just helpful just to chat through with somebody in a similar circumstance to yourself. So it might be that you just speak to another organisation from within a different town that’s similar to yours or like I say, find somebody on that course just to get that help and support.
And through that what you realise is that you’re not alone in tackling these issues and that your experience will be very similar to the experiences that others have and that must be very supportive.
Yeah, absolutely. Certainly with our Time to Listen courses that we run, that’s a chance for people to meet and share experiences and get support from each other.
Cate, is there anything you’d add?
Yes, absolutely. I would very much agree with everything that Heidi’s saying and I think another way in which you can make contact with other people who might be dealing with the same issues from other voluntary sector organisations is perhaps through a local council for voluntary service or through an umbrella organisation that is supporting organisations that are working in areas similar to your own or sometimes through the NSPCC networks that we have, we can help people to get in touch with each other. So yes, absolutely I think that’s such an important thing to consider.
Thank you. It seems we’ve covered an enormous amount of ground and having started off by thinking for a new organisation setting out that safeguarding can be challenging.
What we’ve heard about is the real benefits of getting safeguarding policies and procedures in place which can really enable the organisation to provide the services or activities that it wants for children and young people, and the benefits of that and that there are a lot of resources that can be used.
Any other further thoughts?
I suppose I just want to say to organisations to just take heart really and it can sound like a lot of work and we’re not saying it isn't a lot of work, but it’s really important just to do it little bit by little bit, and every little bit is a step along the way. And very quickly, organisations can find that they are making progress and making their organisations even safer than they are already for children and young people.
My message is don’t be afraid. Both don’t be afraid to start but also don’t be afraid to share with other people things that you don’t know or things that you’re doing now that you feel that you need to change. So often I’ll go and visit an athletics club or speak to a brass band and they’ll have tried to kind of put things together themselves because they're almost afraid to say that they don’t have anything in place. And actually, they might have put quite a bit of work into something that, just by speaking to us to start with or using some of the resources would have really helped them. So just, yeah, don’t be afraid to say, “we don’t have anything in place at the moment but we want to change”, and get that help to kind of start to change really.
Heidi Bradley from England Athletics and Brass Bands England, and Cate Meredith from the NSPCC, thank you very much indeed.
"Thank you for listening to this NSPCC Learning podcast. If you're looking for more safeguarding and child protection training, information or resources, please visit our website for professionals at nspcc.org.uk/learning."