By Cate Meredith, Senior Consultant and Vicki Hollis, Senior Evaluation Officer at the NSPCC
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. We all know that it's better to stop problems before they start. But, of course, that's not always possible - so we also need strategies to identify issues and deal with them if they do occur. When it comes to safeguarding, your policies, procedures and other measures are an essential part of this. But how do you know how well they're working?
The first step is to make sure you have the safeguarding arrangements you need and that they're comprehensive. Your written policies and procedures can be a good place to start. But safeguarding is a continuous process so you also need to make sure that what you're doing is working over time. Each document should have a review date which will give you a time frame for when - and how often - you assess them. Don't forget to look at your other systems and processes too for things like training, recruitment and governance.
We understand that it can seem like a huge or complex task, but it doesn't have to be. Nor does it have to cost a lot of money. You don't necessarily need to do everything at once, you might find it works better to carry out your reviews on a rolling basis. Or you might undertake a safeguarding audit once a year. The key is making sure your plans are achievable and that you're able to properly assess what's working well and what isn't.
Agree criteria and ratings
Before you begin, you need to create a framework so that you can assess your measures consistently. You could use a rating system such as 'good', 'adequate' or 'needs attention'. You might choose more criteria or use stars or points instead. It doesn't matter what rating you use, the important thing is making sure you're clear about what each means and that it's measurable.
Make a plan and start your review
Next, decide how you will carry out the review. We've made a few suggestions below but there are lots of different methods depending on what you're measuring, who needs to be included and how you are going to report on the results. Think about what will work best for your organisation or group.
Check files and paperwork
File audits can be really helpful for processes that are supported by paperwork, such as recruitment, risk assessment procedures, referrals to external safeguarding agencies or training records.
For example, you could examine your recruitment files to check whether interview notes are recorded correctly, vetting and barring checks were done in a timely manner and staff and volunteers received safeguarding training when they started. You could choose to do this for a random selection of files – at least to start with. Pick a figure that will give you a representative sample of your process and make sure it's achievable.
Talk about your safeguarding measures
Everyone involved with your organisation - whether staff, volunteers, children or families - should understand your safeguarding policies and procedures and know what to do if they have a concern. It sounds obvious of course, but one of the best ways to check this is by talking about it. Not only will this help you measure understanding but it's also a good opportunity to assess how well your arrangements are working in practice. After all, the people implementing your procedures are the best people to tell you what's working well and what could be improved. And this is a great way to help everyone feel supported by your organisation.
Consider holding small focus groups with staff and volunteers or children and young people. This will give you lots of useful information and can help you discover how comfortable everyone feels about talking about safeguarding issues. However, it's really important to set clear ground rules before you start. Make sure you explain:
- the purpose of the group
- what will happen with the information shared
- anything shared should remain confidential
- how you will handle any concerns or issues that are raised.
Use surveys and questionnaires
Surveys and questionnaires allow you to ask key questions and easily compare answers. They can also be completed anonymously, which may encourage more open responses. You could create a paper-based survey or use a free online tool like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. Make sure that any tool you use complies with your organisation's data protection policy.
If you decide to use surveys, make sure you don't ask for any personal or identifying information without a good reason. And ensure questions are worded in a way that will minimise the risk of anyone disclosing a safeguarding concern. You should also include a statement outline how any concerns should be shared.
Review the results
When you review your results you will likely see a pattern forming. If most or all of the information you’ve gathered shows that safeguarding has been implemented well, that's great! But if you find that steps have been missed or there are unexplained inconsistencies in how safeguarding procedures have been applied then you should take a closer look at your whole process.
Decide your next steps
Once you have gathered and analysed your data, you need to decide on your next steps. If everything is working well then this might be as simple as scheduling in the next review date. But if there are any areas of concern you need to make a plan to address them. How you do this of course depends on the particular situation. It might be that staff or volunteers need more child protection training. Or you might need to make bigger changes. And, whether you decide you need to make changes or you need some help getting started then the NSPCC is here to help. Our consultancy team works with organisations of all sizes to help them tailor their approach to safeguarding and child protection.
Whatever the case, by ensuring your safeguarding measures are effective, you are helping to ensure you are doing the best job possible to protect the children and young people that you work with.
Find out more about safeguarding for the voluntary and community sector or use our safeguarding checklist as a starting point for your review.