By Cate Meredith, Senior Consultant for the NSPCC
What do you think about when assessing risk?
It's likely health and safety springs to mind. You might think about preventing accidents and injury or making sure your environment and equipment are safe and suitable. And that is, of course, essential for any voluntary or community organisation - health and safety is of the utmost importance.
But what about the wellbeing of the people you work with? It's so easy to think about safeguarding as a separate issue but really, it's another part of risk assessment.
How to ensure children and young people in your group are safe
Imagine you're organising an outdoor adventure weekend for your club or group. As well as planning a trip that is fun and exciting, you'll need to identify any risks and be clear about how you're going to manage them. For example, you might check what activities are available and the safety measures in place, that there are qualified experts leading the group, that the right equipment is provided and that it's suitable.
If you're taking children and young people away for a residential weekend you'll also need to check that the accommodation and meals are appropriate for your group. And you may have other specific requirements, especially if the children and young people you work with have additional needs. But you'll also need to think about safeguarding and child protection - assessing safeguarding risks is essential whether you're planning a one-off event, a trip or a series of activities. So how do you make sure that the children and young people in your group are safe and looked after?
The answer will be different for every club or group, after all you know your children and young people and your community best. However, there are some key things that you should consider when assessing and managing safeguarding risks, including:
- do all the staff and volunteers at the centre have appropriate training, including safeguarding training, and have the necessary vetting and barring checks been undertaken?
- is everyone clear about their own roles and responsibilities and, crucially, what to do if they have any concerns about a child's or young person's welfare?
- is the right level of supervision in place for your group?
- what are the facilities available for toilets, washing and changing?
- will the location be accessible to the public? If so, what risks does this present in terms of safeguarding?
- do the children and young people themselves know and understand the ground rules for the activity, and why they are there?
Think about where the activity is taking place - and who's involved
Whether you're going to a specialised activity centre or you're holding your event in a community hall or other public space, you need to think about who else might be there, the facilities available and the suitability of anyone involved in running the event.
For example, will there be other groups staying at the centre or are there events for adults - whether drop-in or planned sessions - being held in a public building at the same time? If so, do you need to put any measures in place, particularly when thinking about access to toilets or changing rooms? Speak to the managers of the venue about any risks and what measures can be put in place to minimise these.
And what about the staff and volunteers involved? Anyone working with children and young people in your organisation should understand their role, and have access to and comply with your safeguarding policies and procedures. You also need to make sure that they're competent and suitable to work with your group - including undertaking vetting and barring checks if necessary. These same measures should be in place for staff and volunteers in any external organisations you work with.
Make sure you have adequate supervision
Whatever the activities of your club or group, you'll need to make sure you have enough staff or volunteers to supervise children and young people and that these adults are suitable to undertake the various tasks. How many adults you'll need depends on factors including the type and location of activities, the skills of your staff and volunteers and any special requirements such as medical needs or equipment. When organising special events it's also a good idea to build in some contingency in case of staff or volunteer illness or other unexpected events.
The groups I work with often ask me whether it's ok to have unaccompanied children and young people at an event. I always ask them the same question - what are the reasons for your concerns? Sometimes they're worried about risks to the young person. Sometimes there are concerns about the behaviour of unaccompanied teenagers. Or it might be something else entirely. But by thinking about the reasons behind your worries then you can decide what, if any, action is needed. For example, you might agree to include unaccompanied young people over a certain age, making sure you have adequate support in place and that you have agreement from their parents.
Know how to respond to concerns
Even with the most careful planning, situations may still arise where there is a cause for concern. It's essential that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and knows what to do if they are worried about anything.
In any activity, some level of risk is inevitable. The key is to identify, minimise and be clear about how you're going to manage potential risks. And that's just as true for safeguarding and child protection as it is for health and safety.
Find out more about safeguarding and child protection for the voluntary and community sector.