Coronavirus: 5 steps to update your safeguarding policies and procedures

Last updated: 27 Apr 2020 Topics: News Type: News
Introduction

Social distancing measures introduced by the government during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic mean many organisations that work with children have had to change the way they operate on a day-to-day basis.

Schools, colleges and nurseries are continuing to stay open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, but there are lots of children who are at home with families or other carers.

Agencies and organisations who can no longer work with children and families in-person may be reliant on remote or distanced contact and may be less able to recognise child protection concerns and provide appropriate support.

Your existing safeguarding and child protection policies are unlikely to reflect these new, unprecedented ways of working.

So, we’ve set out five steps to help you consider what updates your organisation might need to make to your policies and procedures to ensure children are kept safe.

  1. The principles of safeguarding remain the same but do you need to amend your policies and procedures?
  2. What is the role of the nominated child protection lead and how will you continue to recruit new staff or volunteers safely?
  3. How will you continue to work with children and families and how will you respond to non-attendance? 
  4. Are there any specific areas of concern? Including online safety, domestic abuse and mental health.
  5. How will you report concerns about a child?

Need more help?

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1. Safeguarding principles

1. Safeguarding principles

Principles stay the same

Although day-to-day working arrangements may be different, the key principles of your organisation’s safeguarding and child protection policy should remain the same.

  • Children’s welfare should come first.
  • If anyone has a concern about a child they should act immediately following your safeguarding and child protection procedures.
  • A nominated child protection lead should always be available to deal with concerns and there should be people who are trained to deputise in their absence.
  • Safe recruitment practices should be followed.

All organisations in the UK should continue to follow existing statutory safeguarding and child protection guidance. You should also review and update your policies and procedures regularly throughout the coronavirus pandemic to reflect circumstances as they evolve.

> Read more about statutory legislation and guidance in the UK

Consider adding a coronavirus addendum

Government guidance for schools in England and Wales suggests that instead of re-writing existing child protection policies and procedures, schools could add an addendum or annexe to outline how they will work to keep children safe during the coronavirus pandemic (Department for Education (DfE), 2020a; Welsh Government 2020a).

> View our coronavirus briefing for schools for further government advice

This advice may also be helpful for organisations in other sectors and other UK nations.

Your addendum or annexe should:

  • reinforce existing child protection procedures
  • highlight any new ways of working during this period
  • explain how your organisation can continue to contribute to multi-agency child protection meetings and plans
  • clarify any changes to your code of conduct for staff and volunteers in response to new ways of working.

Read on to see the key aspects to consider when writing your safeguarding and child protection addendum or annexe.

2. Roles and recruitment

2. The role of the nominated lead and ongoing safe recruitment

Nominated child protection lead

The nominated child protection lead and their deputy, if they have one, should be named in your updated safeguarding and child protection policy. They should provide up-to-date contact details and information about how they can be contacted if they are working from home.

You should set out what to do if there is a concern about a child and the nominated child protection lead and their deputy are not available. This could involve contacting a senior member of staff who also has responsibility for safeguarding.

Schools in England and Wales could consider an arrangement where staff contact a trained designated safeguarding lead from another school if their own designated safeguarding lead is unavailable (DfE, 2020a, Welsh Government, 2020a).

If you’re in a school that has joined together with other schools to provide education as a cluster, you need to consider what information about vulnerable children is shared between nominated child protection leads. Agree in writing how this will happen.

Safe recruitment

Your policies and procedures should reinforce your ongoing commitment to ensure that only suitable people will be recruited to work or volunteer with children. You should outline how your organisation will do this during the pandemic, with information about:

  • shortlisting
  • interviews
  • vetting and barring checks
  • induction and training
  • supervision and support.

> Read more information about safe recruitment

3. Children and families

3. How you will continue to work with children and families

Vulnerable children

Across the UK, the government has set out which children are classed as ‘vulnerable’ during the coronavirus pandemic (DfE, 2020b; Department of Education, 2020; Scottish Government, 2020; Welsh Government, 2020b).

However all children are now more vulnerable than before because there are fewer opportunities for the adults in their lives to spot identify and respond to child protection concerns and issues.

Consider which of the children and young people you work with may need additional support at this time, and how you can provide this. You should also think about any new risks that young people may be particularly exposed to as the pandemic continues.

Your policies and procedures need to explain how your staff and volunteers should:

  • maintain contact with children whilst observing social distancing guidelines
  • recognise and raise concerns about children’s welfare
  • make sure children have someone to talk to if they’re worried about anything.

> Find out more about which children the government has defined as vulnerable in our coronavirus schools briefing

> Read our briefing for social work practitioners for more information about how agencies are expected to support children during the pandemic

Recognising when families need support

Changes to ways of working, such as contacting children and families on the phone and by video calling, may bring new information to light about their home situation. Families may also experience new challenges during the pandemic, for example income loss, mental health problems, family conflict and difficulty getting food.

Make sure your staff and volunteers know what to do if they are concerned that a child, young person or their family are struggling to cope.

Set out how to liaise with multi-agency partners during the pandemic to ensure families have the support they need. This could include referrals to the local early help service, children’s social care, community food banks, mental health support or other relevant services.

> Read our coronavirus briefing for children’s social work practitioners for more information

> Share our safeguarding advice and information for parents during the coronavirus pandemic

Responding to non-attendance

Outline how staff and volunteers should check on a child’s welfare if they don’t arrive at school or attend an appointment (physically, by phone or online). This should include following up with parents, carers, the local authority and/or children’s social care as appropriate.

> Read our coronavirus briefing for schools to find out more about government guidance on non-attendance

4. Specific areas of concern

4. Online safety, domestic abuse and mental health

Online safety

Online technology is invaluable for enabling children and young people to continue their learning, keep in touch with friends and feel connected with the outside world. But changes in online behaviour can put young people at risk of online abuse.

> Find out more about protecting children and young people from online abuse

If staff and volunteers are communicating with children and young people online, via video calls or livestreaming, policies will need to be updated to outline how this should be done safely.

> Find out more about safeguarding when contacting children remotely

Domestic abuse

During this intense period of social distancing where families are spending more time together, your safeguarding policies and procedures should reflect the heightened risk of domestic abuse.

The policy should include information on what action staff and volunteers should take if they have concerns about a child and their family experiencing domestic abuse. Remember that people are not expected to stay at home during coronavirus if their home is unsafe.

> Get further advice on dealing with arguments, conflict and family tension during coronavirus (COVID-19) on the NSPCC website

Mental health

Your safeguarding and child protection policy should recognise that some young people’s mental health may suffer during the pandemic, and outline what staff and volunteers should do if they have concerns about a young person’s wellbeing.

Consider what can be put in place to help children who were already receiving mental health support through your organisation.

Parents’ and carer’s mental health will also be affected during the pandemic. Consider how this will affect the children and young people you work with and what support they need.

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice, direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online.

> Find out more about how to support young people experiencing mental health difficulties during the pandemic

> Find out more about parental mental health problems

5. Reporting concerns

5. How to reporting concern during the coronavius pandemic

Clarify how child protection concerns should be reported during the coronavirus pandemic, as this may be different to normal.

This includes:

  • concerns about children
  • concerns about adult’s behaviour towards children (including that of your own staff and volunteers).

Take into account any new information from local safeguarding and child protection agencies about any changes to their procedures.

If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried about a child but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.

  • Follow your organisation’s child protection procedures.
  • Contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing help@nspcc.org.uk. Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you and give you expert advice.
  • Contact your local child protection services. Their contact details can be found on the website for the local authority the child lives in.
  • Contact the police.

> Get more information on recognising and responding to abuse

References and resources

References and resources

Department for Education (2020a) Coronavirus (COVID-19) : safeguarding in schools, colleges and other providers. [Accessed 21/04/2020]. 

Department for Education (DfE) (2020b) Supporting vulnerable children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. [Accessed 23/04/2020].

Department of Education [2020] General guidance on COVID-19 for schools. [Accessed 23/04/2020].

Scottish Government (2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19): school and early learning closures - guidance about key workers and vulnerable children. [Accessed 23/04/2020].

Welsh Government (2020a) Education safeguarding guidance: coronavirus. [Accessed 14/04/2020].

Welsh Government (2020b) Written Statement: Eligibility for ongoing provision for children who are vulnerable, or whose parents are critical to the COVID19 response. [Accessed 23/04/2020].