Safeguarding during coronavirus: voluntary and community groups

Last updated: 13 Jan 2021 Topics: News Type: News
Introduction
Volunteer using clipboard outside

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed all our lives, and everyone in the UK has had to adapt to new ways of living, working and volunteering.

For many children and families, this is a particularly challenging time. Some families are under a lot of stress. Children who are experiencing abuse and neglect may be finding it harder to speak out. And it can be more difficult for adults who work or volunteer with children to recognise and respond to child protection concerns without regularly talking to a child face-to-face

But it’s vital that children’s safety and wellbeing is prioritised.

Keeping children safe during the pandemic

The voluntary and community sector has always had an important role in supporting children and families. Since the pandemic began, many new community groups have been set up to support vulnerable people across the UK. Other groups and organisations are continuing to adapt their services so they can engage with and support young people throughout the pandemic.

If you are a part of a new voluntary group, you must make sure you’re keeping children safe.

And even if your organisation or group already has robust safeguarding and child protection measures in place, there are likely to be extra considerations during these challenging times.

Your organisation or group may feel like there’s a lot to do at the moment. Moving to more online services might have presented extra challenges in terms of maintaining safe working practices.

You might be operating with reduced finances and fewer staff and volunteers. You might be worried about some of the children you work with. You may also be trying to get to grips with how you can run your activities safely as social distancing measures change across the UK, particularly as tier restrictions and national lockdowns are put in place.

So we’ve pulled together some resources that can help everyone in the voluntary and community sector safeguard and protect children and young people during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes information about:

  • writing and updating safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures
  • making sure your staff and volunteers are safe to work with children
  • supporting children and families
  • recognising and responding to abuse
  • carrying out online activities and events.
  • an overview of the relevant guidance on running safe activities.

If you have any concerns about a child’s wellbeing, contact the NSPCC Helpline.

Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you, give you expert advice and take appropriate action to protect the child. Call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

Safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

Safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

Every organisation that comes into contact with children and their families must have policies and procedures that set out how it will keep children safe, whether this contact is happening online or face-to-face.

You should review and update your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures regularly. During the pandemic you may need to review them more often, to reflect the changing circumstances.

Getting started

Writing your organisation’s safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures for the first time can feel daunting. But we’ve produced some resources to help.

> Find out how to write safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

> Read our introductory guide to safeguarding and child protection

Reviewing your policies and procedures

If you’ve already got safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures in place, you should review them regularly.

> Our recommended safeguarding standards will help you check you’ve got everything in place

> Use our safeguarding checklist to assess how well your organisation is doing and what you need to improve 

Updating your policies and procedures during the pandemic

Regardless of how recently you reviewed your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures, you should update them in the light of coronavirus.

Think about how things have changed recently, what risks children and young people might be exposed to, and how you need to adapt.

Refer back to your policies and procedures as government guidance changes, to make sure you are still taking appropriate measures to keep children safe.

> Follow our 5 steps to update your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

> We’ve provided a range of resources to help you keep children safe during coronavirus

Safeguarding and child protection leaders

Your organisation should appoint leaders who are responsible for safeguarding and child protection.

> Find out more about the role of the nominated child protection lead

> Find out more about the role of charity trustees

What to do if your child protection leaders aren’t available

Think about what you’ll do if your nominated child protection lead is unavailable – for example they might be taken ill, have to self-isolate, need to care for someone else, or have a bereavement. You should have fully trained deputies who are able to take over the role if needed. Make sure all your staff and volunteers know who they are and how to contact them.

You should also have named senior managers and/or trustees who can take on child protection responsibilities if needed. If you have any concerns about a child’s wellbeing and your nominated child protection lead isn’t available, contact the NSPCC Helpline.

Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you, give you expert advice and take appropriate action to protect the child. Call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

You should inform your nominated child protection lead that you have contacted our helpline as soon as possible afterwards.

Recruiting staff and volunteers

Whether you’re looking for volunteers for a new community group or recruiting to fill vacancies in an established organisation, you need to have procedures in place to help make sure everyone who comes into contact with children is safe to do so.

This includes people who have online contact as well as face-to-face or over the phone.

> Read our information about recruiting safely during coronavirus

Recognising and responding

Recognising and responding

Supporting children and families

The coronavirus pandemic affects everyone in different ways. It can be difficult to know how to talk to children and their families about what’s happening.

We’ve put together some information to help you support children at this time. There’s also guidance for parents and carers on the NSPCC website.

> Read more about supporting children

> Read more about supporting parents and carers

Recognising abuse and neglect

Everyone who works or volunteers with children and families should be able to recognise the signs that a child may be experiencing abuse.

During the coronavirus pandemic, when your staff and volunteers may not have much face-to-face contact with children, it can be more difficult to identify concerns. But it’s vital that children’s wellbeing still comes first.

We’ve put together some information on the NSPCC website to explain how to spot the signs of abuse and neglect during the pandemic.

> Find out more about how to recognise abuse and neglect while social distancing measures are in place (NSPCC website)

Child protection training

Our online training will help you ensure your staff and volunteers know how to recognise and to respond to the signs that a child might be experiencing abuse or neglect.

Our 15-minute safeguarding awareness course will help anyone who enters or visits people's homes to recognise the signs of abuse and neglect and know what to do to protect a child during this challenging time. We're temporarily making this free to access.

> Take our free online safeguarding awareness course 

> Have a look at our online child protection courses

Reporting abuse and neglect

Anyone who is concerned about a child’s wellbeing should report this as soon as possible, so the child can get the support they need.

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 organisational 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.
Online activities and events

Online activities and events

While coronavirus restrictions are in place, your group might be making more use of online technologies to connect with children and young people. For example:

  • holding online events and group activities
  • using social media to engage with groups of children
  • keeping in touch with individuals using text or online messaging
  • continuing one-to-one support using video calls.

This is a really important part of helping young people get the support they need. However children can also be exposed to risks online, so you need to make sure you’ve got the right safeguarding and child protection measures in place.

> Find out more about online safety during coronavirus

Running online activities and events

Whether an activity is taking place online or offline, you should get consent to take part from children and their parents or carers.

> Tailor our example consent form to your organisation’s needs

You should also get consent if you’re going to be sharing photos or images of young people online (including livestreaming).

> Find out more about photography and image sharing

And you’ll need to carry out a risk assessment, in the same way that you would for a face-to-face event.

> Find out more about managing safeguarding risks when planning activities

You should also think about how you can make sure young people and their parents or carers are still able to raise any concerns they may have with you, and ask any questions they need to. Ensure that children and their families know who they can speak to if they have any concerns, and how to contact them.

You should continue to give children space to talk about the things that are important to them, and listen to what they are saying.

Communicating with children and young people online

If your staff and volunteers are communicating with individuals or groups of children using text, social media, video calls or other online services, you need to make sure this is being done safely.

> Find out how to use social media safely with children and young people

In general, it’s best practice for an adult not be on their own with children – online or offline. So make sure there are always at least two people running an online activity.

Make sure staff and volunteers know when it is and isn’t appropriate to have one-to-one communication with a child. If you do need to run one-to-one sessions, for example for counselling or therapeutic support, make sure you put the necessary safeguarding measures in place.

> Read our information about lone working

Legislation and guidance

Legislation and guidance

Safeguarding and child protection

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the child protection legislation and statutory guidance in all four nations of the UK still applies.

> Find out more about child protection legislation and guidance for the voluntary and community sector

During the coronavirus pandemic, a range of guidance has been published to help organisations and groups safeguard and protect children.

In England, the Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance on Protective measures for out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (DfE, 2020)1. This includes all voluntary and community based work with children and young people, and provides information on safeguarding and managing their wellbeing. It also includes information for parents (DfE, 2020)2.

The National Youth Agency (NYA) has developed specific advice for the youth sector on managing youth sector activities and functions during COVID-19 (NYA, 2020)3. This was developed in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In Scotland, the government has published supplementary national child protection guidance for the COVID-19 pandemic (Scottish Government, 2020)4.

The Scottish government has also provided guidance for the safe running of indoor organised activities for children and young people (Scottish Government, 2020)5.

In Wales, the government has published guidance to support youth work services during the pandemic (Welsh Government, 2020)6.

There is also guidance for practitioners on keeping children and young people safe during the pandemic (Welsh Government, 2020)7.

Other support for voluntary and community organisations during the pandemic

Youth Work Support, a partnership of the National Youth Agency, The Mix, UK Youth and the Federation for Detached Youth Work, has published practical information and tools to support the reopening of youth sector activities across a variety of contexts and settings (Youth Work Support, 2020)8.

In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) has created a COVID-19 hub to support voluntary and community sector organisations during the pandemic (NICVA, 2020)9.

References

Department for Education (DfE) (2021) Protective measures for out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. [Accessed 12/01/2021].
Department for Education (DfE) (2021) Guidance for parents and carers of children attending out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. [Accessed 12/01/2021].
National Youth Agency (NYA) (2020) Managing youth sector activities and spaces during COVID-19. [Accessed 12/01/2021].
Scottish Government (2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19): supplementary national child protection guidance. [Accessed 12/01/2021].
Scottish Government (2021) Coronavirus (COVID-19): organised activities for children. [Accessed 12/01/2020].
Welsh Government (2020) COVID-19: guidance to support youth work services with a safe and phased increase of operations. [Accessed 12/01/2021].
Welsh Government (2020) Keeping children and young people safe: safeguarding guidance for practitioners working with children (up to the age of 18). [Accessed 12/01/2021].
Youth Work Support (2020) Youth work support: keep calm, stay connected, be safe. [Accessed 12/01/2021].
Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) (2020) Supporting the voluntary and community sector through the COVID-19 pandemic. [Accessed 12/01/2021].