The NSPCC’s safeguarding conference, How Safe, returned for 2022 with two days of engaging talks, presentations and discussions on a range of important safeguarding and child protection topics. Here are the highlights.
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, opened the conference with a keynote speech examining some of the challenges facing children and young people in 2022, and what more needs to be done to keep them safe. Peter emphasised the need to mould a child protection system that puts children first. For Peter, a system that puts children first should be geared towards evidence-based preventative services, should encourage a multi-agency approach, and must be built around children and families.
“Our children do not want to be defined by the pandemic. They are determined to make this a better world. It’s our job to keep up.”
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive
The second session of the day was a panel discussion about the evolution of parental involvement in sport. The panel was chaired by Jude Toasland, Senior Consultant at the CPSU, and featured contributions from Sport Psychologist and Parental Involvement Researcher Dr Camilla Knight, Head of Safeguarding for the Football Association Sue Ravenlaw, and Safeguarding Lead Officer for North Yorkshire Sport Damien Smith. The panel shared tips on equipping coaches with the skills they need to engage parents, and the connection between creating welcoming environments for parents and the benefits this will bring for children, young people, and sports clubs.
The next session looked at the case for legal reform to end the physical punishment of children in England. Dr Anja Heilmann, Associate Professor at UCL presented findings from her narrative review into how physical punishment negatively affects children and young people, which was published in The Lancet in 2021. Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, spoke about the journey to making physical punishment of children illegal in Scotland, and set out a rights-based argument as to why this same legal change should be made across the UK. Kate Fallon, General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, rounded off the session by looking at the reasons why legal change is required.
“The international human rights framework is very clear that allowing physical punishment of children is untenable.”
Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland
Representatives from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) delivered the final presentation of the morning. They provided an overview of the IICSA’s Truth Project, which provides an opportunity for victims and survivors to share their experiences and put forward suggestions for change. The project has spoken to 6,000 victims and survivors so far, and the information gathered has been used to inform the inquiry’s findings. The Truth Project has published six thematic reports, with IICSA’s final report due for publication later in the year.
In the afternoon, conference attendees had the opportunity to attend four different breakout sessions. Topics covered by the different groups included:
- recognising and responding to harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people
- the Oor Fierce Girls project in Dundee, which aims to encourage more discussions about healthy relationships
- the Safe Home intervention programme for parents and carers of children displaying harmful sexual behaviour
- the importance of taking an intersectional approach when working with minoritised and marginalised children and young people.
Josh MacAlister, chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, delivered the second keynote presentation of How Safe 2022. His speech focused on the learnings garnered from the review so far. He outlined some of the problems with England’s social care system, such as a failure to build networks to support children who are removed from their families. Although for many children, care is a safe harbour, it is important that there is a plan for what comes next for those children.
Josh also spoke about how responses to vulnerable teenagers needs to be improved, with a greater emphasis on mental health support, online harms and disrupting exploitation. He concluded his speech by emphasising the need to create a system that brings people together to act in the best interest of children.
“Safeguarding children is everyone’s business and protection only works if it comes with help that can address the concerns people are worried about.”
Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care
The second session of the day provided an in-depth look at a new NSPCC project that aims to provide better help for families who are experiencing hardship and need support. Matt Forde, Partnerships and Development Director at the NSPCC, introduced the project. The proposed plans would create Children and Parent Support (CAPS) teams to address poor mental health in children who have a social worker and reduce the risk of children coming into care.
Professor Helen Minnis then spoke about the theory of change for the new intervention, and where it might best help. She emphasised the need to place more of a focus of support onto parents, to ensure that their own support needs aren’t going under the radar.
Andrea King, Director of the Clinical Division at the Anna Freud Centre, delivered a presentation on family hubs and how they can help improve outcomes for children and young people at an early stage and ensure that children and families receive whole family support. Andrea also explained the work of the National Centre for Family Hubs: championing best practice in family hub delivery and supporting local authorities to design and implement the family hub approach.
The day two lunchtime session was a powerful interview with Ruth Moss, whose daughter Sophie took her own life after viewing harmful content online. Ruth has been campaigning for the implementation of the Online Safety Bill and what she wants it to achieve. She said the legislation must consider the cumulative effect of viewing harmful content, the risks presented by end-to-end encryption, and the inclusion of parents within solutions to online harms.
The conference ended with three more breakout sessions. The afternoon sessions looked at:
- contextual safeguarding and the development of tools to support young people experiencing extra-familial harm
- the work of the NSPCC’s Glasgow Infant and Family Team (GIFT), working with birth parents and foster carers to assess whether children can safely return to the care of their parents
- how young people use gaming platforms and how professionals can support them to have a positive experience online.
Thank you so much to everyone who attended the conference and took part in the discussions, and to all the speakers who shared their knowledge and expertise on a range of safeguarding and child protection topics.