Lone working

Introduction

In most situations it’s best practice to have at least two adults present when working with children and young people.

Sometimes it may be appropriate or necessary for an adult to have one-to-one contact with a child or supervise a small group of children on their own. This could happen in an organisation, for example if a child in your group becomes ill or asks to speak to a trusted adult alone or your work involves one-to-one mentoring or visiting young people living independently.

You may also be working alone with a child or small group of children if you are self-employed, for example you are a childminder, private tutor, performing arts examiner or driving instructor.

It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children. If you are working alone with children, either in a paid or voluntary capacity, you need to take steps to ensure they are safe.

Whether you are self-employed, contracted by an agency, or work for an organisation, this page will help you protect the children and young people in your care.

Safeguarding and child protection

Safeguarding and child protection policy

You must have a safeguarding and child protection policy if you work with children or young people. This sets out how you will keep children safe and how you will respond to child protection concerns.

If you work or volunteer for an agency or organisation, they should have a policy and you should make sure you understand and follow it.

If you are self-employed you should write your own policy.

Share your policy with parents or carers before working alone with a child.

> Read more about writing a safeguarding or child protection policy

Roles and responsibilities

All organisations and agencies that work with children and young people need to have a trained nominated child protection lead. If you work for yourself you need to take on this role yourself.

> Learn more about the role of the nominated child protection lead

> Take our designated and lead officer training courses

Safeguarding and child protection procedures

As well as your safeguarding policy, you should have procedures in place for responding to child protection concerns.

If a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

If a concern is not urgent:

  • contact your nominated child protection lead if you are part of an organisation
  • contact your local child protection service if you work for yourself and are your own nominated child protection lead. You will find their contact details on your local authority’s website
  • you can also contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing help@nspcc.org.uk. Our trained professionals can offer advice and take action to protect the child.

> Learn more about writing child protection procedures

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse

You should also make sure children and young people have contact details for someone they can talk to if they are worried about anything. This could be a trusted adult, your nominated child protection lead (if this is not you) or Childline.

Working in other organisations

If you are working in another organisation, for example a school or community centre, you should follow their safeguarding policies and procedures as well as your own.

> See also our safeguarding practice example for working one-to-one with children and young people in a hired space

Things to consider

Things to consider

There are things you need to consider before you start working alone with children.

Letting other people know

Before the session make sure the child’s parent or carer knows where you will be and at what time. If you are not able to let them know in advance, inform them as soon as possible afterwards.

It’s also a good idea to let another appropriate adult know you will be alone with a child or children, preferably somebody with safeguarding responsibility. This could be the nominated child protection lead in the venue you’re using.

Consent and agreements

Before working alone with a child or young person, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with them and their parent or carer.

  • Agree what activities you will do and what will happen during sessions.
  • Give parents or carers and the child a copy of your safeguarding policy.
  • Let the child and parent or carer know what they can do if they have any concerns about the sessions.
  • Explain who you will share information with and when you may not be able to keep information confidential.
  • Talk about any support the child or young person may need from their parent or carer.

Consider if it’s appropriate to offer for a child’s parent or carer or another trusted adult to be present. You could invite parents and carers to wait in a separate room during the session. If the child is happy for you to work alone, you will need to get consent from parents or carers and the child themselves.

It’s best practice to get written as well as verbal consent before working alone with a child or young person. You could also use a consent form to gather important information like emergency contact details and any medical conditions or disabilities you should be aware of.

> View our example consent forms

Supervision

You must make sure children and young people are properly supervised at all times. Think about what you will do if you need extra support, for example if a child is ill, injured or needs to go to the bathroom.

Make sure everyone working with or around children has been through the appropriate checks.

> Look at our recommended adult to child ratios

Behaviour

Always behave appropriately when you are around children and young people. This will help make sure everyone feels comfortable and protected.

  • Set appropriate boundaries and do not be overly familiar with children and young people.
  • Never give children your personal contact details. If you need to arrange meeting times, do this via the child’s parents or carers.
  • Never make inappropriate jokes or comments to or around children.
  • Don’t add, follow or interact with children or young people on your personal social media account.
  • Any physical contact must be appropriate, justifiable, approached sensitively and agreed to by the child.

Consider implementing behaviour codes setting out how you will behave and how you expect the children you work with to behave. You can share these with children, parents and carers before you start working with the child.

> See example behaviour codes

Recording information

You should keep a record of any time spent working with children.

Include:

  • the date, time and place
  • the reason for the contact
  • a summary of the activity or discussion.

Emergencies

It is important that you have the contact details for children and young people’s parents or carers and that they have yours in case of emergency.

You should also make sure that children and young people know what to do and who to contact in an emergency. There should always be a working phone accessible to both you and children and young people.

Lone working unexpectedly

It is best practice for there to be more than one adult present when working or volunteering with children and young people. There may be some situations where you are working alone with children and young people unexpectedly. If this happens, there are things you can do to keep this as safe as possible.

  • Make sure you are somewhere with the child where other people can see and hear you.
  • Tell another adult that you are alone with a child or children.
  • Make a record as soon as possible afterwards of why you were alone with a child or children and what happened.
  • Tell your manager or supervisor and your nominated child protection lead.
Checks and training

Checks and training

Vetting and barring checks

If you are going to be working alone with children or young people, you need to make sure you have gone through the appropriate criminal records and barring checks (a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check in England and Wales, Access NI in Northern Ireland or a Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) check in Scotland).

You will require an enhanced criminal records check if you are undertaking certain kinds of work, including unsupervised work with children. If you’re self-employed you will need to do this through a professional organisation or agency.

> Find out more about vetting and barring checks

References

You should provide references to parents and carers before you start lone working with children and young people. These should be from people you have worked with before who are willing to talk to your prospective clients. They should be addressed to the parents or carers and not a general ‘to whom it may concern’ reference.

Training

Before working with children and young people you should complete appropriate child protection training so you are able to recognise and respond to the signs of abuse and neglect. This training should be refreshed regularly.

> View our range of introductory training courses

You should keep up to date with changes in legislation and new guidance for child protection.

> Sign up to CASPAR, our safeguarding and child protection newsletter

Risk assessment

It is important to be aware of the risks involved in your work with children and young people.

You should carry out a risk assessment and take steps to manage and mitigate any risks you or the child may encounter. You will need to do an assessment for each child or group you work with.

Make sure you consider:

  • the type of activity
  • the behaviour and abilities of the child
  • any special medical needs
  • the suitability of the location.

Make sure you know where the fire exits are and the evacuation plan for the building. You can read more about health and safety for lone working on the Health and Safety Executive website.

Choosing a venue

Choosing a venue

Choosing a suitable venue for working alone with children is an important part of making them feel safe and protecting yourself.

  • Work in a room that has windows and make sure curtains are open.
  • Keep any doors to the room open. If you must close the door for privacy, make sure it’s kept unlocked.
  • Make sure you can always access a working phone in case of emergency.
  • Choose somewhere easily accessible for the children or young people and yourself.
  • Never drive children without a parent or carer, even on short journeys, unless you are a registered driving instructor teaching a lesson.

If it is necessary for you to work in your own home, for example you’re a childminder, take steps to keep children safe, including minimising contact between children and other members of the household.

Working with a child or young person in their home

If you need to work with a child in their own home, you should request that a parent, carer or other trusted adult is also there and take steps to make sure you are working safely.

  • Carefully assess any risks involved.
  • Avoid going into a child or young person’s bedroom. Work in a common space like a kitchen or living room.
  • Always have your mobile phone to hand.
  • Make a record of the visit as soon as possible afterwards.

Working in a child or young person’s home should be authorised by your manager and nominated child protection lead if you work for an agency or organisation.

If you are not working in a child or young person’s home  on a regular basis, or if the time of your regular visit changes, you should let someone know at the beginning and end of a session. This should be your manager, nominated child protection lead or another appropriate adult.

Legislation and guidance

Legislation and guidance

Each UK nation has overarching safeguarding legislation and guidance that everyone working with children must follow.

See also Key guidance for schools in the UK.

As well as complying with legislation and overarching statutory guidance, some roles have specific guidance you must also follow.

Childminders

Childminders must follow the statutory guidance in their nation.

In England, this is the Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (Department for Education, 2017).

In Wales, it is the National minimum standards for regulated childcare for children up to the age of 12 years (Welsh Government, 2016).

In Northern Ireland, it is Childminding and day care for children under age 12: minimum standards (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2012).

In Scotland, the Health and social care standards (Scottish Government, 2018) provides guidance for social care services.

Driving instructors

In England, Scotland and Wales, driving instructors must comply with the National standard for driver and rider training (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency, 2014).

In Northern Ireland, driving instructors must comply with the Approved driving and motorcycle instructors code of conduct (Driver & Vehicle Agency, 2019).

Stay up-to-date

Keep up-to-date with new legislation and guidance by signing up to CASPAR, our safeguarding child protection newsletter.

References

References and resources

Department for Education (2017) Statutory framework for the early years foundations stage: setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. London: Department for Education.

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (2012) Childminding and day care for children under age 12: minimum standards. Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Driver & Vehicle Agency (2019). Your guide to becoming an approved driving instructor (ADI) & information manual. Belfast: Driver & Vehicle Agency.

Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (2014) National standard for driver and rider training. London: Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency.

Scottish Government (2017) Health and social care standards: my support, my life. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Welsh Government (2016) National minimum standards for regulated childcare for children up to the age of 12 years. Cardiff: Welsh Government.

Childline

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. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Elearning

Our online and face-to-face training courses can help develop your understanding of how to protect children from abuse and safely recruit staff and volunteers to work with children. Check out our introductory child protection courses to find out more.