Safeguarding concerns: practice examples

Introduction

We all have a responsibility to protect children from harm. Organisations that work with or come into contact with children need to have safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety of the children in their care.

Every organisation is different and will have different needs when it comes to safeguarding and child protection. However, there are some common issues experienced by voluntary and community sector organisations.

On this page you can find practical advice on how to respond to different common scenarios. Whether you’ve encountered the situation or want to be prepared, we’ve highlighted the steps you should take to keep children in your organisation safe.

One-to-one working

The scenario

Sharon is a qualified counsellor. She sets up a free counselling service and holds sessions in the local community centre. A 15-year-old asks to arrange individual counselling sessions to talk about their problems in private, without their parents or carers.

Our advice

Safeguarding and child protection measures

If you are working one-to-one with someone under 18 you need to have clear safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures to ensure both of you are protected.

> Learn more about writing safeguarding policies and procedures

If you’re carrying out certain types of work with children you need to undergo criminal records checks. If you’re self-employed you will need to do this through a professional organisation or agency.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales you will need an enhanced with barred list check if you are undertaking “regulated activity”. This includes unsupervised activities such as providing advice and guidance on wellbeing.

In Scotland, you will need a Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) check if you are undertaking “regulated work”. This includes providing personal services to children.

> Find out more about how and when to get criminal records checks

You need to assess the risks of the service you’re providing and make sure that you have appropriate measures in place to work safely and responsibly.

When working with anyone under 18 you should undertake training to make sure you know how to recognise and respond to safeguarding and child protection concerns. You should also keep up to date with relevant legislation and guidance.

> View our training courses

> Sign up to CASPAR, the NSPCC’s current awareness newsletter for policy, practice and research

One-to-one working

There are several measures you should put in place when working alone with a child or young person to make sure you are both protected.

  • Make sure an appropriate adult, preferably someone with safeguarding responsibility, knows the time and place when you are alone with a child.
  • Choose a suitable venue: use a room with windows so people can see in, or leave the door open.
  • Ensure the young person knows they can stop the one-to-one contact at any time and make sure they know how to complain or get help if they need it.
  • Make sure the child or young person knows they can contact Childline if they need to talk about anything.
  • Keep a record of the fact you were alone with a child or young person, recording the reason you were alone and describing what happened.

> Learn more about working safely alone with children

It is important to get appropriate consent when undertaking a one-to-one session. Get consent from a parent or carer if the child is under 16. If they are 16- or 17-years-old, carefully consider whether parental consent is needed.

Never work with children under 16 without parental or carer consent. If the child doesn’t want their parents or carers to know they’re seeking counselling, suggest they get support from Childline instead.

> See our example consent forms

In the case of counselling, children and young people may ask you not to tell their parents about the things you discuss in your sessions. But if you become aware that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm you must share this information with the relevant agencies. If you are unsure whether to report something, contact the NSPCC Helpline for advice and support.

You should inform the child (and their parents where appropriate) before you start that you may not be able to keep information confidential if you need to take steps to protect them.

> Learn more about sharing information and consent

> Learn more about assessing a child’s competency to give consent

Renting spaces

If you are working with children and young people in a rented space, it is your responsibility to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect them.

You should have your own safeguarding and child protection policy and make sure you know what to do if you have a safeguarding concern.

> View our range of introductory child protection courses

You should also make sure you comply with the safeguarding policies and procedures of the organisation you are renting space from.

There should be procedures in place for you to escalate concerns about behaviour from members of other people using the space. Make sure you know who the nominated child protection lead is in the organisation you are hiring from.

Hiring out space

The scenario

A village hall regularly hires out rooms to local community groups, including children and young people’s organisations. Some of the rooms can only be accessed by walking through another room. The hall has limited toilet facilities so adults and children need to use the same bathrooms. Some of the groups are open to the public and operate on a drop-in basis, so they don’t know in advance who is attending.

Our advice

Safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures

If you hire out a space on your premises to other organisations you have a responsibility to make sure they are taking the right steps to keep children safe. This applies regardless of the size of the room(s) people are using and whether they are paying to use the space.

You can ensure groups are keeping children safe by:

  • asking them to share their safeguarding and child protection policy with you and checking it is adequate
  • sharing your organisation’s safeguarding and child protection policy with the group and asking them to sign an agreement stating they will comply with it
  • making sure groups have carried out risk assessments
  • letting groups know if other people will be using the premises at the same time.

You will also need to set out procedures in case anything goes wrong, for example if a child gets lost and goes to the wrong room, or if someone notices a member of another group behaving inappropriately around children. Make sure all the organisations using your space have the contact details of your organisation’s nominated child protection lead.

> Read more about hiring out your premises

> Read more about writing safeguarding policies and procedures

It might be helpful to have a code of conduct setting out how you expect people to behave when using your premises to help avoid any inappropriate behaviour.

> See example behaviour codes

Risk assessment

Your organisation needs to consider what risks children might be exposed to at your venue and take steps to mitigate those risks. This could include checking the people in your organisation are safe to work with children, and putting rules in place to make sure children are properly supervised by the groups that use your venue.

> Read about supervision and adult to child ratios

Everyone who works with children should have been through a safer recruitment process and have had the appropriate checks. You should check that any groups using your venue have followed safer recruitment procedures.

> Learn about safer recruitment

> Take our safer recruitment training

You should also consider any risks that may arise from the area around the venue. For example, think about street lighting, car parks and what you can do to make these areas safer.

Shared facilities and toilets

Children’s and adult’s groups should always have separate spaces.

Make sure adults from other groups cannot walk through rooms where children and young people are meeting. If this is not possible in your venue, change meeting times so that adult groups and children’s groups are not on the premises at the same time.

If it isn’t possible to have separate facilities such as toilets for children and adults, you should notify groups of this before they start to use your premises.

Advise groups to wait until adults have left the bathroom before children and young people use them and vice versa.

When going to the toilet, younger children should be supervised by an adult of the same gender who has had the appropriate checks. Make sure the groups hiring your facility have enough adults to supervise their activity and take children to the bathroom. For older children, organisations should carry out a risk assessment and consider if it is appropriate for them to go to the bathroom unsupervised. The child’s age, ability and development stage and the location of the bathroom should be taken into consideration.

> Read more about toilet ratios

Parent volunteers

The scenario

A Buddhist organisation regularly runs nature days for children in the summer with a range of activities. Some of the parents who are members of the organisation want to help out and get more involved with running and supervising the activities.

Our advice

Safer recruitment practices

You need to consider whether parent helpers are only going to be responsible for their own children or whether they’ll be helping out more formally and looking after other children.

When somebody works or volunteers with children you should follow safer recruitment practices. This is the case even if they are parents of some of the children in the group.

Safer recruitment is a set of practices to help make sure everybody working with children is suitable to do so. It’s an important part of creating a safe and positive environment in your organisation and keeping children safe.

> Read more about safer recruitment

> Take our safer recruitment training

Child protection training

Everyone in your organisation who comes into contact with children and young people should take child protection training to make sure they know how to recognise and respond to child protection concerns. Training should be a part of the induction process and staff and volunteers should do refresher training regularly.

> View our range of introductory child protection courses

Residential trips

The scenario

A wilderness skills group takes an annual camping trip with about 100 children aged 10-18, including two children with learning disabilities. At night, the children and adults sleep in tents.

Our advice

When planning an event or trip there are a number of things to consider to make sure children are kept safe.

Plans and procedures

Liaise with your organisation’s nominated child protection lead to draw up a safeguarding and child protection plan for the event which sets out your policies and procedures for keeping children safe.

> Read more about running safer activities and events

Consent

Get written consent from parents or carers and ask children and young people if they want to be involved. You can use the consent form to get emergency contact information and check any medical conditions, allergies, disabilities or other vulnerabilities of the children or young people. You should also let parents know the itinerary.

> See example consent forms

Health and safety

Make sure the necessary health and safety measures are in place including first aid, fire safety and insurance.

> Read more about running safer activities and events

Supervision

Ensure there are enough adults to supervise the children involved in the event or trip. The appropriate ratio of adults to children will depend on many things including:

  • the age of the children
  • the behaviour and abilities of your group
  • the type of activity you are doing.

> Read more about adult to child ratios

All staff and volunteers who will be working with children should go through a safer recruitment process to make sure they are suitable.

> Read more about safer recruitment

> Take our safer recruitment training

Everybody who has responsibility for or comes into contact with children in your organisation should undergo child protection training to be able to recognise and respond to child abuse and child protection concerns.

> Take our introduction to child protection course

Overnight accommodation

At events where children will be sleeping over, separate sleeping facilities need to be provided for each gender and age group. Adults should sleep in separate, nearby facilities.

> Read more about overnight stays

Responding to a concern

The scenario

An adult helper in a children’s church choir notices a bruise on the arm of a 7-year-old girl during rehearsal. When he asks her about it, she hints that it was not accidental and had happened during her individual singing practice with the choir leader. At the next rehearsal, he sees that the bruise has healed and the girl asks him not to say anything.

The helper is worried about the child but is unsure what to do. The choir leader has a key role in the church and the helper doesn’t want to cause problems. He doesn’t want the girl to stop trusting him because he said something when she asked him not to.

Our advice

Responding

If a child tells you they have experienced abuse, it’s important to reassure them that they have done the right thing in telling you. Make sure they know abuse is never their fault.

You can help a child or young person who is telling you about abuse by staying calm, letting them take their time and giving them your full attention.

Never promise a child or young person you will keep something confidential. You need to let them know you may have to share information with somebody else to help keep them safe. Don’t tell lots of other people about your conversation, only those who your organisation’s safeguarding procedures say you need to report it to.

> Watch our animation on how to respond when a child or young person talks to you about abuse

Reporting concerns

Any organisation that works with children or young people should have clear and detailed procedures in place for reporting child protection concerns. All staff and volunteers should be made aware of these procedures during their induction and they should be easily accessible to everyone. Staff and volunteers should also undergo regular child protection training to help them recognise and respond to child abuse and neglect.

> Learn more about writing child protection policies and procedures

> View our introductory child protection courses

Your organisation should have a trained nominated child protection lead. You should report any safeguarding and child protection concerns to your nominated lead or their deputy, who will share the information with the appropriate agencies.

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

Contact the NSPCC Helpline for advice or to report concerns.

Recording information

Make accurate and detailed notes about any concerns you have for a child and share these with your nominated child protection lead. You should include:

  • the child’s name, age and address
  • what the child said or did that gave you cause for concern (if the child made a verbal disclosure, write down their exact words)
  • any information the child has given you about the alleged abuser.

> Read more about recognising and responding to abuse

Consent

Even if a child asks you not to share what they have told you, you must report it if it means you are promoting their welfare. Parents should be informed of the situation and any reports or referrals made about their child, unless informing them will put the child at risk.

> Read more about consent

Support for the child

Children who have experienced abuse need support. Make sure they have someone to talk to and let them know they can contact Childline for free, confidential support at any time.

Noticing a concern

The scenario

Two volunteers at a local art group for children notice a father shouting at his 8-year-old daughter when he comes to collect her. He is shouting in another language and they aren’t sure what is being said. The volunteers have heard other parents worrying about the child and saying the father is often quite nasty. They’re concerned this may be emotional abuse but they don’t want to report it in case they have misunderstood due to the language barrier. They wonder if they should wait and see if the girl says anything to them about her father’s behaviour.

Our advice

Responding to concerns

You should never wait until a child or young person tells you directly that they are experiencing abuse before taking action. You should also not let concerns about cultural sensitivity stand in the way of safeguarding and protecting children and young people.

Your organisation should have clear procedures in place that outline what staff and volunteers should do if they have any concerns about a child’s safety and welfare, whether this comes from a child telling you something or noticing the signs of abuse or harm.

> Learn more about writing safeguarding policies and procedures

Make sure staff and volunteers have the contact details of the nominated child protection lead and their deputy to report any concerns. Concerns should only be shared with the nominated leads and not spread more widely.

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

> Read more about recognising and responding to abuse

It is important to distinguish between fact and opinion when responding to and recording concerns. Differentiate what you’ve heard from others from facts and identify where information came from when making notes.

> Find out more about recording and sharing information

Recognising and sharing concerns quickly with the appropriate people is important. Addressing children and young people’s needs early can help protect them from harm.

> Read more about early help

Training staff

You must ensure that all staff and volunteers understand your organisation’s safeguarding policies and procedures and feel confident following the actions they set out. Child protection training should form a key part of your organisation’s induction process.

> View our introductory child protection courses

Support for the child

Children who have experienced abuse or who are living in challenging circumstances need support. Make sure they have someone to talk to and let them know they can contact Childline for free, confidential support at any time.

Sexting

The scenario

The coach of a community football club notices that a 15-year-old is unhappy and asks what has happened. The boy tells his coach that he sent an explicit photo of himself to his 16-year-old boyfriend. He says he didn’t feel pressured into sending the photo but then his boyfriend shared it with their friends, which he didn’t consent to. He is now being bullied about it by friends and other people who have seen the image.

Our advice

Your responsibility

Even when incidents happen outside of your organisation, you have a responsibility to take action to protect the children and young people involved. If you have a concern for a child or young person in your group, report it to your nominated child protection lead.

Sexting

Children and young people demonstrate a range of sexual behaviours as they grow up, including sharing explicit messages and images (sexting). However, sexting can leave children vulnerable to bullying, blackmail, online grooming or abuse. Some children can also feel pressured into sexting when they don’t want to.

You should make sure children and young people are aware that it is against the law to produce, possess or share explicit images of themselves or anyone under 18. However, safeguarding should be at the centre of any investigation into sexting and the police do not always need to charge young people with a criminal offence.

Any group or organisation that involves children and young people should have procedures setting out what steps should be taken if a child is involved in sexting as part of their overall safeguarding policy.

If a young person tells you they’ve been involved in sexting it’s important to be understanding and non-judgmental. Try to find out a bit more about what’s happened, including who sent the image and who has seen it. Never view or save explicit images, videos or messages.

You should take steps to get an explicit image or video removed if it’s been posted online.

  • Report the image to the site or network hosting it.
  • Contact the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
  • Ask the child or young person to get in touch with Childline.

> Read more about responding to sexting

As part of your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures you should have a policy around online safety. You can also create an online safety agreement, setting out how children and young people in your organisation are expected to behave online.

> See example online safety policy statement and agreement

> Take our keeping children safe online course

Bullying

Your organisation should have an anti-bullying policy which sets out how you will respond to incidents of bullying. When responding it’s important to listen to all children involved and record details of the incident and any action you’ve taken.

> Learn more about responding to bullying

Supporting the child

Children and young people who have been involved in sexting will need your help and support. Make sure they know they have someone to talk to and tell them they can contact Childline at any time for help and support.

Inappropriate behaviour from an adult

The scenario

A helper at a Muslim youth group is great at working with children who attend. The Imam is pleased that the helper is getting young people more engaged but he has heard some of the children talk about her Facebook page and saying that she has messaged them privately and commented on their posts.

Our advice

Reporting concerns

Any concern about someone’s behaviour with children and young people should be reported to the nominated child protection lead in your organisation. They can decide whether a referral should be made and offer advice and support.

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

> Listen to our podcast about nominated child protection leads

Online behaviour

Staff and volunteers should never add, follow or interact with children in their organisation on any personal social media accounts.

Your organisation should have behaviour codes that set out how you expect children and adults to behave, including online. These codes should be easily available to staff and volunteers, children and parents and carers. Everyone in the organisation should sign them and understand the consequences for breaching the code.

> See our sample behaviour codes

> Read more about online safety

> Listen to our podcast about online safety

Online safety

Every organisation that works with children and young people should have an online safety policy statement which sets out how you are committed to keeping children, staff and volunteers safe online. You should also have an online safety policy and agreement for children to help them understand and recognise what is inappropriate behaviour online.

> Find out more about protecting children from online abuse

> See our example online safety policy and agreement

Recruitment and training

All staff and volunteers working with children and young people should be appointed following safer recruitment practices to ensure that they are suitable to work with children.

> Read more about safer recruitment

Staff and volunteers should take child protection training as part of their induction to help them recognise and respond to child abuse and neglect and understand how to behave appropriately around children.

> View our range of introductory child protection courses

> Take our keeping children safe online course

Managing allegations

If an allegation is made against someone in your organisation you must respond sensitively and promptly. You should have procedures in place setting out how the organisation will respond to allegations against staff and volunteers. Children and young people must be supported and their views and wishes considered.

> Learn more about managing allegations of abuse

> Learn more about preventing abuse by someone in a position of trust or authority

Adult dropping in

The scenario

A local builder has offered to carry out maintenance checks and small repairs to a community centre on a voluntary basis. The builder plans to drop in when he has time in his schedule so can’t always give notice as to when he will be at the centre. The centre holds a range of activities for children and young people throughout the day.

Our advice

Safeguarding children

Anybody working in or with your organisation should understand your safeguarding and child protection policies and procedures and agree to follow them. Make sure they know who the nominated child protection lead is and have their contact details. You should also ask them to comply with your behaviour code.

> Read more about writing safeguarding policies and procedures

> Learn more about behaviour codes

You should also think about health and safety – if maintenance work is being carried out, is it safe for children to be around?

Recruitment and training

Anybody who might come into contact with children or young people should go through safer recruitment practices.

You must carry out the necessary checks on anyone who will be around children or young people. A role might not be eligible for a criminal records check if it does not involve regular contact with children or young people but you should still carry out other appropriate checks such as having interviews and checking references.

> Learn more about safer recruitment

> Read more about vetting, disclosure and barring checks

> Take our safer recruitment training

Anyone who will be coming into contact with children should undertake training so they know how to recognise and respond to child protection concerns.

Our It’s Your Call training course will help adults recognise and respond to signs of abuse and neglect.

> View our range of introductory child protection training courses

Supervision

Children and young people should not be left alone with adults who have not had appropriate checks. Make sure groups and organisations are aware that someone may be dropping in, so that they can arrange to have the appropriate supervision in place.

> Read more about supervision and adult to child ratios