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If you work with, or around, children in any capacity safeguarding must be at the forefront of your practice. Safeguarding refers to keeping a child safe both in a care setting, such as a school, and at home. Safeguarding is something which is taken extremely seriously in childcare settings, and for good reason too. The Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 1 in 5 adults experienced some form of child abuse before the age of 16. This equated to over 8.5 million people. The safety of children is to take a priority above all else and if you work with children it is your responsibility to ensure that you understand what your role is in terms of safeguarding and applying government guidance to your practice. This blog will help you to refresh your knowledge of current policy and practice surrounding the safeguarding of children and young people, therefore helping you to ensure that you are fulfilling your duties.
In England, the Department for Education is responsible specifically for child protection
However, In Northern Ireland The Department of Health is responsible for child protection.
In Wales the Social Services and Wellbeing Act 2014 is responsible for child protection and provide the legal framework.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government is responsible for child protection.
Let’s start with the definition…
The definition of safeguarding, as per the Working Together to Safeguard Children Legislation, is:
- Protecting children from maltreatment.
- Preventing impairment of children’s health or development.
- Ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.
- Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.
Essentially, safeguarding is how you ensure the safety of the children in your care. It is the responsibility of every professional that comes into contact with a child, not simply those who work in education.
Knowing the key legislation and policy ensures that you are able to do all you can to protect the children in your care.
What legislation and policies surround safeguarding children?
There are many different policies and legislation out there regarding safeguarding children, as it is such a fundamental aspect of education and childcare.
The key pieces of legislation that you might be aware of are:
- The Children Act 1989 (as amended).
- The Children and Social Work Act 2017.
- Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019.
- Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018.
- The Education Act 2002.
- The United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child 1992.
- The Equality Act 2010.
- The Children and Families Act 2014.
- The Human Rights Act 1998.
Key information from the legislation
While every part of the legislation is essential, understanding the key aspects and takeaways from the legislation is important for all people involved in the care of children and young people. Nobody expects you to be able to recite the documents by rote, but understanding the key message is important. If you would like to read in more depth about government guidance, you can do so here: Government Guidance.
The Children Act 1989
The full document can be found here: Children Act 1989. The essentials of this piece of legislation are –
- To allow children to be healthy.
- Allowing children to remain safe in their environments.
- Helping children to enjoy life.
- Assist children in their quest to succeed.
- Help make a contribution – a positive contribution – to the lives of children.
- Help achieve economic stability for our children’s futures.
The Children Act outlined the definition of Children in Need, which is a useful definition to be aware of.
“a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by a Local Authority; or
- a child whose health or development is likely to be significantly impaired; or further impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or
- a child is disabled”
It therefore places the responsibility with the local authority to ensure that these children are safeguarded. Local authorities are tasked with attempting to ensure, wherever possible, that children are brought up in their own families. This definition is key to safeguarding as in 2019 there were 399,500 children considered to be a child in need.
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect people or groups of people who have one or more ‘protected characteristics’. These protected characteristics are features of people’s lives upon which discrimination, in the UK is now illegal.
The protected characteristics listed in the Act are:
3. Sexual orientation.
5. Gender reassignment.
6. Marriage and civil partnership.
7. Pregnancy and maternity.
9. Religion and belief.
This means that equal and fair treatment to everyone must be applied in a variety of aspects of everyday life including work, leisure and health and social care. It stipulates the following with regards to how individuals should be treated equally and fairly:
- Every individual has the right to be treated equally and fairly and not be discriminated against regardless of any ‘protected characteristics’.
- Every individual has the right to be treated with respect and dignity.
- Health services have a duty to ensure that services are fair and meet the needs of everyone, regardless of their background or current circumstances.
Children and Families Act 2014
This Act aims to ensure that greater protection is available for children who have been classed as vulnerable. It includes children who may be in foster care and those who are looked after or have additional needs. The Act also ensures that a Education, Health and Care Plan is produced for any child who has been identified as having additional needs.
The United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child 1992
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) underpins many pieces of legislation that relate to the roles of individuals who work with children, such as the Children Act (2004) and the Equality Act 2010. The UNCRC highlights the importance of treating every child as a unique person, which helps to ensure that all of their needs are met in a way that is specific to them, enabling them to have a high quality of life.
The Human Rights Act 1998
Human rights within the United Kingdom are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998, which means that if an individual believes that their human rights have been breached, they can take action against this in a court of law. Examples of rights that are contained within the Act, known as ‘Articles’ are:
- The right to freedom from torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.
- The right to liberty and security.
- The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
- The right to freedom of expression.
- The right of access to an education.
Although usually associated with adults, this Act provides equal rights to children who are also protected by its content.
Keeping Children Safe in Education 2019
This document can be found here: Keeping Children Safe in Education. This document outlines statutory guidance for keeping children safe in schools and colleges. It is an update from the 2016 document.
It is organised into five parts.
1. Safeguarding information for all staff (make sure all the staff in your school read at least this part)
2. The management of safeguarding
3. Safer recruitment
4. Allegations of abuse made against teachers and other staff
5. Child-on-child sexual violence and sexual harassment
The key takeaway from this document is the focus on making sure that all staff are knowledgeable about safeguarding and current legislation. It provides a step-by-step approach for how safeguarding should be structured in schools and colleges, and what good practice looks like.
Staff roles and responsibilities
Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility.
All staff should make sure that any decisions made are in the best interests of the child.
All staff should –
- Provide a safe environment in which children can learn.
- Know about (and feel confident to use) school safeguarding systems, including:
– Policies on child protection, pupil behaviour and staff behaviour (your code of conduct).
– Your safeguarding response to children who go missing from education.
– The role and identity of your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and any deputies.
They need to know –
- How to identify children who may benefit from early help and what your local early help process is.
- How to make referrals to children’s social care and for the statutory assessments that may follow a referral, and their role in these assessments.
- How to identify signs of abuse and neglect, and what to do if a child makes a disclosure.
- How to maintain confidentiality by only involving those who need to be involved.
- That they should never promise a child confidentiality.
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018
The full document can be found here. The main purpose surrounding the development of this document was to share the importance of an inter-agency approach to safeguarding. This guidance was created after many instances of children not being kept safe due to the failure of different agencies to communicate and work together. When you think of safeguarding, it is important to think about it in terms of a jigsaw puzzle. Only once all the pieces are in place, can you see the full picture.
For example, a well-know, very tragic incident was the murder of Victoria Climbie by her Great-Aunt and Great-Aunt’s bodyfriend. While I do not want to share the details here, if you do wish to learn more about this case, please do feel free to take a look at this link: The Victoria Climbie Inquiry. Simply, Victoria moved to England with her Aunt in 1999, at the age of 8, after leaving the Ivory Coast where she was born. Victoria’s Aunt moved in with her boyfriend a couple of months later, where Victoria began to be severely abused. Victoria visited the hospital on numerous occasions with various injuries, noticed by different professionals. Victoria’s Aunt managed to ‘explain’ the injuries and social services intervention was cancelled. This happened more than once. Victoria’s Aunt confessed to social services that her boyfriend sexually assaulted Victoria, but retracted her statement. No further action was taken. On 24 February 2000, Victoria was rushed to hospital suffering from malnutrition and hypothermia. She died the next day. When a home office pathologist examined her body, he noticed over 128 separate injuries and scars and described it as, “The worst case of child abuse I’ve encountered.”
Sadly, this is one case of many that led to changes in current legislation. However, in Working Together to Safeguard Children, we see a considerable focus on an inter-agency approach to safeguarding, which aims to prevent occurrences such as that of Victoria Climbie’s from ever occurring.
This document provides guidance on:
- Assessing need and providing help including early help.
- Organisational responsibilities.
- Multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.
- Local and national child safeguarding practice reviews; and child death reviews.
This guidance sets out details of the local authority’s responsibility regarding the protection, safeguarding and welfare of all children. It also sets out details regarding how organisations and individuals should work together when conducting assessments of children.
The key principles from the legislation are:
- Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility: for services to be effective each professional and organisation should play their full part.
- A child-centred approach: for services to be effective they should be based on a clear understanding of the needs and views of children.
The Children and Social Work Act 2017
This Act intends to improve support for looked after children and care leavers, as well as promoting the welfare and safeguarding of children. It sets out corporate parenting principles for the local authority to be the ‘best parent it can be’ to children who are in its care.
Local authorities are, under this Act, obliged to publish their support offer to care leavers and promote any educational attainment of children who have been adopted or placed in long-term care arrangements.
The Education Act 2002
The Education Act 2002 places a duty on educational settings such as schools and colleges to ensure that the safeguarding and welfare of children is paramount to the way in which their setting functions.
Specific duties are placed on local education authorities and governing bodies under Section 175 of the Act, which maintains that:
- The local education authority must make arrangements for ensuring that their responsibilities in terms of safeguarding are exercised so that children are safe and that their welfare is promoted.
- The governing body of a school should make arrangements to ensure that their functions concerning the school’s conduct are exercised with a view of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children who attend the school.
- The governing body of a school should ensure that staff receive adequate training related to the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of children.
Designated Safeguard Lead
Every single school should have a DSL whose responsibility it is to ensure that school follows safeguarding legislation and guidance. This individual should ensure that the school has their own safeguarding policy and child protection policy. If you ever have any concerns about the safeguarding of a child, or the conduct of another member of staff, the first step is to speak to the DSL and they will advise you of what the next steps are. The role of the safeguarding lead is to keep up-to-date on all developments in legislation and government guidance in order to ensure that the school consistently exhibits good practice. Another aspect of this role is to make sure that all staff and people working with children in the school setting, including those in the offices and cleaning staff, have a solid understanding of safeguarding, the signs to look for and what to do if they have any concerns.
To finish off this blog, I think it is useful to take a little recap of what child abuse is and some of the signs to look out for. Remember, if you notice any of these signs it is your responsibility to report them to the DSL.
The Working Together to Safeguard Children document defines abuse as: “A form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others. Abuse can take place wholly online, or technology may be used to facilitate offline abuse. Children may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children”.
Typically abuse can be either one of, or a combination of these four categories:
The NSPCC outlines the common signs of child abuse as:
– Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality.
– Becoming withdrawn.
– Seeming anxious.
– Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive.
– Lacks social skills and has few friends, if any.
– Poor bond or relationship with a parent.
– Knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age.
– Running away or going missing.
– Always choosing to wear clothes which cover their body.
For more information, you can visit the NSPCC website.
Some statistics to be aware of –
– 3.1 million adults in the UK experienced sexual abuse, before the age of 16, from either an adult or child perpetrator.
– Prevalence of sexual and emotional abuse, and neglect, is higher in females. For physical abuse the prevalence is around the same.
– Only 1 out of 8 children who are sexually abused are known to the police or children’s services.
– Over 90% of abused children were abused by somebody they knew.
The inclusion of these figures is not aimed to scare or shock you, merely to help you to understand the importance of every single professional involved in a child’s life being aware of safeguarding procedures and how to keep children safe. Reporting your suspicions is key, it is always better to report something and it turns out to be nothing, than the other way around.
Safeguarding has to be the primary concern for people working with children. Above all else, the safety of children has to be a priority, everything else comes in second place. As somebody working with children, being aware of your workplace’s safeguarding policy and practice is essential. Please remember that it is better to report something even if you are not sure it is something that needs reporting. Safeguarding is no place for second guessing yourself. Being aware that guidance continually changes in order to adapt to the needs of society and ‘failings’. The key priority of safeguarding at the moment is inter-agency working and as this approach is perfected, the likelihood of abuse falling under the radar should decrease dramatically. If you see something; say something!