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It is vital that a nursery is a place where children are safe and healthy. If you work in the early years sector, it is important that you comply with safeguarding measures to ensure the wellbeing of all the babies and children in your setting.
What is safeguarding?
Safeguarding babies and children is the most critical responsibility that all nursery workers have. In a nursery, safeguarding is about making sure that babies and children are well looked after when they are not at home, and also reporting any concerns that you have that a child might be at risk of harm.
Safeguarding babies and children’s welfare is defined in “Working Together to Safeguard Children” as:
- Protecting children from maltreatment.
- Preventing impairment of children’s health or development.
- Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.
- Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.
Safeguarding in a nursery setting is not just about protecting children from deliberate harm, neglect and failure to act. Although these are not inherently safeguarding issues, other aspects of child care can be associated with heightened risks of harm.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Children’s health and safety and wellbeing, including their mental health.
- Meeting the needs of children who have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).
- Meeting the needs of children with medical conditions.
- Providing first aid.
- Intimate care.
- Emotional wellbeing.
- Online safety and associated issues.
The Care Act 2014 lists six key principles of safeguarding. These are intended to form a core set of standards for anyone who has a responsibility for safeguarding. Although these principles have been designed with a focus on vulnerable adults, they should be applied to any type of vulnerable individual, children included.
The principles are as follows:
- Accountability – in the event of a disclosure, if a young person entrusts you with information that you know could be indicative of abuse, you must be clear with the individual that you need to report what you have heard.
- Empowerment – it’s important for any person who has been a victim of abuse to feel that they have control over their situation. Support and encouragement are key to effective working with a victim of abuse or neglect.
- Partnership – it is important to work in partnership with your local authority and all services or organisations in your community that might be able to assist in detecting and reporting abuse.
- Prevention – it is sometimes possible to take action before harm has come to an individual. If you know the signs and indicators of abuse, you will understand when something is not quite right and will be better placed to report any concerns for an individual’s wellbeing.
- Proportionality – when a safeguarding incident occurs, you should report your concerns in a manner that is appropriate for the risk presented. For example, if you suspect that a child is in immediate danger, dialling 999 is the recommended response.
- Protection – it is crucial to be an ally for individuals who have experienced or who are at risk of abuse. Supporting and representing these individuals in the appropriate manner can help to protect them from further harm.
What risk factors make someone more likely to experience abuse?
There is no way to know which children are most vulnerable to abuse, but there are some factors for abuse and neglect risk to be aware of including, but not limited to:
- Very young children.
- Children with disabilities and health problems.
- Children who have already been, or are currently being, abused and/or neglected.
- Parents who are young when their child is born.
- Parents who are poorly informed about parenting.
- Parents with mental health issues, especially untreated issues, for example depression, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse and related disorders.
- Single-parent households.
- Intimate-partner violence.
- Parents experiencing emotional and/or financial stress.
- Poverty, poor housing and deprivation.
- Social isolation.
- Violence in the community.
- Poorly trained staff.
- Lack of adherence to “safer recruitment”.
The types of abuse children can encounter
Statutory guidance across the four countries of the UK describes four main categories of abuse:
- Physical harm/abuse – this may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child/young person. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child/young person. Harm can also occur due to practices linked to faith and culture, for example, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
- Emotional harm/abuse – this is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child/young person such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child/young person’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child the opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or “making fun” of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capacity, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child from participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying, including cyberbullying, causing children/young people frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children/young people. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child/young person, though it may occur alone.
- Sexual abuse – this involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetrative acts, for example rape or oral sex, or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, pornographic sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse, including via the internet. Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males; women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.
- Neglect – this is the persistent failure to meet a child/young person’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child/young person’s development. Where there is domestic abuse and violence towards a carer, the needs of the child may be neglected.
Neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
– Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, including exclusion from home or abandonment.
– Protect a child/young person from physical and emotional harm or danger.
– Ensure adequate supervision, including the use of inadequate caregivers.
– Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment, also including neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child/young person’s basic emotional needs.
What safeguarding issues do nursey workers need to be aware of?
Child neglect is the most common form of child abuse, and occurs when a child isn’t getting the physical, emotional and medical attention he or she needs to thrive. Oftentimes, these children have untreated medical or dental problems, and may seem malnourished.
A neglected child may also have:
- Poor hygiene; infrequent bathing and often wearing dirty clothing is common.
- A tendency to steal food or appearing greedy at mealtimes.
- Poor attendance at nursery.
Physical abuse involves a child being hurt intentionally with physical force, often through hitting, choking or burns.
Physical cuts, bruises and broken bones are some of the most common signs of physical abuse, but other signs include:
- Always worryingly evaluating surroundings.
- Experiencing extreme behaviours.
- Abusing animals or people.
- Being unable to give a reason for their injuries.
- Shyness or antisocial tendencies towards other children or adults.
- Being fearful or crying when it’s time to go home after day care.
Emotional abuse is when a child’s mental health is being manipulated or altered through humiliation, threats or other forms of subjugation.
A child who is experiencing emotional abuse may also have:
- A speech disorder, such as stuttering or lisping.
- An unusually aggressive or passive behaviour towards others.
- Hyper mature habits or, conversely, unusually immature behaviours such as rocking back and forth or biting.
- Low self-esteem.
- A tendency to act afraid when they feel something bad is going to happen, such as when they get into trouble or are ticked off.
Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used intentionally for sexual reasons, as in fondling, rape or pornography.
Sexually abused victims may find it hard to walk or sit, but you may also notice some of the signs below:
- Regular refusal to change into play or gym clothes.
- A sudden knowledge or inappropriate displays of sexual behaviour.
- Clinging closely to newer adults in their life, such as a neighbour or relative.
The roles and responsibilities of a nursery worker in regard to safeguarding
As a registered nursery, the setting has a legal responsibility to safeguard children, ensuring that the children being cared for are in a safe environment where they can thrive. This is of paramount concern when considering the quality of a childcare setting and is part of the Ofsted inspection criteria.
All nursery workers must have an up-to-date understanding of safeguarding and children’s welfare. In England and Wales, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) requires that every childcare setting has one designated person to take “lead responsibility” when it comes to safeguarding. Nursery settings must also have and implement a policy and procedures to safeguard children.
Nursery workers must appropriately share any concerns that they may have about children, ensuring that they refer a child if there are concerns about a child’s welfare, or possible abuse or neglect to Social Care. They should ensure that detailed and accurate written records of concerns about a child are kept even if there is no need to make an immediate referral and that all such records are kept confidentially and securely.
Along with maintaining and promoting good physical health of the young children in your care, mental health is also important in the development of a child, including at nursery age. Bullying should be prevented, and children encouraged to be happy and make the most of their time at the nursery. This helps to promote good health and educational outcomes, as well as laying a solid foundation for positive mental health as the children grow up.
Safeguarding in a nursery is also ensuring that you are providing an environment that is a safe place for young children and babies, as well as providing safe resources for children to use. Whether you are playing outside with the children or doing arts and crafts, they need to be in a safe environment, so nurseries must ensure that children are not placed in situations where there is a high likelihood of injury or harm.
Fundamentally a nursery worker’s role in safeguarding is to provide a safe environment where children can thrive. In order to do this, regular risk assessments should be done to help to identify aspects of the environment that need to be checked regularly, to help to decide what should be done to prevent harm and to make sure the relevant actions are taken, and to make sure this is updated when necessary.
There is a responsibility to ensure that nurseries employing staff have participated in Safer Recruitment training, practise safe recruitment methods, and ensure that all staff have been DBS checked and have received appropriate training on safeguarding at induction.
Nursery workers may have a harder job than other safeguarding professionals in their role, as the children that they care for may not have the language skills or vocabulary to express themselves and share details of any mistreatment that is taking place. Being aware of the signs of abuse, recognising cases where early help is needed, and protecting children from harm and/or abuse, whether this is from their caregivers, other children or other adults, is the most important part of safeguarding in a nursery setting.
The safeguarding issues nursery workers may come across
Understanding what abuse and neglect might look like and how to recognise warning signs is an important aspect of safeguarding. Signs of abuse can range from injury to changes in the way a child acts. Some examples nursery workers might encounter may include, but are not limited to:
Bruising is the most common presentation in children who have been physically abused although other injuries can include burns, fractures or unexplained bleeding. Infants under 12 months are at increased risk of non-accidental injury. Coping with a crying baby can be very stressful for parents. Serious Case Reviews show that crying is the main trigger for babies being shaken.
Noticing that the parent/carer may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when dropping off or picking up a child is a safeguarding concern, as too when a parent/carer fails to collect a child or is persistently late when dropping off or collecting a child.
Child-on-child abuse – this can occur in many forms, such as sexual assault or acts of violence, and you need to take the relevant steps to deal with it.
Neglect – warning signs that a child is neglected might include an underweight child or a young child who plays outside at all hours of the day without an adult in sight. Outward signs may include poor hygiene such as being consistently dirty or having severe body odour, lack of sufficient clothing, and being inappropriately dressed for the weather. Signs that the child isn’t receiving needed medical, dental, or vision care are also warning signs. It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs. The child’s behaviour may also raise red flags. Children who steal or beg for food or money, or simply state that they are regularly home alone, may be experiencing neglect. Neglect can lead to attachment issues, self-esteem problems, and difficulty trusting others.
Nursery workers should be encouraging regular attendance because lack of attendance can be a safeguarding concern. If a child does not attend regularly and they are funded, you are required to report any concerns to the local authority. If you think lack of attendance might be linked to safeguarding concerns, you should report it to your designated safeguarding lead or local authority safeguarding team.
If a child makes an allegation, also known as a disclosure of abuse, for example saying daddy did it… mummy hurt me… granny hit me…, you are legally required to report the concern to your designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding team.
Signs of sexual abuse may include physical signs or changes in a child’s behaviour that need attention and can include:
- Unexplained soreness or bruises around private parts.
- Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth.
- Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements.
- Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training.
- The child acting in a sexual way with toys or objects.
- Becoming withdrawn or very clingy.
- Personality changes or suddenly seeming insecure.
- Regressing to younger behaviours, such as bedwetting, thumb sucking.
- Unaccountable fear of particular places or people.
- Outbursts of anger.
- Changes in eating habits.
- Becoming secretive.
- Having unexplained gifts such as toys, money, mobile phone, expensive clothes.
There can be many reasons for these behaviours and changes, but it is best to check them all out and if noticing a combination of these signs, it is time to seek help and advice.
It is important to monitor accident and injury forms that are filled out if a child is injured at nursery or that a parent fills out if a child has been injured at home and sustained a cut, scrape or bump. If staff notice a regular pattern of injury and a high number of forms, they should be prompted to further investigate the child’s safety.
Where should nursery workers go with a safeguarding concern?
Some concerns may be minor in nature but provide an opportunity for early intervention, for example advice to prevent a problem from escalating. If you witness or suspect that there is a risk of immediate harm to a person in your care, you must act straight away to protect their safety.
Where it is believed that a child is suffering from or is at risk of harm, nursery workers should follow the procedures set out in the nursery’s safeguarding policy and procedures, and their local authority’s guidelines. A nursery worker who is concerned about a child’s safety and wellbeing must report it as a possible safeguarding issue to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or safeguarding officer. This concern may result from something that you have seen, been told or heard.
The nursery’s designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or safeguarding officer will contact the local authority Referral Team to discuss the concern and get advice about next steps. In an emergency the nursery worker, DSL or safeguarding officer should contact the police.
The designated safeguarding lead will normally be someone who has been given special responsibility and training in dealing with staff concerns.
The role includes:
- Making sure appropriate systems for raising concerns are in place and that all staff can access them.
- Making sure staff can see all concerns are taken seriously, even if they are later seen to be unfounded.
- Investigating concerns promptly and including a full and objective assessment.
- Taking action to deal with the concern, and record and monitor this action.
- Keeping the staff member who raised the concern up to date with what is happening.
- Having processes in place to support staff raising concerns.
- Having a role in highlighting learning and may facilitate or be part of learning events.
You should also keep an accurate record of your concerns and action that you have taken, and you should always inform the designated safeguarding lead of your actions.
Speaking up on behalf of children in your care is an everyday part of your role. Just as raising genuine concerns represents good practice, doing nothing and failing to report concerns is unacceptable. If an incident occurs or is suspected nursery workers should take personal responsibility for reporting the allegation and not assume that somebody else will take action or share information that might be critical in keeping children safe.
What legislation do nursery workers have to follow in regard to adult safeguarding?
There are a number of pieces of legislation for safeguarding of children, including several Acts and statutory guidance documents which are always being amended or updated. Nursery workers must follow the statutory guidance in the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (Department for Education, 2021).
Additionally, Ofsted has published guidance for those providing childcare, including nurseries, on:
- Reporting new adults in the home (Ofsted, 2020a)
- Reporting children’s accidents and injuries (Ofsted, 2020b)
- Reporting a serious childcare incident (Ofsted, 2020c)
- Registration requirements for childminders and childcare providers (Ofsted, 2022)
- Registering with Ofsted if you provide childcare for under 2 hours a day (Ofsted, 2020d)
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 is a key piece of legislation for businesses when they are recruiting new staff members and volunteers. It was passed to help avoid businesses recruiting people who are deemed unsuitable to work with children. It developed a centralised vetting process that all those who would potentially work closely with children need to go through.
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010 – the way that agencies and organisations should work together to carry out their duties and responsibilities under the 1989 Children Act and other legislation is set out in a document called ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’.
It sets out the responsibilities of all agencies in the protection of children, and is aimed at staff in organisations that are responsible for commissioning or providing services to:
- Children, young people and adults who are parents/carers.
- Organisations that have a particular responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people.
GDPR and information sharing – all childcare professionals and agencies have a responsibility to inform child social care and to share information with other agencies if they are concerned that a child is in need or is at risk of harm. Good practice shows that they should always discuss this with the parents/carers and the child, if they have sufficient understanding. However, if you are concerned that this could increase the risk to the child, you should share their information and get advice from child social care services. You may need to pass on information without the consent of the family if you think it is necessary to protect the child.
Under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, any staff and, if providing childminding at home premises, members of your household over the age of 16, are required to disclose any convictions, cautions, court orders, reprimands and warnings which may affect their suitability to work with children or to be near the children under your care. Childcaring providers must not allow people, whose suitability has not been checked, including through a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, to have unsupervised contact with children being cared for.
Why is safeguarding training important?
It is important that we all understand safeguarding, and know what to do should safeguarding concerns arise.
Safeguarding induction and training is essential for all staff appropriate to their role, including:
- Information on types of harm, abuse and neglect.
- How to spot abuse.
- How to respond to concerns.
- Who to report concerns to.
All nursery workers should attend all relevant training and development provided by their nursery. An example of appropriate safeguarding training includes Safeguarding Children Level 2, designed for nursery workers who are working with children and teaches the skills needed to safeguard vulnerable children who are at higher risk of abuse.
Other training that is recommended for nursery workers to provide the skills and knowledge for effective safeguarding includes, but is not limited to:
- Understanding the EYFS 2021
- Paediatric First Aid Training
- Managing Behaviour that Challenges
- Food Hygiene
- Nutrition and Healthy Eating
- Child Neglect Awareness
- Safer Recruitment training
Managers should evaluate changes in understanding and confidence before and after training, assessing this:
- Immediately after the training.
- In regular long-term evaluations, for example as part of supervision sessions.
- Annually, for example as part of the performance management/appraisal process.
Line managers should provide feedback through supervision and appraisals, acknowledging how nursery staff have learned from their experience of identifying, reporting and managing safeguarding concerns.
How often should nursery workers renew their safeguarding training?
Line managers and the designated safeguarding lead should assess nursery workers’ safeguarding knowledge annually, and run refresher training if needed. To help nursery workers increase their confidence in managing safeguarding concerns, they should at a minimum refresh their safeguarding training at least every 2 years and participate in continuing professional development (CPD).