All childcare workers have a legal responsibility to safeguard the children in their care, so child protection must be a vital part of your business and everyday practice. There are several documents you need to ensure that your staff have read and understood, and it is imperative that all staff receive regular training on safeguarding matters. In addition, you need to ensure that you have robust policies in place and that your staff (including any support or site staff) are fully versed in what to do if they are concerned about a child.
What is safeguarding?
In the key document, “Working together to safeguard children, 2018”, safeguarding is defined 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
This document sets out how organisations need to work together to safeguard children and young people in England. There are similar documents for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Why is safeguarding important and what is involved?
Unfortunately, there are still many thousands of children who are at risk every day. Alarmingly, the police recorded were nearly a quarter of a million child abuse offences in the year ending March 2019 and there are over 54,000 children in England in Wales in the care of their local authority due to having suffered abuse or neglect. Children of all ages and all backgrounds may potentially be at harm and it is your responsibility as a childcare professional to be alert to the signs of abuse so that you can inform the relevant authorities.
There are four main categories of child abuse:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
Whilst these are the main types of abuse, there are many other safeguarding issues that you and your staff need to be aware of, including things like:
- racism, homophobic, religious or transphobic abuse
- forced marriage
- peer-on-peer abuse
- fabricated or induced illness
For the full list, see Inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings or Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020. These documents are updated regularly, and it is important that your staff keep up to date with additions and changes.
Local safeguarding partnerships
In England, the responsibility for coordinating the safeguarding response in a particular area is held by three local safeguarding partners and you will be required to work with these to ensure safeguarding in your setting. These are:
- the local authority
- a clinical commissioning group for your area
- the chief officer of police for an area any part of which falls within the local authority area
These organisations are required to set up ways of working together that include other local organisations such as schools, colleges and nurseries, to ensure that relevant information is shared in timely and appropriate ways to help quickly identify need and target resources and interventions accordingly. They may set up a single point of contact for people to report local concerns to or have other locally-decided structures.
Safeguarding and early years
In England early years providers have a duty to comply with the welfare requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and must ensure that:
- they are alert to any issues of concern in the child’s life
- they have and implement a written policy and procedures to safeguard children. This must include an explanation of the action to be taken when there are safeguarding concerns about a child and in the event of an allegation being made against a member of staff. The policy must also cover the use of mobile phones and cameras in the setting, that staff complete safeguarding training that enables them to understand their safeguarding policy and procedures, have up-to-date knowledge of safeguarding issues, and recognise signs of potential abuse and neglect
- they have a practitioner who is designated to take lead responsibility for safeguarding children within each setting (a DSL) and with local statutory children’s services as appropriate. This lead must also complete child protection training
Templates for written safeguarding policies are available from various relevant websites and consultants, but you must ensure you tailor them to your local area and your setting’s particular needs.
Designated Safeguarding Leads
Each childcare setting must have a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) who takes responsibility for safeguarding in the setting. You may have two DSLs or a deputy DSL and it is important that all your staff understand who they can go to both inside and outside your normal operating hours. You should display relevant DSL/child safeguarding organisation contact details within your setting too.
The DSL role includes:
- making sure that all staff are aware of their responsibilities and are trained in recognising the symptoms of abuse and neglect and how to contact the relevant authorities and refer cases if needed
- monitoring children who are the subject of child protection plans
- maintaining accurate and secure records which could stand up in a court environment should that be required
- As a DSL, you might consider having ‘safeguarding’ as a permanent agenda item for all your meetings and discuss issues regularly with staff
What do staff need to know?
The DSL must ensure that staff know:
- the signs of abuse and neglect so that they can be alert to them
- what to do if they suspect a child is at risk of abuse or neglect
- who to contact and when, including when the DSL or deputy DSL is not available
- what to do if a child makes a disclosure to them, and what NOT to do
- what to do if they suspect another member of staff/adult is acting inappropriately with children, including if that person is charge of the setting or above them in the management line
- updates to safeguarding legislation and recommendations
Safeguarding may also now refer to how coronavirus affects children, not only in terms of staying virus-free, but considerations too of their mental health and situations where children may be more at risk because of lockdowns or increased time at home.
Remember: safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and you must take it seriously and fulfil your statutory obligations regarding it. And at any time, if any member of your team thinks a child is in immediate danger of significant harm, they should call the police on 999.