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The safeguarding of children comes before all other requirements in childcare and education and should not only be a fundamental part of your practice, but embedded throughout everything you do as childcare practitioners. Safeguarding is not an optional extra – it is a statutory requirement that all adults working with children should safeguard the children in their care. Where there are lapses in safeguarding practice within a setting, at best, professional judgement can be called into question; but at worst, children can suffer extreme abuse and die. Safeguarding children is therefore extremely serious and your staff need to understand this properly.

Section 3.1 of the new EYFS states: “Children learn best when they are healthy, safe and secure, when their individual needs are met, and when they have positive relationships with the adults caring for them”.

Anyone working with children will know that if they are not healthy, or do not feel safe and secure, then they will not be responsive to learning, socialising or education until those fundamental things change. They are the 2 basic layers on Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” model. When they do feel safe and secure however, they can thrive.

What’s the difference between child protection and safeguarding?

Safeguarding is an umbrella term which covers a range of things in relation to children. In the Government’s published document “Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018)”, safeguarding means:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment
  • Preventing impairment of children’s health or development
  • Ensuring the 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 actions are usually things that you and your staff do every day to make sure that the children you look after are kept safe and well and that you are always looking out for their safety and well-being.

Child protection refers to a more specific process of “protecting a child identified as suffering from, or potentially suffering from, significant harm as a result of abuse or neglect.” This usually involves other agencies as well as the childcare provider, such as social services, healthcare services or the local police to ensure the child is protected from harm.

Underlying safeguarding principles

There are some key underlying principles in regard to safeguarding that everyone needs to be aware of:

  • The child is the most important person, and their needs should always be the first priority
  • Safeguarding is EVERYONE’S responsibility – it does not just mean the managers or qualified practitioners, but everyone who works in the setting including the facilities staff, office staff and volunteers
  • You should assume that “it could happen here” rather than “it would never happen here” so that you are always alert to the possibilities and dangers
  • All safeguarding issues should be identified and reported as soon as possible to protect children and ideally prevent them from escalating into more serious issues
  • Each person in a child’s life may hold one small piece of the jigsaw; it is when these individual jigsaw pieces are brought together that the true situation can emerge

Your statutory duty

As a childcare provider, you must ensure that:

  • You have a designated safeguarding lead (known as a DSL) who is responsible for all the safeguarding in your setting and who is trained in child protection. In the case of childminders, they act as their own DSL
  • You have robust written policies and procedures which are in line with your local safeguarding partners (LSPs) and which clearly state how you will deal with any safeguarding concerns. They should outline the actions you will take if you are concerned about a child; if an allegation is being made against a member of your staff; the use of mobile phones and cameras in the setting; and how you will keep children safe online
  • You must ensure that all your staff are adequately trained in safeguarding issues and understand how to respond to any safeguarding concerns quickly and professionally. This training needs to be updated regularly, at least once a year
  • All staff must understand the four categories of abuse – physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect, and they must understand what the signs and symptoms are for each category so they can watch out for them
  • All staff must understand how to respond if they are concerned about a child and how to make referrals to their DSL or other child protection agencies. It is NOT the remit of most practitioners to investigate safeguarding issues, but it is most definitely their remit to be alert, be aware and be proactive at passing their concerns on to their DSL
  • All safeguarding matters should be recorded securely and confidentially and passed on to the relevant people when necessary, such as at times of transition

Whilst safeguarding and child protection can seem intimidating to many at first, there is plenty of guidance and support available for settings. The government has produced several documents that are important to read and understand including:

These explain the national framework for how all agencies working with children should work together in partnership to safeguard children effectively. You may also be interested in reading the Ofsted advice to its Inspectors about inspecting safeguarding in the early years.

There are other aspects to safeguarding which are also important for early years settings to consider too. These include:

  • Due diligence in the recruitment of personnel including making relevant checks (such as enhanced DBS checks, references and qualifications) as part of a safer recruitment process
  • Effective use of risk assessments to reduce accidents or other problems
  • Any special safeguarding provisions for SEN or other vulnerable children (such as looked-after children, adoptees etc)
  • The provision you make for the well-being of children under new EYFS framework 2021 such as nutrition, exercise, and which now includes oral health
  • Your policies for the administration of medication in your setting
  • The use of ICT and how you keep children safe online
  • Your policies around anti-bullying
  • Any use of reasonable force policies you have

Your safeguarding actions and child protection policies are important and could ultimately, save a child’s life.

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