Can you answer parents’ questions about safeguarding?

Can you answer parents’ questions about safeguarding?

Dawn Jotham, our pastoral care specialist lays out the questions that parents have been recommended to and advises on what needs to be done to address concerns.

As institutions that are rightly saturated with safeguarding measures, schools proactively strive to provide young people with a safe harbour in which to learn. However, outside of this environment, the absence of oversight creates greater ambiguity and less accountability when it comes to duty-of-care and safeguarding practices. Placing a child in the hands of someone unfamiliar can be a daunting task for many parents and carers and, in the context of out-of-school-settings, is often an area that isn’t adequately regulated.

Questions from parents over safeguarding – can you answer them?

Addressing these concerns, the Department for Education (DfE) has provided a framework of questions that parents and carers should ask sports clubs and out-of- school-settings (OOSS) providers to ensure there are proper safeguarding measures in place. This can also be extended to equalities training to ensure OOOSS providers are well equipped to deal with topics such as cultural sensitivity and mental health. As there are no mandatory safeguarding requirements imposed by the government, parents and carers are being encouraged to ask providers the recommended questions. These questions have been designed to ensure there are proper protocols and practices in place in the case of an accident or an emergency.

This call to action from the DfE has also been echoed by leading experts in the OOSS sector, including Lyndon Roberts, Director at Inclusion in Sport. Working in the OOSS sector, Mr Roberts views this guidance as a call to action for parents and carers saying:

“Providers operating outside of school settings don’t face the regular inspections of traditional learning institutions so parents should feel empowered to fulfil this role. Parents and carers are usually the harshest critics and are the most invested party in ensuring the wellbeing of their children and it is my hope that these questions and guidance will help fill this safeguarding gap”.

Typically, an OOSS is a part-time tuition or learning centre, after-school club, youth centre, supplementary school, or religious setting which offers education in their own faith. This type of environment provides students with more opportunities to interact and build relationships with other children outside of the classroom and are also becoming more popular as the emphasis on broadening the scope of learning and development increases. After all, most parents and carers want their children to be well-rounded and this often involves introducing activities outside of the traditional school environment.

While many OOSS providers offer a safe space for young people to engage in holistic education activities, there is a chance that some sites may not meet the benchmark in safety standards. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System at the time, Lord Agnew, also expressed his concern for OOSS safeguarding saying that while an “overwhelming majority” of OOSS providers offer a “strong provision in a safe environment”, he “remains concerned, however, about the small minority of settings that may be putting children at risk of harm, or encouraging views that are extremist or dangerous”.

The DfE’s guidance is designed to offset the chances of enrolling a child into an unsafe OOSS programme by providing parents and carers with a list of questions that can help them understand the practices and policies providers have in place to promote the welfare and ensure the safety of the children attending. The outline for parents and carers also acts as a complimentary resource for a draft that is currently in the works for the Voluntary Safeguarding Code of Practice for OOSS providers. The drafted guidance provides 10 questions that should be directed towards every OOSS provider. They are:

Questions for parents and carers:

1. Have staff and volunteers undertaken DBS checks? How recent were the checks?

2. Will any adults besides the instructor be present at the venue while my child is there? If so, will they be there on a regular basis?

3. What training have staff had?

4. May I have a copy of your child protection policy?

5. Who is your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and what training have they had? How recent was this training?

6. My child has Special Educational Needs and/or a disability (SEND). What steps will you take to accommodate this?

7. My child needs help with: using the toilet; changing; feeding; their medication, etc. How will these personal care needs be addressed?

8. How are you securely storing the information you hold on my child? Who has access to it and are you giving it to anyone else?

9. Is my child allowed to access the internet unsupervised?

10. Do you have filtering and monitoring systems in place? What are they?,

Of these ten questions, there are some key questions that arguably demand greater attention as they specifically target the credentials and procedures that all OOSS providers should embrace to ensure safety. Those three questions focus on the OOSS provider’s staff training record, designated safeguarding lead, the child protection policy in place, and recommended criminal record checks for staff and volunteers working for the OOSS provider.

“Who is your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and what training have they had? How recent was this training?”

A DSL is the named person who is responsible for ensuring an OOSS is adhering to safeguarding practices and policies. As an OOSS provider, you should assign the role to an appropriate staff member who is always on-site when children are present. After identifying the DSL, the guidelines suggest that parents and carers investigate what specific training the person has undertaken and when the training last occurred – which should be within the past 12 months – to ensure that it is on par with current safety measures.

The answers to these questions should outline the qualifications of the DSL but should also shed light on the extent of their training. A well-trained designated safeguarding lead should be knowledgeable regarding a range of issues including bullying, online safety, substance abuse, sexting, and hazing. If you have appointed a properly trained DSL, you should have someone on-site that is fully equipped to navigate any issues that may arise.

“May I have a copy of your child protection policy?”

Parents are also advised to ask the OOSS provider for a copy of their child protection policy. The role of child protection policies is to clearly define what actions are required to keep a child safe and ensure consistent, appropriate behaviour so that all staff follow the same process when reporting a concern. The draft states that providers must share this document upon request and that it should clearly state that “under no circumstances, should any member of staff inflict corporal or emotional punishment on a child; and that no disciplinary approaches should be deployed which could cause physical or emotional harm to a child”. If you do not provide a copy of this policy, this should be interpreted as a red flag, and alternative OOSS programmes should be investigated.

“What training have staff had?”

Employees and volunteers at an OOSS should be equipped with childcare training that qualifies them to work with children. While the specific type of training may be context dependent, all staff should have some training and good working knowledge of child protection, health, and safety at a minimum. Staff should take this training in the case of an emergency but also, so they are properly trained to work and care for children in a closed setting.

As a part of your policies and procedures, you should be able to provide parents and carers with information on the specifics of the training that has been completed by each staff member. If there is no training information available for each staff member, you may be seen as not being fully qualified to care for children and again this would be noted as a warning sign.

“Have staff and volunteers undertaken DBS checks? How recent were the checks?”

Lastly, the DfE also encourages parents and carers to ask the OOSS provider whether their staff and volunteers have undertaken a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check prior to working with the provider. This is a record of a person’s criminal convictions and cautions, and while these checks are not always required by law, they are considered good practice and show a provider’s priorities before hiring an individual to work with children. These DBS checks are vital preventative step for safeguarding in the context of OOSS, as has recently been highlighted by the media in the Barry Bennell case, with Crewe Alexander having paid an undisclosed sum to his victims and admitting that they did not perform any background checks during the recruitment process.

Additionally, it is also important to ask when the last DBS check was conducted, as they should be updated at regular intervals and you should be able to provide details of a review period. If you are self-employed and have obtained a basic DBS check, it is recommended that parents and carers seek testimonials from your past clients about your credibility and capability to work children.

While the guidelines covering safeguarding in out-of-school-settings are still being finalised, the questions provided by the DfE reassure parents and carers that their children are in safe hands while out of their supervision. The questions lay the framework for a successful inquiry into the safety of their child and also provide parents and carers with a list of red flags to watch out for in these settings. While researching OOSS programmes for their child, parents are advised to carefully consider asking these safety questions to ensure their child is attending a safe and qualified programme while they are not under their watchful eye.

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