Being human in safeguarding
As I sit here thinking about the topic of this my first ever blog, I’m instantly only sure of one thing, and that is, that it will be based on safeguarding children and young people. Why?
Well it’s something I have a passion for; I think I do well, and strive to help others do well also. I believe that ultimately if adults are more present in safeguarding it will be children and young people that win, and what could be better than that?
Now before I continue I should introduce myself… My name is Mel Prosper, a woman who haphazardly fell into working in education in 2008 as a teaching assistant. In 2012 I moved into safeguarding within early years and primary education before moving into secondary. Fast forward to March 2021, where a headhunted meeting turned into one so inspiring I was encouraged and motivated to start my own business Village Mind. I sense this is where I should disclose the company’s visions, values and mission but I’ll refrain, to get straight to the point, which I’ve just decided will be centred on a personal ethos and one I hope permeates through Village Mind… Being human in safeguarding.
So what do I mean exactly? Well picture this… One afternoon you notice attitude changes in a young person you usually have a positive relationship with. You don’t think it’s anything major and your relationship should allow you to have an initial conversation to find out what is going on. However you had safeguarding training a few months ago that scared you half to death and your immediate thought is that whatever is going on is a worst-case scenario.
Although you initially ask them if they are ok straight away you follow your question with stating you have to report them and their change to the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). You report as said and before you know it a referral has been made to children’s services… Arrrgggghhhh!!!!
Makes me sad thinking about damage this approach causes even in cases when risk is high and it definitely does not contribute to an environment of trust, safety and humanity. Time and time again I have seen first hand the negative affects this dangerous default response has on children, families, staff, and morale of organisations as a whole.
In your defence as well as the training, other reasons for going from zero to one hundred immediately is that you probably have other children to tend to in the moment. You’re recalling and projecting horror stories of missed safeguarding opportunities (case reviews) to your own experiences, or you work under a management team that don’t care too much for the pastoral side of things nor do they foster a culture of genuine support, which makes you react and act in fear.
But let me tell you, when I worked as a DSL it was so helpful when context was added by those who knew the children better than I did.
If referrals were going to be made (notice I said ‘if’… That’s another topic for another day), the conversations had before I stepped in really made positive differences and heavily informed decisions made regarding next steps.
This way of working built trust and confidence amongst children and staff and generally helped families feel better supported. It was a working model of being human in safeguarding that brought about many positive outcomes.
Of course above is a basic example and there are many more layers that could be discussed, but what do statistics tell us? From the 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020 the Department of Education reported there were 642,980 referrals made to children’s social care with 389,260 children (including children with disabilities) considered as a child in need and 51,510 on a child protection plan. For me all the above numbers are way too high for my liking considering the subject I’m discussing, however I believe they possibly highlight 202,210 missed opportunities for human interactions and supportive conversations before jumping off at the deep end. I’m aware holding situations can seem like a huge responsibility, but I believe the benefits are often worth the extra time taken.
I should state that I’m not saying all changes in children and young people should be talked away without thinking about the bigger picture because there could be real worrying things happening and ultimately we are talking about protecting lives, but it has always been my experience that when colleagues or I have taken time before escalating, children, young people and families have felt safer when opening up about their truths and accepting support.
In my training I encourage everyone to of course be responsive in situations of immediate danger or risk but remember even then to be human. So what does being human in safeguarding look like to me you ask? Well the top four things that come to mind are: trusting your innate gut instinct, where possible taking time to talk and connect before acting, suppressing judgment by remembering you are not perfect and shouldn’t expect anyone else to be and ensuring concerns are recorded and reported with complete carefulness and respect. These are not always easy to do, but usually very effective in providing the best solutions and outcomes even if they are ones that are not desirable.
Finally if there’s one thing I hope you take away from reading this it’s that if you work on the ground with children, young people and their families you begin to understand how crucial you to the model of being human in safeguarding. You more than likely have insight, familiarity and approachability to reduce the negative associations surrounding safeguarding.
My goal Personally is to support with building confidences and promote ground level infrastructures so ‘until every child can…’ I’ll keep pushing to grow and share my safeguarding practice and support with yours.
Founder and Lead facilitator of Village Mind.