Working with young people: what are your duty of care and safeguarding responsibilities?
Guest post by EduCare
When working with young people, you can be seen to be in a position of power and trust. So, as a duty of care to the young people, yourself and the staff around you – safe working practices must be adhered to at all times. Young people have a right to be safe and should be protected from all forms of abuse and neglect.
This piece outlines young person protection policies, arrangements for managing allegations against staff, and staff behaviour policies – and should come in handy to volunteers and organisations alike.
Safe working practices
In order to promote safe working practices, it is advisable to follow the below guidelines.
- Do not discriminate; always maintain the same high professional standards regardless of culture, disability, gender, language, racial origin, religious belief or sexual orientation
- Do not behave in a manner that could be deemed as offensive to the people around
you. For example, using foul or abusive language, discussions of a personal nature, be under the influence of alcohol or inappropriately dressed
- You should not share any confidential or personal information about young people except for professional use. The information should not be used as a source of gossip
- Do not offer lifts unless it is specified in your role. If it is part of your role make sure you follow safe working practices outlined by the organisation you work or volunteer for
- You should not be in personal communication with young people
via texting, messaging, or social networking sites
- Be open and honest; work in a way that cannot lead to anybody questioning your
motivations or intentions
You should also always be vigilant as safeguarding and promoting welfare is everyone’s responsibility. Young people can be at risk from others, but they can also put themselves at risk.
Even as a volunteer working closely with young people, you may see and hear things which others may not notice. These are all things which should be reported as soon as you become concerned about them.
Examples could include:
- A young person with cuts or burns to their arm(s), requesting first aid. A request for first aid could be a cry for help because the young person needs to talk to someone
- Noticing a young person will not take off their jacket in warm weather or is wearing many layers of clothes. This could indicate self-harm, an eating disorder or neglect
- Noticing a young person often complains of being fat, doesn’t eat regularly and when they do eat it is only ever low-calorie food such as grapes or celery. This could indicate an eating disorder
- Overhearing conversations about drinking alcohol in the park, arranging to meet older friends, gifts, or talk of two SIM cards or phones. This could indicate a young person is being groomed
- You hear a conversation of a sexual nature that is not age appropriate or you become
aware they have sent or received texts of an inappropriate nature. This could indicate underage sexual activity, grooming or sexual abuse
How to respond if a young person confides abuse to you
If a young person tells you that they are being abused, it is important that you know how to respond. Below are some universal principles, regardless of the age of the person.
- Stay calm
Find a quiet place where your conversation won’t be interrupted. Keep in mind your
organisation’s guidelines for being alone with a young person
- Attempt to make the young person or young person feel safe and secure
- Be patient
- Listen carefully and take what you are being told seriously
- Reassure them that they have done nothing wrong in telling you
- Write down what you have been told as soon as possible. This should be dated, timed and signed. It should then be given to the designated safeguarding lead immediately – make sure you always know who this is.
- Promise confidentiality
Ask leading questions
- Probe for more information
- Show emotions such as panic, shock or anger
- Make the young person repeat their story.
- Give an opinion
- Inform parents until you have a discussion with your safeguarding lead
Responding when you have a concern about a young person
If you have concerns about a young person, doing nothing is not an option because you will not be fulfilling your duty of care.
It is not your responsibility to investigate though; in fact, you must not investigate.
However, you do have an obligation to pass on disclosures, allegations or your concerns to your organisation’s designated safeguarding lead so that they can act to protect a young person should it be necessary.