Since mid March, sports and other physical activities for children and young people have effectively come to a standstill.
We know that some people working in sport, including some individuals with key safeguarding roles, have been furloughed. In many cases, staff and volunteers are being required to undertake a range of new or different duties in order to cover for absent colleagues and provide basic services.
Some training, coaching and even competitive activities have successfully been moved online. For example to virtual gyms or classrooms, so that participants may continue to be coached, maintain fitness and develop skills.
This all raises a question: During lockdown, is child safeguarding still relevant and necessary?
Safeguarding is still a priority
It is self-evident that sports typically won’t have to address as many new incidents of abuse or poor practice arising in sporting activity during the current lockdown. However, reports of non-recent incidents, and safeguarding concerns arising shortly before the lockdown, may continue to be received.
Management of all safeguarding cases already in the system needs to progress. These reports and cases still need to be managed by staff or volunteers with sound safeguarding knowledge, experience, training and support.
When organisations make decisions as to who to furlough, they must consider all the duties that person undertakes. The organisation also needs to retain its ability to carry out basic functions, including safeguarding. For this reason, furloughing or re-assigning key safeguarding staff should be considered very carefully, and only when adequate, appropriate cover is in place.
Increased risks for many children and young people
For children living with abusive or neglectful parents, social isolation may create a significantly riskier environment. Stresses associated with the consequences of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis may well make physical and emotional abuse more likely.
For many children living in these circumstances, school and sports activities represented safe places and environments where trusted adults could provide support, monitor their wellbeing, and respond to any worrying indicators. In lockdown, these protective eyes and ears, and other community based supports, have been largely negated, leaving some children more vulnerable.
Increased online activity by children also increases risks associated with abusive adults and young people operating through social networks and similar sites. Although the introduction of online coaching and virtual training sessions helps to fill the gap left when clubs and activities closed, it also increases opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to groom children.
What sports and activity providers can do
There are a number of things sports clubs and organisations can do to support children and parents during this time:
- keep communication channels open for children, parents and others
- actively promote information about how any concerns about a child’s wellbeing can still be reported
- ensure that any reports are assessed and responded to by individuals with sufficient safeguarding competence and confidence. If in doubt, contact Children’s Social Care, the LADO or Police for advice
- continue to record and operate case management processes as usual, even though some aspects of how tasks are undertaken may be revised in light of the current restrictions
- remind coaches, participants and parents that codes of conduct still operate regardless of the way any activities, training or coaching may be provided or accessed
- ensure codes of conduct adequately address the challenges of virtual activities and online behaviours
- promote guidance about safe online behaviours and communications, particularly between coaches and young people
- promote the many great resources on how people can safeguard themselves during the emergency. You should look for ways to share this information with your clubs and members
- use this opportunity to revise, improve and develop safeguarding policies, guidance and resources