Safeguarding in Early Years and looking after the health and wellbeing of the children in our care should never be a matter of box-ticking, insists Ann Marie Christian…
Working in the early years sector is undoubtedly rewarding. We spend five days a week, long hour shifts and years at a time with babies and infants. This is at the most important stage of their lives.
We see them flourish. We ensure they’re ready for school when they leave us to start the next chapter of their lives.
And above all, we keep them safe.
We must constantly remind ourselves that babies and infants are in the vulnerable group of child protection, according to NSPCC research. They have limited language, mobility and understanding of harmful and abusive behaviours.
They are reliant on the adults around them to care for them, keep them safe, meet their basic needs and show emotional warmth.
Child protection and safeguarding should be a golden thread throughout any setting. All staff should be familiar with the terms, definitions and expectations required in your setting.
Inform new employees, agency workers and visitors about your setting’s policy, procedures and protocols. Tell them how to report abuse, and to whom.
Your induction should cover key policies including child protection, intimate care, staff code of conduct and online safety. Schools and colleges must follow the government’s statutory safeguarding guidance, Keeping Children Safe in Education, at all times.
In fact, all childcare providers should refer to this as an essential document. Ask staff to read part one and sign a document to state they fully understand their role in keeping children safe.
Everyone in your setting should undertake annual training, with regular updates periodically over the year. This ensures everyone knows how to spot signs and report concerns to your named safeguarding leads.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory guidance has specific safeguarding and welfare requirements and steps that you must take to keep children safe.
Your setting’s child protection and safeguarding policy should be embedded in practice, protocols and procedure. This is from recruiting staff through to reporting allegations to your LADO (local authority designated officer).
It needs to be a whole-team approach. All staff must know what child abuse is, how to report it and in what format. They need to know who in the setting is your named designated lead in child protection and the deputy.
Moreover, this should be understood in the specific context of your setting. Is there a particular issue in your region with affluent neglect, for example? Or alcohol use, or poverty? Is everyone aware?
Working Together to Safeguard Children is the DfE’s statutory guidance on interagency working to safeguard children.
It clearly states that every childcare setting must have a named designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and safeguarding policy. You also need to vet people appropriately.
Your DSL must attend appropriate training per local authority procedures. They need to know how to refer suspected child abuse to the local authority of where the child resides. They should lead on child protection in the setting and should be part of your senior leadership team.
He/she will make decisions on child protection concerns and referrals. They’ll also ensure all staff have attended child protection training and know how to report concerns about staff both in the setting and to your LADO.
They’ll need a secure child protection filing system where they can hold confidential information about children and appropriately pass this on to a new setting when a child moves on.
You need to complete DBS checks on staff who work with children through your setting and colleagues and organisations that provide services to your setting.
The DBS process checks police records and helps you to decide whether a person is suitable to work with children and vulnerable adults.
You should also check the barred list to ensure the person is not barred from working with children. Do this if they are working in ‘regulated activity’ (more than three times over 30 days).
Make sure that staff involved in recruitment attend accredited safer recruitment training every few years. This will teach them how to deter unsuitable people from working in your setting.
Thresholds of child protection interventions are complex, and determined by children’s social care when you call in a referral. A child who is likely to suffer significant harm or is at risk of significant harm is the threshold defined in the Children Act 1989.
However, if a situation doesn’t meet certain thresholds, you may still need to start an early help assessment (EHA). This is local support offered by additional services on a voluntary basis. This requires consent from the family in question.
Your DSL needs to know your local support offer. You can find this on your local authority website and by attending relevant training on early help.
DSLs also need to ensure safeguarding is embedded across everything that happens in your setting. It should be a standing agenda item in various meetings – for example, appraisals, governance meetings and staff weekly briefings.
When recruiting, spread safeguarding and child protection across the whole process. This is from the advert, job description and person specification, through to face-to-face interviews, reference requests, staff inductions and probation periods.
Safeguarding also needs to sit strategically across your governance or proprietor levels. Your board must have a link governor, often known as the safeguarding governor. They will support, scrutinise and ensure safeguarding is operational across your setting.
They should have regular contact with the DSL and feel confident the DSL is competent in his/her role.
All staff should attend annual child protection training, preferably face-to-face. They must know how to report child abuse and concerns about an adult. They should also know the reporting procedures within your setting.
Competence Still Matters was produced by the London Safeguarding Children Board Subgroup in 2014 as guidance to London boroughs for training and developing staff and volunteers to enable them to effectively safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
The framework supports the Children Act 2004, ensuring local authorities support agencies in expectations of child protection training.
Policy: Your safeguarding policy should describe what you have in place. This includes your intimate care policy, instructing staff how to change children if they need assistance.
It should also cover allegations against staff, advice on how to recruit safely and how to report and respond to concerns about children. It should name your LADO. Your policy should also include your staff code of conduct. It should also contain your social media and online safety policy, including the use of mobile phones.
Practice: Ensure that all staff follow your policy in their daily work. Measure the impact of your policy against the volume of concerns reported.
Procedures: All staff, including leadership and governance, need to know child protection reporting procedures, including concerns about adults. Parents and children should know who to report abuse both in your setting and to head office and the local authority.
Your child protection training should cover the 4 Rs:Ann Marie Christian is an international safeguarding consultant.