Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults
When working with children and vulnerable adults two of the most important considerations are the planning and supervision of their activities. To create a safe environment, both of these are significant factors in helping to protect them, and others from incidents and accidents.
Any person under the age of 18 is defined by the word ‘children’, and ‘vulnerable adult’ would be any person over the age of 18 who may be, or actually is, in need of the community care services because of a disability, whether mental, or other illness and who may be or is, unable to fully take care of their self, or unable to protect their self against exploitation or harm.
The definition of ‘safeguarding’ describes a wide approach to meeting the requirements of all children and vulnerable adults (including individuals who may be at risk from abuse).
All people indirectly or directly involved in activities with leisure activities for children and vulnerable adults have a responsibility which includes:
- To review their practices in all situations and thus to ensure that they comply with recognised codes of conduct.
- To be able to identify the symptoms, indicators and signs of abuse and also the impact this has upon children and the vulnerable adults.
- To respond in appropriately and take relevant action if any concerns are raised.
- To provide opportunities to engage with children and vulnerable adults and to use the opportunities to keep the person(s) safe, healthy, enjoying their activities and achieving.
The responsibilities and limitations of a fitness instructor
As a mentor it is crucial to example your safeguarding behaviour at all times, this includes:
- Assume you are a role model
- Adhere to the procedures and policies
- Adhere to the code of behaviour and practice
- Always wear your uniform and / or your name/id, badge if it is provided
- Understand and act upon your responsibilities
- Recognise the need and also protect the rights of participation, for enjoyment, fun and achievement for all others
- Report any suspected abuse to a senior manager, superiors or a protection officer
- Respond to any case of abuse in a responsible fashion
- Conduct activities or work in an open environment
- At all times conduct activities or work in an open environment even if interacting one to one
The types of abuse which an instructor may encounter
Abuse can manifest itself in many different forms, but broadly it’s separated into five categories:
The possible signs of abuse
Physical Abuse. The indicators are:
- fear of a parent or a carer being contacted
- angry or aggressive outbursts
- a fear of going home
- easily flinching
- evidence of depression
- habitually keeping their legs and arms covered
- more withdrawn behaviour
- unexplained body bruises or other injuries
- bruises which look like hand marks
- cigarette burns
- bite or teeth marks
- scalds, broken bones and very alarming injuries or behaviour
The indicators are:
- unable or unwilling to participate in an activity
- clearly neurotic behaviour
- sudden or recently developed speech disorders
- a fear of making any mistake
- fear of parents or carers being contacted
- withdrawn and closed in type of behaviour
The indicators are:
- sudden changes in behaviour
- becoming aggressive or conversely, withdrawn
- an apparent fear of one particular person
- self- harm or suicidal
- seen in children; knowledge sexually advanced, or behaviour that is beyond their age
- language or behaviour that is sexually explicit
- bruising, itching or pain in the genital area
- evidence of diseases that are sexually transmitted
- pains in the stomach
- discomfort when sitting, exercising, even walking
The indicators are:
- Seems ‘over’ sensitive
- Withdrawn behaviour
- Indications of emotional and or physical abuse
The indicators are:
- In children; lateness and truancy
- unsupervised and regularly alone
- constantly hungry
- unkempt condition
- obesity or weight loss
- inappropriately dressed
Policies & Procedures for Safeguarding a Fitness Environment
The central principles of a policy are:
- Proper personal behaviour and conduct by instructors must be maintained at all times
- Instructors must retain a high level of competency via a commitment to ongoing training which ensures a correct and safe practice.
- Volunteers and paid instructors and must possess a current Criminals Records Bureau Check
- Maintain confidentiality always.
Follow these key principles of procedure which are:
Refer any suspicions to a senior manager or supervisor and ensure a response. In an emergency, call emergency services. If a child or a vulnerable adult chooses you as their trusted adult while in the fitness environment, then follow these procedures:
- Do not make any promise to keep any secrets
- Be calm, reassure the individual, listen carefully and allow the individual to speak
- Refrain from asking leading questions or appearing to interrogate
- Do not confront or approach the suspected abuser, or the parents or the carer of the individual
- It is very important to record in writing the details of what has transpired and what was said, heard and seen
To protect oneself from accusations of abuse, then follow the previously outlined guidelines while also remembering a procedure that it is preferable to follow:
- At all group times and also one to one, work in an open environment.
- Never take photographs of children and young people without permission of their guardian.
- Consider always your behaviour towards vulnerable adults and children
- Make your sessions enjoyable, achievable, safe and healthy for all the participants
- Take appropriate action if you have a concern about the behaviour of an adult or child towards another child or vulnerable adult
- Promote the welfare of your clients, even if this means letting another professional take over.
- As a trusted instructor, Do not engage in intimacy with a vulnerable person at any time nor spend time alone with a vulnerable person, e.g. offering a lift home to a child after the session
For the respect of the rights of vulnerable people, key principles flow regarding their entitlement:
- To be treated with dignity and respect
- To lead an independent lifestyle and to be enabled to do so
- To be able to choose how to conduct their lives
- Protection of the law
- To have their rights upheld without condition
- To be able to realise full potential in all aspects of daily life while fulfilling personal aspirations
Planning & Supervision
Preferably, all the activities involving vulnerable adults and children, irrespective of their nature or apparent risk level, should be planned. Planning involves considering the “risk assessment” of the difficulties and potential dangers that may arise and so to make plans that minimalize risks.
If you are supervising or leading an activity where children are involved, then you have a legal, professional and a moral responsibility to safeguard their welfare. This means that you must strive to deliver a supportive and safe environment. Failure to prevent harm could result in abuse.
Adequate supervision implies that you must:
- Consider the participant to supervisor ratio. This needs to consider the age of the children, any special educational or medical needs, even disabilities, and the degree of risk involved in the proposed activities.
- If the activity involves mixed gender participation, then attention must also be given to having both male and female supervisors in attendance or available.
- Some local Authorities and professional associations may set recommended supervision levels, to be followed where applicable.
Can I learn more about protecting and safeguarding children?
- You may contact your county administration to find out about education or safeguarding workshops.
If I work with children what are my child protection responsibilities?
- You have a duty of care for any children that you may work with, meaning you must take reasonable precautions to keep those children from harm.
- You must also ensure that any other adults involved in the activities are correctly vetted if recruited.
- If you work in a fitness environment, then it should be encouraged that the entity put in place those child protection measures necessary to support the activities taking place.
How to improve the child protection measures and the safeguarding in my gym, club, facility?
- Make sure that a Child Protection Officer has helped to co-ordinate the planned strategy.
- Then put in place the child protection policy with a commitment that is visible and clear.
Who needs to complete a CRB check?
A criminal record check is just one of the methods by which it is possible to ensure that the right character of people in place when working with children and vulnerable adults.
Moral Duty of Care
There are specialized courses in all of the topics dealt with in this publication. The onus is on you to research and study further. Research and study and the practical implementation of all that is absorbed learnt and assimilated, is of course essential, therefore the best we can hope to do herein is inspire and guide you in the right direction regarding what may be in store, if you choose a career in the field and the level of professionalism you will have to employ, in order to instruct others to the best of your potential and abilities, and equally progress in your career.
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The Moral Duty of Care is an overarching principle that encompasses all of what has been outlined in this subject matter. One can only give a reasonable appreciation of this topic as space does not permit a full in-depth exploration of, nor indeed in any of the topics in this publication regarding the fitness work and career environment.
Duty of Care, is your responsibility for the safety and welfare of those under your temporary guidance. In fitness and sports activities the staff member, instructor cum coach, has a duty of care for all those participating irrespective of age or position. Where children are included, those in responsibility have to act in ‘loco parentis’ which requires the adult to be as “a reasonable parent”. Within the fitness and sporting environment the duty of care begins by ensuring that the activity itself is authorized and that the instructors are so qualified for the activity; therefore the activity is managed in a safe manner throughout.
Child Protection Policies
For long child protection policies had been developed in haste and as responses to individual tragedies, the good intentions, though at times perhaps misguided, they assumed that every risk could be mitigated against and that every loophole could be plugged. The pressure was to prescribe and legislate more which led to the public’s confusion, or an often fearful workforce. Thus a dysfunctional culture grew which was of mistrust, between Children and Vulnerable Adults.
We should prefer to begin with a presumption of confidence and trust in those people who will be working with children in a fitness environment, and also with the good sense and judgment of facility supervisors, managers and owners.
If an instructor or teacher’s supervision may fall below the standard of a reasonably prudent parent, and a child gets hurt as a result, then that instructor or teacher may be held negligent. Anyone instructing, managing or supervising children and vulnerable adults in a setting of gym, club etc., must consider what steps they shall need to accomplish to demonstrate that a reasonable standard of care is being provided.
Examples of this could include:
- Attendance registers kept updated
- Contact details and records kept updated
- Appropriate supervision ratios are maintained
- Specific medical conditions – allergies, asthma, epilepsy are updated and maintained
- Ensure that first aid is available at the venue
- Ensure that those who are supervising the children and vulnerable adults have undergone an appropriate selection and recruitment process.
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