Voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations that come into contact with children and young people are incredibly diverse. They range from small groups such as local drama or art clubs primarily run by volunteers to large national organisations including charities with mainly paid staff.
One thing that they all have in common is the important part they can play in safeguarding and protecting the children and young people that they work with. Often they are in a good position to spot a problem developing at an early stage and put families in touch with services that can support them. Alternatively if it has gone beyond this stage, they can alert the relevant agencies about their concern.
This is why it is crucial that VCS volunteers and employees are able to spot the signs of abuse and neglect and know what action to take.
Helping them do so is part of the reason Safe Network, the national child safeguarding unit for the VCS in England, was set up in 2009. We support VCS organisations to create a safe environment where children, young people, and those working with them can take part in fun and adventurous activities.
One of the ways in which we do this is through the Safe Network Standards which helps organisations put robust safeguarding arrangements in place proportionate to their individual circumstances.
They offer clear practical guidance on how to do this and cover issues such as child protection, safe recruitment, preventing avoidable accidents and preventing bullying. Organisations that follow these will be compliant with the requirements of section 11 of the Children Act 2004.
Child protection has been an important part of the Safe Network Standards since they were first developed. However for the first time last year we introduced new standards to support VCS organisations understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to sharing information and working with other agencies to help children and young people.
We know that this is something that caused confusion for some VCS groups who were unclear on what information they are legally allowed to share, as well as having concerns about the impact this could have on relationships with those using their services. The standard seeks to allay these fears and give practical guidance on what they need to do.
Effective multi-agency working is absolutely vital if we are to ensure that children and families are to be given early help to prevent problems escalating, and also to ensure that those children already at risk receive the help they need. VCS organisations have a crucial part to play in this and Safe Network is there to support them.
You can access the Safe Network Standards on our website. Here you will also find an extensive range of safeguarding resources and up-to-date information and news from the VCS, as well as training and networking opportunities. www.safenetwork.org.uk