The role of HR in safeguarding and child protection

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HR can take the lead in deciding whether safeguarding provisions for vulnerable groups are fit for purpose

Following many high-profiles cases, the current focus on safeguarding in the UK is forcing organisations that work or come into contact with children to consider whether their safeguarding provisions for protecting vulnerable groups are fit for purpose. HR teams can take the lead in this, covering a number of key areas.

Recruitment

Adverts for vacant posts should specify the organisation’s commitment to safeguarding. Where appropriate it should be clear that DBS checks will be required.

The interview process should test candidates’ understanding of good safeguarding practice. References must be contacted and any qualifications or documentation verified. A database of DBS checks should be maintained that includes a list of all the positions for which these will be required, the check status of each post holder, and the process for managing renewals.

Induction

HR teams should ensure that new recruits meet the safeguarding team and receive safeguarding training if relevant to their role. However, safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility so where staff are likely to come into contact with children safeguarding should be covered in all inductions, irrespective of role.

Managing the policy

The policy should cover roles and responsibilities and include operational concerns such as parental consent, data protection and the use of images. It should also be a source of guidance on what signs to watch for, how to raise concerns, relevant contact information for the safeguarding lead, details of who to contact if the safeguarding lead is unavailable, and what to do if there are concerns of immediate danger.

It may also detail information on what constitutes abuse. It is important, however, that it makes clear that concerns should be raised with the safeguarding team first so that someone with suitable expertise can make a judgement.

Training and communication

Safeguarding training must be given, with regular refresher courses for those working directly with vulnerable groups. Training should always include clear instructions on how to report any concerns regarding child protection issues and what to do if a child chooses to confide an incident of abuse.

If the organisation has operations abroad the safeguarding team may need to take additional steps to mitigate against lower awareness or different practices, possibly adapting training to address cultural differences.

Culture

Establishing a culture where safeguarding is taken seriously is one of the most important things that HR can do. It should be made clear that everyone in the organisation is committed to good safeguarding practice and that HR is willing to take appropriate action for policy breaches. Moving people around within the organisation rather than tackling the problem won’t solve anything and could make matters worse. Ensuring that the policy applies equally to all, regardless of seniority or status, is essential.

The safeguarding department

HR has responsibility for staffing, so needs to make sure that the person leading safeguarding has appropriate experience, training and authority, and opportunities to keep up to date with the changing landscape. There must also be a trained second in command so that safeguarding is not compromised if the lead is unavailable.

Working with procurement

All third parties (e.g. freelancers, contractors, consultants), who may have contact with children should have clear contractual safeguarding requirements. It is also essential that vetting processes for non-payroll staff are robust.

It will be important to ensure that induction and training covers appropriate and relevant safeguarding information. Reporting must be properly communicated to this group and care taken to ensure that there are no factors that might prevent them from raising any concerns.

Reporting

HR must be familiar with the processes for raising concerns to signpost other members of staff. The organisation must have oversight of all safeguarding concerns raised and ensure that these are assessed by someone with designated responsibility and expertise who can then take appropriate action, whether that be internal follow-up or by making a referral to the appropriate agency.

In the UK every local authority has a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). The safeguarding team or lead will be familiar with the referral process. In extreme cases where a child might be in immediate danger or if there are concerns that the MASH has not taken appropriate action, call 999 or contact the NSPCC hotline on 0808 800 5000 immediately.

Leo Martin is the managing director of GoodCorporation

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