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Refreshing and embedding our approach to safeguarding | Our thoughts - Tom Burke


Safeguarding responsibilities and the protection of people should be a governance priority for all charities. Indeed, the Charity Commission states that it is a fundamental part of operating as a charity for the public benefit. 

This should be something already ‘baked in’ to youth work organisations in both our practice and our governance. As the Youth Work Curriculum for England states, youth work is a rights-based informal educational process and an asset-based empowerment approach. This would include young people’s right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation (Article 19, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).  

For individual practitioners, protecting young people's right to be safe should be core to our standards of practice. The Youth Work Code of Ethics, currently held by the Institute for Youth Work, states that all practitioners should promote the welfare and safety of young people and permit them to learn through undertaking challenging educational activities. We must avoid exposing young people to the likelihood of harm or injury and implement safeguarding policies and procedures. 

Our legal framework provides protection from these rights. Whilst the specific requirements can vary in each of our nations; these broadly require public bodies to take proactive measures to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people. For example, the Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young People’s Well-being requires local authorities in England to include youth work and other services and activities that offer young people opportunities in safe environments. Last year, the Department for Education provided new non-statutory guidance for providers of (so-called) out-of-school settings, including uniformed youth organisations, for example, the Scouts and Guides, and open-access youth providers such as the centre-based and detached youth work. This summarises the minimum standards on youth work organisations to keep people safe from harm. 

The Centre has been reflecting on how these requirements affect us and our work. As part of fulfilling our legal obligations as a charity and to prepare for increasing our direct activity with young people, we recently held an all staff training day to explore our safeguarding duties and how we meet them in practice. It was the first time that all the team had been in one physical space in over 18 months (!) and a great opportunity to reconnect and engage in purposeful learning and exploration. It created space to explore how we can implement our safeguarding policy in practice and further develop a culture that proactively and purposefully keeps everyone in contact with the organisation safe from harm. 

For an organisation that is not a traditional service provider and focuses instead on building a movement of practitioners, funders and policy makers to improve services and support for young people across the UK, some traditional safeguarding activity feels ‘not quite right’. Much of our work is alongside those holding the primary relationship with young people. We work with networks of organisations – whom we convene, support and encourage – but each of its members are independent and each continues to have their own primary safeguarding duties. We needed to consider ways to identify and respond to harms in those we work with. We stress building trusting, open, honest, reflective partnerships based on mutual learning with these organisations. How can we continue to foster this whilst protecting young people’s right to confidentiality and protection from harm? Whilst the theory is clear, the practical implications have required thought on managing information sharing between organisations, the nature of our agreements with partners and how we internally share information on a proportionate basis. 

In addition, our work on developing shared measures has put a spotlight on how we would respond to any safeguarding concerns that we could see in the data that organisations share with us. Whilst doing nothing is not an option – ethically or legally – how we ensure that we are clear on the boundaries of our role and the procedures that are fit for purpose has required examination. We have been discussing with the Centre’s Practitioner Panel how issues of confidentiality, informed consent and data protection must be locked into shared measurement. These all contribute to meeting our safeguarding duties too. As we pilot and explore the practice of shared measurement, we are increasingly considering the practical realities of processing this data and ensuring we do so in a way that enhances the building of safe relationships with young people. 

We know we are not the first learning-focused organisation to consider their role in safeguarding. There is a plethora of ethical guides on research with young people that touch on keeping people safe from harm,for example, from BERA and the SRA (most recently updated in February this year).  The UK Collaborative on Development Research has also issued interesting Guidance on Safeguarding in International Development Research. We are considering the lessons learnt for our context as a charity situated firmly in the youth sector and with a strong youth work ethos. 

We often talk about continuous improvement at the Centre – indeed, it was a focus in last month's ‘Our Thoughts’. This is apt as we know that safeguarding is never a one off process or action. It is not a box to be ticked before moving on. We are continuing to reflect on our work, consider changes in the risks we face and how we can act. If you are a researcher, evaluator or learning advisor in the youth sector considering how you keep people safe from harm, get in touch to share learning. 


If you are a youth work organisation wanting to learn more about safeguarding in the youth sector visit the NYA Safeguarding and Risk Management Hub and NCVOs KnowHow safeguarding pages


Tom Burke is the Executive Director at the Centre for Youth Impact.