Secret safeguarding lead: “We are viewed as a block to achieving this year’s plan”

The next in our secret series is from a safeguarding lead on the challenges the role faces.

We are the colleagues many operational staff hope they don’t have to contact. They hope to see us at their Safeguarding refresher training and that will be it for another couple of years. We equip them with awareness of the signs of abuse and harm, how to manage a disclosure of abuse, ensure they are alert to changes in people’s well-being and understand processes for reporting. Now, increasingly, they will come across situations with service users, volunteers (and colleagues too) where they do see concerns and need to respond.

Safeguarding referrals have rocketed during and since Covid-19 and the impact is continuing to be felt, with well-documented effects on people’s mental health, loneliness and isolation. This is alongside extraordinary levels of loss and bereavement, and a cost of living crisis affecting our service users disproportionately. At a time when we are still trying to rebuild our services after lockdowns, and statutory services remain severely challenged.

We are involved in many more aspects of our charity alongside our referral work. We advise on Safer recruitment of staff and volunteers. We help the fundraising team consider vulnerable donors and remain ethical and compliant with their own professional codes and regulation. New projects and service developments need to be underpinned by safeguarding principles and practice in order to meet our duties as a charity.

So why do so many of us feel that we are seen as a barrier, a delay, as a block to what our Executive team want to achieve? A project nears completion and we are asked to sign it off, as are the Health & Safety and Insurance leads. Please let us know at an earlier stage next time, as then you won’t feel so irritated when we recommend changes to ensure good safeguarding practice and minimise risk of harm.

When we are desperate for volunteers, who we rely on so heavily to help deliver our service, it is expected that our targets for volunteer recruitment will be ambitious. But we are seeing recruitment practices being diluted and staff under very real pressure just to get ‘bums on seats’. If we don’t get the right person in the right role, at best we are storing up tricky situations for ourselves for the future, at worst we are risking harm to somebody vulnerable. And what about the impact on the volunteer who came to contribute something, who ends up with a negative experience of our charity? They will likely tell their friends and family about that experience too.

We speak up, we are viewed as a block to achieving this year’s plan; we are a barrier to the meeting of targets. We think about charities in the news when it goes wrong – beneficiaries (people!) abused or harmed, serious failures or omissions that put beneficiaries (people!) at risk. Vulnerable donors (people!) being asked for too much, too many times, by too many of us. We never want to see this ‘on our watch’ and we endeavour throughout to make sure this doesn’t happen. We don’t understand why our CEO, our board would risk this – even if you are not tuned in at a ‘people’ level, you will know about public perception, the reputational risk, the threat to survival when the donations begin to disappear. Ultimately, we want the same things – to do the best we possibly can to support the people we are here for. Maybe we just can’t agree how we get there.

The next few referrals have come in. A volunteer in one of our shops who has a learning disability has told the shop manager she doesn’t want to go home because one of her support workers keeps shouting and swearing at her. A staff member is worried about leaving a service user’s home, because he’s said he wants to end it all. A man has applied to volunteer but one of his referees says he has drug addiction issues. A volunteer calls in while with her service user, who has just disclosed that her husband is controlling and abusive and she doesn’t know who else to talk to, as she doesn’t really see many other people. The last call of the day is from a staff member who says “It might be nothing, but I’ve been worrying and you did say we could always ring to check…”. We talk through a concern about a young person they are supporting and decide how to follow up.

We all know that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and as safeguarding leads we’re responsible for reminding our senior leaders of that at times. In the meantime our people are out there listening, noticing, and being there for others when something is wrong. Whatever the latest targets or objectives say, we will be here willing to share our expertise, and helping people navigate the difficult things.

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