WCVA’s safeguarding team, Suzanne Mollison and Mair Rigby, share their reflections on what we have learned about safeguarding from COVID-19
WCVA’s Safeguarding service was extremely busy throughout 2020. It was a year full of the unexpected. No-one could have predicted the challenges that have been thrown at us, but the voluntary and community sector in Wales has risen to respond at every turn.
The coronavirus dominated the news since March, leading to lockdowns, schools closing, working from home and shielding of the most vulnerable. Organisations had to quickly adapt their services to working remotely and ensure that staff could do their jobs from home wherever possible. Mutual aid groups sprang up in almost every community and responded to need in many different ways; providing essential deliveries of food and medicines, running doorstep checks to ensure people were safe, making phone and video calls to alleviate isolation and loneliness.
WCVA’s safeguarding team responded to over 150 enquiries, many of them complex. We produced a suite of COVID-19 safeguarding resources which are available on the WCVA website (scroll down to Safeguarding). We hosted seven webinars and launched a new Community of Practice for voluntary sector safeguarding leads. We’ve also been busy preparing resources and online training modules for the new TSSW Knowledge Hub. The engagement from the sector during this time has been fantastic. It’s clear that voluntary organisations in Wales are taking safeguarding seriously.
So, what have we learned about safeguarding from COVID-19 and what do we need to focus on as we move into 2021? Here are 5 reflections from WCVA’s safeguarding team:
SAFEGUARDING IS COMPLEX AND BROADER THAN A NARROW FOCUS ON CHILDREN AND ADULTS AT RISK
COVID-19 has emphasised the fact that anyone can be at risk of harm and safeguarding is about taking steps to protect everyone who comes into contact with your organisation, including staff and volunteers. Safeguarding really is everyone’s business!
The COVID-19 crisis has reminded us that the risk of someone experiencing abuse and neglect can be increased by a whole range of factors in their lives, such as mental health, poverty, domestic abuse, as well as loneliness and isolation. It’s not always easy to tell who might be at risk. The crisis has also highlighted the links between inequality and safeguarding, as certain groups of people have disproportionately experienced negative impacts, for example, people from BAME communities, LGBTQ people and disabled people, which could put them at higher risk of harm.
GOOD PRACTICE IN VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT IS ESSENTIAL FOR SAFEGUARDING
The rise in the number of people wanting to volunteer to support their communities during the pandemic has been inspirational. However, it has also shown that safeguarding must be at the heart of volunteer management. Managing volunteers has been made much harder by the lack of direct contact, fewer options for direct oversight or supervision of volunteers carrying out their roles, and far less opportunities to induct and train volunteers, not just in policies and skills, but also into the organisational culture.
Over the last year, WCVA has heard concerns about maintaining boundaries, unsuitable volunteers, and poor conduct on social media, among other issues. Organisations must ensure that they have appropriate volunteering policies, codes of conduct, user agreements and good supervision processes in place. Beneficiaries must also be informed of who to contact if they have any concerns about someone who is volunteering for your organisation.
THE MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF OUR STAFF MUST BE A PRIORITY
Prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of staff and volunteers is an important part of safeguarding, both in terms of reducing the risk of harm to them and to the people they work with. People are experiencing higher workloads, increased stress and may be at more risk of burnout.
This could have a negative impact on the quality of the service they deliver to other people who might themselves be at risk. Staff may also struggle with the loss of clear boundaries between work and home, especially if their role exposes them to challenging and traumatic situations. Proactive support is therefore essential, which might include enhanced levels of supervision, access to employee assistance programmes, regular wellbeing checks, and activities designed to support staff wellbeing.
INCREASED REMOTE WORKING AND USE OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS CREATES A RANGE OF SAFEGUARDING CHALLENGES
Organisations have adapted quickly and many have moved their services online, but safeguarding by remote and digital means presents certain challenges and risks. There is the loss of direct contact through face-to-face sessions or home visits which has meant that practitioners have had far less opportunity to observe children, families or adults at risk and this could reduce their ability to gauge the level of risk. For example, how do you know that someone else isn’t in the room when you are talking to a person on the phone or in a video call? How do you spot the signs of abuse and neglect?
However, phone and video calls still allow the building of relationships of trust and for practitioners to ask about and see the lives of their contacts and, with good practice, can be an effective means of safeguarding. We have produced a template for safeguarding recognition and response procedures to assist staff with identifying potential safeguarding issues.
Other interventions could include standing items at team meetings, increasing the number of staff on calls and in online events, and making sure there are identified moderators on social media groups. Again, all beneficiaries should know who to contact if they have any concerns.
LOOKING FORWARD TO 2021…
As we move into 2021, WCVA’s safeguarding team is planning a programme of webinars that will address these issues in more depth. We will continue to update and develop guidance as the situation changes and our Safeguarding Community of Practice will provide a supportive forum for voluntary sector safeguarding officers and leads to come together and share learning.
The new year brings renewed hope in the form of the vaccines which are already being rolled out in Wales. We may have lost loved ones, missed out on milestone occasions and struggled to get through to this point in time, but together we have demonstrated the tremendous resilience and flexibility of the voluntary sector. Under unimagined pressure and difficulties, somehow the spirit to keep on giving; our time, our skills, our care, has delivered support and essential supplies to thousands. WCVA salutes you all and we look forward to working with you as we build towards a safer, healthier future.
HERE ARE THE TOP 3 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
- Review your safeguarding policy and ensure it fits the way you do business right now; update contact details, the conduct expected of people online, the way you supervise staff and volunteers etc
- Share accurate messaging about the vaccines for Covid-19 from PHWales and support all your people to get immunized when their turn comes.
- Survey what you are doing now that works for your organisation and your beneficiaries, you might want to build it into your ‘regular offer’ as things return to a new ‘normal’.