What is ‘safeguarding’?

Usually safeguarding means making sure that children (under 18s) and adults at risk are kept safe from harm. However the Charity Commission has a wider definition and expects all charities, not just those working with children or adults at risk, to take “reasonable steps to protect from harm people who come into contact with the charity” (see Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees). It therefore includes:

  • people who benefit from the charity’s work
  • staff
  • volunteers
  • other people who come into contact with your charity through its work

Voluntary and community groups exist to create positive public benefit, to make a difference to the community. To do so groups will provide a range of services and activities, using staff, volunteers, contractors and a range of communication channels. You will want those services and activities to be positive experiences of the highest standard. However, as with any activity, there will always be risks, some of which may cause harm to those who come into contact with your organisation. Therefore every voluntary and community group, not just charities, should consider safeguarding, even if they don’t work with children or adults at risk.  The Charity Commission has a good 5 minute read aimed at trustees including a 2 minute video which can be used by committee members/directors of other voluntary and community groups to raise people’s awareness.

In the past the term ‘abuse’ was used however the term now used more often is ‘safeguarding’. Safeguarding covers not only ‘abuse’ (i.e. physical, mental, sexual, financial and neglect) which is malicious ‘harm’ by those in positions of trust but also the risk of unintended  harm such as accidents and injuries. Therefore all voluntary and community groups should consider the risks of injury and accidents to their users (not just children and adults at risk). A simple health and safety policy that sets out a process of regular and continuous risk assessment to identify risks, who is at risk, the likelihood of harm and how to minimise them happening or their effect, backed up with appropriate insurance should be adequate.

Making your organisation ‘safe’

Although having well written, up to date and robust policies and procedures is very necessary, what is most important is to enshrine an organisational value that everyone has the right to be, and feel safe, and promote an open and positive culture and ensure all involved feel able to report concerns, confident that they will be heard and responded to.

To make sure that your organisation is committed to keeping everyone safe it should look at:

  • having appropriate policies and procedures in place, which are followed by all trustees/committee members/directors, volunteers and users
  • checking that people are suitable to act in their roles
  • how to spot and handle concerns in a full and open manner
  • having a clear system of referring or reporting to relevant agencies as soon as concerns are suspected or identified
  • setting out risks and how they will be managed in a risk register which is regularly reviewed
  • following statutory guidance, good practice guidance and legislation relevant to your organisation
  • acting quickly to respond to concerns and carry out appropriate investigations
  • not ignoring harm or downplaying failures
  • having a balanced committee/board and does not let one member dominate its work
  • making sure protecting people from harm is central to its culture
  • having enough resources, including trained staff/volunteers/trustees/committee members/directors for safeguarding and protecting people
  • conducting periodic reviews of safeguarding policies, procedures and practice

So it is recommend that every organisation has an overarching safeguarding policy that includes the commitments above and mentions other policies it may have including health and safety, data protection, equality, staffing and volunteers. Have a look at CAN’s.

Even if you do not work directly with children or adults at risk you may have concerns about individuals (by observing them or hearing something) and they may even reveal an incident to someone in your organisation that gives you concern. Because safeguarding is everyone’s concern you have a responsibility to report that concern. You do not have to investigate it just report it. Therefore you should have a simple policy setting out what your people should do if they are told about, or have concerns that, someone is being, or in danger of being, harmed. It should include a clear public statement that the organisation is committed to protecting users from harm and will act in their best interests, including reporting instances and concerns. We have a simple policy template covering children and adults which you can adapt.

Reporting a concern

For concerns about an immediate risk or harm to a child/young person or adult at risk ring the Police on 999

If the child or adult lives in BCP

If you suspect that a child/young person is being abused or neglected then contact the BCP First Response Hub  to request support, or to report a concern about a child or young person.

Call 01202 123334 from 8.30am to 5.15pm, Monday to Thursday and 8.30am to 4.45pm on a Friday. Or e-mail [email protected]

Out Of Hours – 5pm to 9am from Monday to Friday, all day Saturdays and Sundays and all bank holidays, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day: 01202  738256 [email protected]

If you suspect that an adult is being abused or neglected then contact BCP Council

Email: [email protected]

For Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole: Telephone 01202 123654

Or Dorset Police: Tel 101

Out of Hours Service: Tel. 0300 1239895 Evenings and weekends, including Bank Holidays

If the child or adult lives in the Dorset Council area

If you suspect that a child/young person is being abused or neglected then contact Children’s Advice and Duty Service: Professional’s Telephone Number: 01305 228558 Daytime service is available Monday to Friday between 8am and 10pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 10pm and On-Call Out of Hours Service 24/7. This is a professionals-only number to discuss your concerns, you will no longer complete a referral form.   Families and Members of the Public Number: 01305 228866

If you suspect that an adult is being abused or neglected then contact Dorset Council

  • on 01305 221 016 during office hours
  • on 01305 858 250 for the Out of Hours Service

Working with children and adults at risk

If your organisation does have contact or specifically works with these groups then you will need to do more than the above and also depending on the type of contact and work with these groups have more legal requirements to follow.

Each organisation that works with anyone who is less able to look after their own affairs, or where your staff/volunteers will be in a position of trust, should actively consider the risks of deliberate harm to those users by their organisation. Some groups will be obliged by law to consider and act to reduce those risks and others will have to because it is a condition of receiving a grant or contract. When considering the risks you will need to think about:

  • The age and ability to reason of your users
  • The ability of your users to be able to make a decision and act on it
  • The frequency of contact with users (i.e. one off, irregular, regular)
  • The degree of contact with users (will it be cursory or involve close, physical contact)
  • The role and services your staff/volunteers will be providing
  • If there will be unsupervised 1-2-1 contact with users
  • How much ‘supervision’ your staff/volunteers will receive
  • Any legal or regulatory requirements (e.g. Ofsted and CQC).

To protect users from harm, and staff/volunteers from accusations you should think about:

  • A public declaration that sets out your commitment to protecting users and dealing with harm
  • Ensure there is a culture that deliberate harm is unacceptable within the organisation (this will help deter perpetrators and encourage ‘whistle blowing’)
  • Appoint a senior person in the organisation to oversee your procedures
  • Having clear and robust recruitment processes (termed ‘safer recruitment’)
  • Provide your staff/volunteers with training and supervision to avoid and identify instances of harm
  • Ensure any activities reduce the chance of harm (e.g. reduce lone working)
  • Have clear procedures in place to deal with instances and accusations of harm and what action you will take to report such instances.

The above should be set out in a Safeguarding Policy. Your policy should not only cover how to protect your users from harm by the organisation itself but also what action you will take to report instances, or suspicions, of harm by others. Depending on the complexity of your organisation and the services it provides one policy could cover both children and adults (for small VCOs providing a few services to all age groups) or separate ones. Here is CAN’s policy for working with children and with adults.

Safer recruitment of staff and volunteers

A relatively easy thing to do is to check that your staff/volunteers do not pose a risk to your users because of previous behaviour. However remember that there is always a first offence and many perpetrators may not have been caught. So once you take on someone you need to remain vigilant through supervision, training and clear procedures. Vetting, or safer recruitment, involves:

  • Clear statement and policies. Clearly demonstrating that harming users is unacceptable and that your organisation has policies and procedures in place to protect your users may well ‘scare’ off anyone who intends to take advantage of your users
  • Look at past work history. When taking on staff check a person’s work history by asking for a complete history of places of work (making sure all dates are accounted for, asking for explanations of any gaps, checking with past employers about dates worked, etc.)
  • Getting references. References from past employers (not just the most immediate) may prompt you to ask questions of candidates as well as throw up any gaps in employment or concerns
  • Checking criminal record when able to. A relatively easy action to take although there are various legalities to be observed, and remember that having a clear record does not mean that the person does not pose a risk (they might have not been caught or become a first time offender).

Asking about criminal convictions

The main law relating to asking and checking past criminal convictions is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 whose intention is to reduce discrimination against those who have served sentences. The law sets out, depending on the offence and sentence, that after so many years a conviction becomes ‘spent’ i.e. the person is deemed to have rehabilitated (to see what these periods are see the government guidance). It allows ex-offenders for most jobs to:

  • Not reveal convictions, even if asked, if these have become spent
  • Protection against a job refusal or dismissal because they have a spent conviction.

Therefore for most jobs it would be unlawful to make applicants reveal spent convictions and/or to use that information to decide whether to appoint someone or not. It is perfectly legal to ask about unspent convictions and make a decision on this. It is possible for individuals to get a Basic Check online from DBS for £18 which will list all unspent convictions (the person must apply you cannot check someone).

However the Act lists certain jobs and occupations (basically those working with children and vulnerable adults, financial, legal and health sectors) as exempt from the above protection and has been amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. These exceptions mean that candidates (whether paid or voluntary) when asked must disclose any convictions, including spent, when asked. Unfortunately there is no definitive list and so it is your responsibility to decide. You can read the official government guidance. Luckily the list of exceptions also entitles someone to ask to see a certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which was formerly CRB, listing a person’s criminal record. DBS have two useful guides, one for those working with adults and another for children, aimed at voluntary/community groups, with examples of what roles can be checked and those that cannot. DBS’ online eligibility tool will also help identify these roles and what level of check you can make.

DBS Certificates

In the past these were known as CRBs. Before you can see a certificate you need to check the list to make sure the paid or voluntary position is covered (you need to note the reference number and have supporting evidence that the position fits into that exception). It is unlawful to use a DBS certificate without being sure a position meets an exception. For instance you cannot ask for a certificate just because they will be a finance person or treasurer. Certificates can only be obtained by registered bodies who intend to make at least 200 checks a year and pay an annual fee (on top of the fee for each check) so for many voluntary and community groups it will not be worth doing so. However there are a large number of ‘umbrella bodies’ (DBS publish a list) including BCP Council and Dorset Council, that can check (many of whom do this on-line) on your behalf for a small administration fee (if you operate in Dorset council area then you can get a DBS on volunteers for free). Only the individual being checked will receive a DBS Certificate, therefore organisations will have to ask individuals for their certificate and take a copy for their records if required (see ‘Using and storing certificates’).

There are now 4 types of certificate:

  • Standard- will check for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings.
  • Enhanced- the same information as the standard check, plus any information held locally by police forces that they consider “might be relevant”.
  • Enhanced with barred list checks- the same information as above, as well as if the individual is on a “barred list” of individuals that are unsuitable for working with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Adult First- an individual can be checked against the DBS adult barred list while waiting for the full criminal record check to be completed

The online tool will help you identify the correct type.

As well as these four types, certificates issued since 17 June 2013 specify what workforce they apply to, i.e. if they cover work with children, or adults, or both or other (not working with children or adults). You can only get a DBS check for those over 16. Although checks are free for volunteers (see DBS guidance on what is a volunteer), including committee members and trustees, there is a charge by DBS for employees. If you have to use an ‘umbrella body’ there will also be an administrative charge, even for volunteers (anything between £5 to £20 per check). Checks can take varying lengths of time to come back but if you are lucky within a few days.

If people have a DBS they can subscribe to the Update Service for £13/year (free for volunteers), at the point of applying for a DBS or within 30 days of the date of issue. Organisations can then check online that their DBS Certificate is still current. If an individual is subscribed they show you their certificate and, with their permission, you can check immediately online, for free, its status. Remember to check that the Certificate is at the right level (e.g. enhanced or enhanced and barred list) and workforce (i.e. child and/or adult) for the check you require. If the online check shows there has been a change then the organisation will need to consider asking for a new DBS check which will incur a charge as above. The intention is to reduce the number of DBS checks carried out and the cost. However since the individual has to pay an annual fee organisations may wish to consider reimbursing them for doing so (which may be cheaper than rechecking every few years). HMRC have announced that such reimbursement will be non-taxable. The other advantage of the Update Service is that you can check the Certificate at any time. A DBS Certificate is only a record at the time of printing so is ‘out of date’ almost immediately. So if your employee or volunteer has a Certificate you can check perhaps once a year to see if their certificate is still accurate, i.e. have they been subject to any convictions, cautions or subject to police intelligence since the certificate was issued.

Using and storing certificates

It is a requirement of the DBS (and will be part of any agreement you have with an umbrella body) that you have policies in place regarding the employment of ex-offenders and the safe keeping and disposal of certificates. Information on certificates are treated as sensitive data under the Data Protection Act and so to comply with this and DBS you need to ensure that only those who need to see certificates do so, that if original or copies are stored they are done so very securely and that these are destroyed as soon as possible (generally after 6 months). However organisations can keep a record of the certificate including its date of issue, the name of the person, the type requested, the position for which it was requested, the unique reference number and the details of the recruitment decision taken. Remember that a certificate is only a record at a particular date, so you might need to think about how often to recheck. Many organisations say every 3 years however now that on-line checking is available if individuals are registered then employers will be able to check if the certificate is still valid at any time.

Criminal record checks for people from overseas

Potential employees or volunteers from overseas can be asked to obtain a criminal record check or "certificate of good conduct" from the overseas country. In some cases, it may be possible for the organisation to obtain this check through the relevant embassy in the UK, if the individual gives consent. Many countries have provided details of how to apply for certificates of good conduct and/or criminal record certificates. These details are on the DBS website.

What happens if someone has a criminal record?

Just because someone has a criminal record does not mean you cannot take them on as an employee or volunteer. It is only illegal to take someone on if they will be undertaking a regulated activity and are on the barred lists. Indeed the DBS requires organisation that use certificates to have a policy on the use of ex-offenders (see above). Also some minor convictions and cautions are filtered out by DBS. Organisations will have to assess the risk to users of taking someone on with a criminal record. For instance a record of shop lifting 20 years may be viewed as low risk. However organisations need to be aware of their responsibilities and so avoid any claim of negligence if they knew about a history of past criminal activity but chose to ignore it. Also they may need to inform their insurer to make sure their policies will not be invalidated by taking someone on with a particular criminal record. NACRO has guidance on dealing with DBS checks and criminal record risk assessments.

Checks on trustees

There is no legal requirement that says 'all trustees must have [x] level of DBS check'.  Instead, the Charity Commission expects criminal record checks to be carried out where the position in question is eligible for such checks. The type of check which should be carried out is dependent on both your charity’s activities and the specific role which the trustee carries out. Again you can use the DBS eligibility tool and the DBS guidance for charities working with children and adults both have sections on checking trustees. Some organisations may be able to check trustees because they are registered with Ofsted or CQC. Failing to make these background checks can put people’s safety at risk. It can also put the reputation and/or assets of your charity at risk if an individual appointed as a charity trustee proves to be unsuitable to hold that position. The Charity Commission may consider this to be mismanagement or misconduct and has made those judgements.

Training and resources

For general awareness for everyone CAN has a short animation that explains safeguarding and there are some short videos (less than 5 minutes) about adults (from the local adult safeguarding boards) and from the Ann Craft Trust.

Waltham Forest Council have this very good 3 minute video aimed at volunteers about working with children and adults.

The Charity Commission has a short video for trustees but useful for committee members and directors of other voluntary/community groups.

CAN has a range of training courses and webinars (including a 1 hour introduction) so check our website.

NCPSS has a very good online introductory course for anyone working with children costing £30 and another for trustees costing £25.

Ann Craft Trust has an online introductory course for anyone working with adults at risk costing £25.

If you are looking for more detailed training because you work with children and/or adults at risk

  • the local children’s safeguarding partnership puts on regular training (including what was previously L2 and L3) plus other more specialised courses. They produce a regular training newsletter
  • BCP Council offer a range of courses for those working with adults. Contact [email protected]

We have a factsheet that sets out more detail about how to protect children and adults at risk.

Locally there are two safeguarding boards for adults (BCP and Dorset) and one for children which have a range of resources as well as the definitive local policies and procedures.

The following organisations have a lot of resources aimed at voluntary and community organisations:

Also look at NACRO and Unlock about employing those with convictions.

For general awareness for everyone CAN has a short animation that explains safeguarding

Last updated: 26th April, 2022

Back to empower membership zone home page

Back to membership zone home page