Handling concerns, reports or allegations
This section is primarily for the Cody Sailing Club’s Welfare Officer, but everyone should be aware of the procedures to follow if there are concerns (see flowcharts below).
A complaint, concern or allegation may come from a number of sources: the child, their parents, someone else within your organisation. It may involve the behaviour of one of your volunteers or employees, or something that has happened to the child outside the sport, perhaps at home or at school. Children may confide in adults they trust, in a place where they feel at ease.
An allegation may range from mild verbal bullying to physical or sexual abuse. If you are concerned that a child may be being abused, it is NOT your responsibility to investigate further BUT it is your responsibility to act on your concerns and report them to the appropriate statutory authorities. For guidance on recognising abuse, see Recognising Abuse and Handling Child Welfare Concerns.
Handling an allegation from a child
• stay calm – ensure that the child is safe and feels safe
• show and tell the child that you are taking what he/she says seriously
• reassure the child and stress that he/she is not to blame
• be careful about physical contact, it may not be what the child wants
• be honest, explain that you will have to tell someone else to help stop the alleged abuse
• make a record of what the child has said as soon as possible after the event, using the child’s own words
• follow your organisation’s child protection procedures.
• rush into actions that may be inappropriate
• make promises you cannot keep (eg. you won’t tell anyone)
• ask leading questions (see ‘Recording and handling information’ below)
• take sole responsibility – consult someone else (ideally the Club Welfare Officer or the person in charge or someone you can trust) so that you can begin to protect the child and gain support for yourself.
You may be upset about what the child has said or you may worry about the consequences of your actions. Sometimes people worry about children being removed from their families as a result of abuse, but in reality this rarely happens. However, one thing is certain – you cannot ignore it.
Recording and handling information
If you suspect that a child may have been the subject of any form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect, the allegation must be referred as soon as possible to Children’s Social Care or the Police who have trained experts to handle such cases. Do not start asking leading questions which may jeopardise any formal investigation.
A leading question is where you suggest an answer or provide options that only need a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, instead of allowing the child to explain things in their own words. An example would be asking ‘did X hit you?’ instead of ‘how did you get that bruise?’. Use open questions such as ‘what happened next?’. Only ask questions to confirm that you need to refer the matter to someone else. Listen to and keep a record of anything the child tells you or that you have observed and pass the information on to the statutory authorities. The form Safeguarding and Child Protection referral form will assist in helping to gather the right level of detail.
All information must be treated as confidential and only shared with those who need to know. If the allegation or suspicion concerns someone within your club or centre, only the child’s parents/carers, the Commodore (unless they are the subject of the allegation), the relevant authorities and the RYA Safeguarding Manager should be informed. If the alleged abuse took place outside the sport, the Police or Children’s Social Care will decide who else needs to be informed, including the child’s parents/carers. It should not be discussed by anyone within the organisation other than the person who received or initiated the allegation and, if different, the person in charge.
Confidential information must be stored securely. It is recommended that it should be retained for at least 3 years and destroyed by secure means, eg. by shredding or burning.
It is essential to have clear and agreed procedures to follow. These include:
• procedures to be followed by anyone concerned about a child’s welfare, either outside the sport or within your organisation (see flowcharts below)
• a procedure for handling a complaint about a member Constitution Rule 23
The RYA’s information sheet on the Expulsion of Members on the website in the Clubs section (you will need your club’s login) under Support, Members, includes the key elements of a fair hearing.
If your club or centre is contacted by the Police or Children’s Services concerning information received or a complaint made by or about a member, volunteer or employee, you are advised to contact the RYA Safeguarding Manager as soon as possible for guidance and support. Co-operate fully with official requests for factual information, but do not express any personal opinions on the person’s conduct. See also ‘Handling the media’ below.
Handling the media
If there is an incident at your premises which attracts media interest, or if you are contacted by the media with an allegation concerning one of your members or employees, do not give any response until you have had an opportunity to check the facts and seek advice. You may wish to contact the RYA’s Communications department on 023 8060 4215 for professional advice on handling the media.
Reference to the Disclosure and Barring Service or Disclosure Scotland
The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) maintains the lists of people barred from working with children or with vulnerable adults in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland. Disclosure Scotland fulfils this function in Scotland. If your organisation permanently dismisses or removes someone from regulated activity/work, or would have dismissed them if they had not resigned, because they have harmed a child or vulnerable adult or placed them at risk of harm, you have a duty to refer them to the DBS or Disclosure Scotland, as appropriate. It is a criminal offence not to make such a referral. For guidance on the grounds and process for making a referral, see the relevant website (see Section 7 Useful Contacts) or contact the RYA Safeguarding Manager.
If you are uncertain what to do at any stage, contact the RYA’s Safeguarding Manager on 023 8060 4104 or the NSPCC free 24-hour helpline 0808 800 5000.
Details of Children’s Social Care departments and emergency duty teams are listed on local authority websites and in local phone books. If you are unable to find the appropriate contact number, call the RYA’s Safeguarding Manager or, if a child is at immediate risk, the Police.