Last updated: 14.03.22

What is the role of safeguarding?

Here in the UK, we have a wide range of laws and associated governing bodies that help ensure that children and other vulnerable people get the care and attention that they need. Safeguarding is one of the largest and most important parts of this, and it’s something that workers need to be aware of in a large number of business types. From schools and nurseries to care homes and hospitals, safeguarding is a critically important concept. In this article, we’re going to look at the role that safeguarding plays in these kinds of businesses, and who needs to be involved in this issue.

What is safeguarding?

Safeguarding is a term that encompasses a wide range of measures and principles that ensure that basic human rights of individuals are protected. More specifically, safeguarding aims to make sure that vulnerable adults, young adults and children can live their lives free from abuse, harm and neglect. Generally, any child will be under the remit of safeguarding, as will people who need help looking after themselves, such as individuals with certain disabilities, elderly people in care, and some people in hospital. In theory, anyone could at some point be vulnerable and need safeguarding.

It’s important to be aware that safeguarding aims to protect people from a wide range of types of abuse, neglect and harm. We tend to think primarily about it being a method of combating very serious issues such as child sexual abuse and physical violence towards vulnerable people, but this is only a proportion. Neglect is a common issue for those involved with safeguarding, particularly when it comes to children. Sometimes infants are not cared for properly - whether intentionally or otherwise - and it is the role of safeguarding to step in and try to ensure that the child is able to receive the care they require as far as basic human rights are concerned. When it comes to the elderly, abuse can often be financial or emotional, which is often the case when family members or acquaintances try to take advantage. Safeguarding would look to stop this too.

There are also many different ways in which safeguarding actually works, and it depends heavily on the environment and people involved. In the next section, we’re going to think about how we actually go about protecting people in society.

What do those who have safeguarding as part of their role do?

The first thing that’s essential to understand is that, while safeguarding is certainly an integral part of many peoples’ job roles, it is something that many different people will be involved in that don’t necessarily work in safeguarding. There’s a communal aspect to safeguarding that means that lots of people may have to work together to help keep children and vulnerable adults safe.

If we think for example about protecting elderly people who still live at home, then the local authorities will have to work with care workers to make sure that they get the help that they need. However, they might need help from friends, family or even neighbours if any kind of abuse or neglect is suspected.

However, there are of course many people who have safeguarding specifically part of their role. People such as care home workers, nursery staff and teachers all need to think about safeguarding every single day while they’re at work. All places of work that are legally obliged to think about safeguarding will have a dedicated policy that deals with the principle, and it will involve everything from how to recognise signs that abuse, harm or neglect is taking place, to instructions on what to do when that happens and how to resolve the situation.

It’s worth bearing in mind that on the ground, much of safeguarding is about knowing how to spot the signs that abuse might be happening, and everyone can get involved with this.

What are the principles of safeguarding?

When it comes to adult safeguarding, there are six generally recognised principles. While they are generally aimed towards adults in care, the concepts behind several of them are applicable to children too. Importantly, these six principles will help with understanding how safeguarding should work at a top level.

The six principles are as follows:

  • Empowerment - This means helping the vulnerable people and/or their family and friends to make their own decisions about how the safeguarding issue might be handled.
  • Prevention - The number one function of safeguarding should always prevent abuse, harm or neglect from occurring, for example by having a good security policy on-premises.
  • Proportionality - Any response to a safeguarding issue needs to be done with care, sensitivity and proportionally to the incident(s).
  • Protection - Those who are in need of safeguarding protection should always have it, however they might be vulnerable and whatever issues they face.
  • Partnership - Safeguarding is something that needs the involvement of various individuals and parties, and they must all work together to be effective.
  • Accountability - Transparency is very important in safeguarding, and all professionals will need to know exactly what is expected of them.

What does the law say about the role of safeguarding?

There are a number of important bits of legislation that determine exactly how safeguarding should work, and whose responsibility it is. When it comes to care, there are four major laws that workers will need to be aware of, and they are the following:

The Children Act 1989 - One of the major pieces of legislation when it comes to children in the United Kingdom, this act enshrines most of the really important aspects of safeguarding, and also set child welfare as a major priority for the authorities. It sets out laws and responsibilities in many different ways, particularly when it comes to social work.

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 - This Act built on many of the principles of the initial Children Act, increasing provision for care leavers, giving clinical commissioning groups more responsibility, protecting whistleblowers, and generally ensuring that child safeguarding practices work and are being followed.

The Care Act 2014 - This act is the main legislation for safeguarding when it comes to vulnerable adults. Similar to the Children Act, it sets out a framework for how everyone involved in safeguarding, from local authorities to care home workers, can protect adults from abuse, harm and neglect.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 - This Act deals with the vetting process for those that will be working with vulnerable people. Safe recruitment is one of the most important safeguarding principles, and involves DBS checks and more.

In addition to these laws, there is also a wide range of statutory guidance on safeguarding, such as ‘Keeping children safe in education’, which is a document aimed towards schools and colleges, and ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’, the government’s key document for anyone who works with children.

What does safeguarding training involve?

Given how complex policy can be, and how delicate certain situations can be, it’s no surprise that safeguarding virtually all people who have safeguarding as part of their roles will need regular and dedicated training on the subject. This helps them ensure they have all the skills and knowledge they need to effectively protect people from abuse, harm and neglect. In many workplaces, safeguarding will be part of statutory or mandatory training - that is to say that it’s training which is essential to the role, or mandated by law. At Virtual College, we’re pleased to be leaders in the development and delivery of safeguarding e-learning courses, and you can find out more about what these courses involve by taking a look at one of them here.