Safeguarding policy, like any other policy implemented in good faith (HSE guidelines are a good example), is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that not everyone has other people’s best interests in mind. There have been too many cases where a child was harmed by the people who were meant to protect them, or a vulnerable adult has had their trust betrayed by the people who “care” for them. Implemented properly, it protects vulnerable people (children and adults) from the people who would cause them harm, and protects innocent people from life-destroying false accusations.
However, like the HSE guidelines, these policies are open to misunderstandings and abuse. Sensible precautions, such as ensuring that physical contact is unambiguously appropriate, become cast iron restrictions, like the (false) assumption that an adult member cannot touch a youth member. Reasonable restrictions on what we can do with cadets (like not putting them in a dangerous situation) becomes an excuse to do nothing with them. Interesting activities are abandoned on nebulous ‘safeguarding grounds’, and ultimately people’s experience with the Organisation suffers (more on this later).
It is very easy to forget the main aim of safeguarding is to keep people safe, not to wrap them up in cotton wool and do nothing with them. The point is to protect me from false accusations, not to stop me acting when I see an obvious need to intervene.
Take two examples that have happened to me recently. The first one, on my way to my recent holiday, I tweeted about:
In this case, I was stood next to a little boy, and he nearly stepped out in front of an ambulance (under blue lights, no less). Mum was stood nearby, chatting to her friend, and he was wandering around and went to step off the curb. I put my arm out, rather fast, and made sure he stayed where he was. Fairly understandably, he wasn’t too impressed that some random man had stopped him walking around.
His mum was furious. And not because he’d walked off, or because he’d wandered into the road. No, she was angry because I had dared to touch her son and made him cry. I’ll be honest, I was quite blunt with her, explaining precisely what had happened and why I had felt it necessary to act as I had. She wouldn’t have any of it (hence my angry tweets), and I had a train to catch, so I just walked off.
My second example happened today. I was in a supermarket, doing my shopping, and had an encounter with a two-ish year old boy and his dad. The little boy hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going, and I had to dodge to avoid him. Dad was very apologetic, but I made it clear that there was no problem, and we continued our individual shops.
As I headed to the tills to pay, I encountered the same little boy again, this time without his dad. I had a quick look around and spotted his dad looking rather frantic and heading our way, and the boy was making a determined attempt to wonder off. Before he got too far, I walked up to him, took his hand and lead him back to his dad. Dad was very grateful, and everyone was happy. No problems.
Both times I physically intervened to prevent a child from coming to harm. Both times I think I feel I acted correctly, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing again, even knowing how the first scenario would turn out. Both times I think I acted in the spirit of our safeguarding policy, and that is keeping vulnerable people safe.
And yet, if you believed the ‘no touching’ brigade, both times I broke policy, and the first instance (where, in other circumstances, my actions could quite rightly have been considered an assault) doubly so. Even though both times things could have gone a lot worse if I hadn’t acted.
I think that the biggest problem I have with safeguarding is not that it exists, or that it’s quite strict. It’s that policy is being applied blindly, and is being used to replace common sense. And while this doesn’t directly cause any harm to anyone, everyone suffers from lost opportunities.