When, in a business development meeting a couple of months ago, it was suggested to me that I write a blog, as per usual with ideas like these, Mrs Enthusiastic was happy to agree to this forward thinking idea.  Doesn’t everyone write a blog nowadays?  Not sure whether it will be of any interest to anyone, but my view is if we can all work together in safeguarding, then all these little steps at some point will create a safer space for all.

When I sat a few nights ago and cleared some space in my thoughts, I realised what value a Blog may have.  In our busy lives, we don’t have time to critically analyse academic papers, or in fact, read every single page of the heavy Reports that have recently been published.  As Safeguarding Officers, what we need is snippets of interesting information about relevant topics which can help us do our jobs better, providing a safer environment for the vulnerable people who are engaged in our organisations.

And that is what this blog is for.

Over the last nearly 20 years, my specialism has been in child protection, and sexual offences. After having spent 10 years as a Crown Prosecutor, I established Safeguarding Today, to educate, to prevent. Everything that safeguarding is about, I value.

In the last 2 1/2 years, working at NGB level in professional sport, when the media focus is heavily set on rooting out the abusers and calling organisations to task, I have had the privilege of working with Alex Richards, Head of Safeguarding at the English Football League. At a time when standards have been continually raised, and football is looking to continue to raise those standards, I spend a lot of my time researching specific topics to improve the service I provide to my clients.

One such topic is Safeguarding Supervision.

After completing the Women’s Leadership Development Course at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, I had tasked myself in the final module to run a pilot project in professional sport which centred around Safeguarding Supervision, based on the social care reflective supervision model.[1]

After I became a NSPCC Accredited Safeguarding Supervisor, the Leadership team recruited a number of other Supervisors, with police, NHS and education backgrounds. We also contracted a former Head of Safeguarding for a CCG to design and develop the framework to use in the pilot. We also worked in partnership with MyConcern[2] to create a secure electronic Case Management System, thereby ensuring our high profile clients could be secure in the knowledge during their supervision that all Data Protection and Confidentiality requirements were complied with.

With the support of Alex Richards, the Pilot was offered to all 72 EFL Clubs. We had a waiting list of 8 Clubs, and invited 9 Clubs to participate, with 7 EFL Clubs participating over the whole pilot. Two Premier League Clubs and a Head of Safeguarding in another NGB also participated.

Why Safeguarding Supervision in Sport?

Effective professional supervision can play a critical role in ensuring a clear focus on a child’s welfare … support practitioners to reflect critically on the impact of their decisions on the child.[3]

Working to ensure children and adults at risk are safe from harm requires professional curiosity, judgment, and challenge. Safeguarding is demanding work, and therefore all frontline practitioners must be well supported by effective safeguarding supervision, advice, and support.

Charles Geekie QC (2019) recommended “creating a culture that appropriately respects safeguarding is an essential part of a functioning system. This requires management leadership that takes seriously and supports that system.”[4]

Despite this Guidance, in general, Safeguarding Leads in professional sport do not receive formal supervision to assist them in carrying out their role.

Furthermore, whilst we are generally aware of stress levels and burnout within Designated Safeguarding Leads in Schools,[5] there is no data available in relation to Safeguarding Leads in the professional sporting environment. Standard 1.1 in both the Premier League and The English Football League Safeguarding Standards states:

“Staff who hold specific strategic and/or operational responsibility for safeguarding have access to advice, support and regular reflective supervision.”

What are the benefits of Safeguarding Supervision?

Apart from having a safe, confidential space on a regular basis, which is a benefit in of itself to a Safeguarding Lead in Sport, the benefits are far reaching:

  • Improve the quality of decision making;
  • Enable effective line management and organisational accountability;
  • Identify and address issues relating to case management;
  • Identify and achieve personal learning objectives;
  • Consideration of the emotional impact of dealing with safeguarding cases in a professional sporting environment, where priorities of others may not be safeguarding;
  • Ensuring accountable performance and the safeguarding lead is clear about safeguarding roles, responsibilities and actions in the context of legislative, Club and NGB requirements;

Case Study Examples

As well as general case work reflective supervision, we have dealt with a number of different issues, including assisting with re-structuring to improve safeguarding standards for young people, case reviews when the FA have disciplined players, looking at gaps in risk registers to apply for more funding at Board level, and generally supporting the safeguarding leads to improve in confidence when having difficult conversations at Board level. I recently described Safeguarding Supervision as ‘the glue that binds it all together.’ Organisations can have comprehensive policies, high quality training, create a culture of safeguarding[6], have a safe recruitment procedure and prioritise the reporting of Low Level Concerns.[7] However, Safeguarding Leads, particularly in the professional sporting environment are often left to make life changing decisions about children and their families, without any support or opportunity to reflect and improve. Safeguarding Supervision does just that. I am proud that Safeguarding Today can provide that service.

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[1] Morrison, T (2005) Staff Supervision in Social Care (3rd Edition) Brighton: Pavilion Publishing & Media, Wonnacott, J (2012) Mastering Social Work Supervision, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[2] https://www.myconcern.co.uk/

[3] HM Government, Department for Education (2019) Working Together to Safeguard Children, para 67

[4] Geekie, Q.C., C (2019) Review of Non Recent Child Sexual Abuse at Chelsea Football Club, July 2019

[5] https://www.tes.com/news/wellbeing-who-safeguards-safeguarding-leads

[6] Erooga, M (2012) Creating Safer Organisations, Practical Steps to Prevent the Abuse of Children by those Working with Them, Wiley Blackwell

[7] Farrer & Co (2020) Low Level Concerns Guidance