What staff should know about reporting abuse

  • For safeguarding training and best practice guidelines to be effective, staff need to be aware of how to identify abuse and the appropriate channels for reporting and escalating it
  • Staff must also feel free to report abuse without fear of negative personal repercussions
  • We discuss how to foster an open reporting culture within your organisation

An open and transparent safeguarding culture enables every member of staff to understand their role in helping to eliminate abuse, and feel comfortable and confident enough to raise concerns as soon as they identify them.

While whistleblowing and reporting methods may differ from organisation to organisation, methods for encouraging reporting of abuse are universal.

We look at some of the questions you should be asking to help ensure your organisation is doing all it can to foster an open and transparent safeguarding culture.

1. How does your organisation introduce staff to the concept of safeguarding and abuse?

Safeguarding should be implemented into your organisation’s policies, procedures, practice and training. It should also be introduced during the process of not only recruiting new staff but, the management and retention of existing staff too.

We have produced an infographic that explains how to make safeguarding an integral part of the recruitment process, for example by communicating your commitment to safeguarding and your expectations and requirements of candidates, such as DBS checks, when advertising posts.

2. Would your staff be able to identify abuse?

While staff should be encouraged to report abuse, they must first be able to identify what it is. It is important to ensure your staff understand the signs of abuse and how and when they might come across different types of abuse, during the course of their duties. Some forms of abuse may be harder than, or not as obvious to identify as others.

There are seven defined categories of abuse and neglect within the UK: physical, sexual, psychological, neglect and acts of omission, financial, discriminatory and institutional.

3. Is there a clear process for escalating safeguarding concerns?

You should ensure your staff know who to approach in the first instance if they have identified a safeguarding concern, and how the information they provide will be handled. The process for raising a safeguarding concern should be set out in your safeguarding policy, which should provide operational instruction to staff on what to do, who to speak to and how to record specific important information, which may be required by statutory agencies (police, social services) further down the line.

Your safeguarding policy should also include details about whistleblowing and ideally, be cross referenced to an individual whistleblowing policy (see below).

4. Is there a clearly accessible whistleblowing policy?

The very nature of safeguarding means that everyone needs to be vigilant about the conduct of others. It is based on the principles that someone will raise a concern about another member of staff if they feel that member of staff may pose a potential risk to a vulnerable person. Should someone raise such a concern this will make them a whistle-blower.

It is therefore important that an organisation recognises the importance of supporting and protecting whistle-blowers in the context of safeguarding. Whistle-blowers should feel able to make a report about any potential safeguarding concerns, which should be treated seriously and without prejudice.

Every organisation that has a safeguarding risk exposure should have a whistleblowing policy that explains how individuals can report serious concerns. These policies should be made available to new staff and to existing staff during reviews/appraisals, and as part of any safeguarding training.

Policies should make clear that whistle-blowers have the right to raise concerns without fear of victimisation, and that concerns may be raised anonymously. They should also explain:

  • Who is responsible for overseeing the policy
  • How concerns will be escalated
  • How whistle-blowers will be kept informed of the progress of any investigation
  • How the findings of any investigation will be recorded and reviewed
  • What whistle-blowers can do if they are not satisfied with how the investigation has been handled (e.g. an appeals process)

Whistle-blowers must also understand that they too have a responsibility to escalate their concerns if they feel inadequate action is being taken.

5. Does your organisation foster a climate of openness and transparency?

Whistleblowing policies are vital in supporting staff to raise concerns about serious wrongdoing. However, it is important to ensure your organisation encourages a culture of openness, awareness and transparency, so that staff feel comfortable in raising any potential safeguarding issues.

The practical measures needed to develop such a culture will vary from organisation to organisation, but the following steps are likely to be applicable for most:

  • Develop a clear policy for information sharing – staff need to be aware of what they can share, with whom and when
  • Provide staff with regular and relevant safeguarding training
  • Ask questions of staff, and listen to what they have to say
  • Respond quickly to their concerns and show that you value their feedback
  • Create a culture where ‘professional challenge’ is accepted and encouraged. This will make staff feel more confident in their capability to raise a concern if needed.