Safeguarding & Child Protection
We have been at the forefront of advising organisations on safeguarding and child protection since the inception of the current statutory regime in the early 2000s.
The aim of the Safeguarding Unit is to enable organisations to ensure in so far as is possible the safety and wellbeing of the children or adults in their charge. We do this by enabling organisations to respond to scrutiny and comply with law in this area, implementing best practice and cultural change where required, and handling cases (whether live or non-recent) appropriately and with sensitivity. In the words of Sir Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, “Most lawyers can tell you what the law says, very few can guide you through your particular crisis with the sensitivity and strategic intelligence which is second nature to Farrer & Co’s experts”.
Our Safeguarding Unit consists of a team of lawyers from across different disciplines in the firm including safeguarding and child protection, education and employment, media and data protection, charity and family, regulatory and public law.
Central to our Safeguarding Unit is a belief in the importance of a preventative approach within organisations, and of working proactively rather than waiting for a crisis before deciding to act.
We work alongside organisations to help them to achieve this by creating and maintaining a safe organisational culture that is fully aligned to the organisation's values. This includes in the context of schools, sports organisations, charities, religious organisations, and higher education institutions, based both within and outside the United Kingdom.
This work includes advice on best practice in relation to
- safeguarding governance – ensuring effective oversight and scrutiny by those at the head of the organisation, including on the prioritisation of safeguarding from the top of the organisation through to those working on the front line
- safer recruitment practices in relation to staff, volunteers, governors, trustees and directors – including interview technique, scrutiny of references, recruitment documentation and national and international pre-recruitment checks (including DBS checks – general and role specific)
- the roll out and implementation of safeguarding policies and procedures - including those relating to safer recruitment, child protection, managing allegations, codes of conduct, online safety, mental health, whistleblowing, anti-bullying and peer-on-peer abuse
- implementing a culture in which staff and children feel able to share any safeguarding concerns, no matter how small, and those concerns are dealt with in a proportionate and robust way
- ensuring that children's data is safeguarded and that information is shared in a way that best protects children
- identifying and assessing the particular safeguarding risks facing the children or vulnerable adults in the organisation's care, and taking steps to proactively mitigate those risks
- adopting holistic and contextual approaches to key safeguarding risks such as peer-on-peer abuse and online safety
- carrying out proactive strategic safeguarding reviews into the safeguarding systems, practices and culture at all levels of an organisation, to enable organisations to identify and remedy any weaknesses and to implement change at all levels
- delivering safeguarding training on any of the above, which is tailored to the individual organisation.
- These usually take the form of allegations of abuse against another child, adult or member of staff. The concern or allegation may be current or historic.
- It is vital that any concerns and allegations are handled properly, in the best interests of those affected. These situations can be complex and can escalate quickly, and a core part of our advice involves crisis management. We advise from the outset and guide organisations through each stage of the process – including
- the immediate response, including referrals to external agencies, immediate steps to safeguard any child, children or vulnerable adult involved, and communication with the individual who is the subject of the allegation
- effective communication to all relevant constituents throughout the management of the allegation, including children, parents, staff, former members (for example, alumni), and media
- employment implications in the context of allegations against current member(s) of staff, including whether to suspend, how to support the member of staff, and whether and how to conduct disciplinary investigations
- reputation issues, including how leaders, trustees or directors manage and continue to manage the risk to the organisation's reputation in relation to the safeguarding allegation
- reparations and accountability in the context of abuse perpetrated by former member(s) of staff, including in cases where there are multiple victims
- balancing and co-ordinating different (and not always complementary) responses which are needed, including the child protection response, the legal response, the management response and the communications response
- claims arising out of historic abuse, including issues surrounding insurance cover, limitation, liability, the quantification of damages and defending such organisations in court. Traditional litigation techniques are often inappropriate in such cases and our team has significant experience in all forms of alternative dispute resolution. Our direct experience of the psychological issues faced by both perpetrators and victims is also regularly applies in the advice we offer, and
- action to take following the management of an allegation, to ensure that lessons are learnt and any weaknesses are identified and addressed.
We also carry out independent investigatory reviews following safeguarding allegations, so that the organisation and its members (including any victims) can understand what happened and why, identify any weaknesses in the organisation's procedures or culture which may have facilitated the abuse, and recommend steps that the organisation can take to protect children in the future. For example, we were the lawyers for the independent review of William Vahey's criminal conduct at Southbank International School.
The Safeguarding Unit advises on legal and regulatory developments in child protection law, family and employment law, education, sports and charity law, privacy and media law. This includes advice on statutory guidance relating to areas such as early help, peer-on-peer abuse, online safety, host family exchanges and the prevent duty. When advising organisations operating England & Wales, we work alongside local lawyers to ensure that the organisation understands and is able to consider any legal obligations emanating from the jurisdiction in which it is operating. Legal obligations may sometimes conflict with safeguarding best practice. Where this is the case, we advise organisations on how to balance and co-ordinate these competing demands.
We also advise organisations that are subject to regulatory inspections, investigations and inquiries, including ISI and Ofsted inspections, police inquiries, Charity Commission interventions and the Government's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) – including, for example, in the context of IICSA, advice on self-referral, core participant status, and the review of records and policies in light of the IICSA. We are currently advising a number of organisations which have been chosen by the IICSA to participate in and provide evidence in relation to its investigations.
The Safeguarding Unit advises a number of organisations which are based or operating outside the United Kingdom, including international schools, charities and sports organisations. Our work for these organisations includes
- helping to design and implement effective safeguarding systems which are tailored to the individual organisation, local law and culture, including in relation to safeguarding governance and management, safer recruitment practices, reporting of concerns, trips and host family exchanges, online safety, and peer-on-peer abuse
- advising on the drafting, roll out and implementation of key safeguarding policies and procedures which are tailored to the legal and cultural framework surrounding the organisation
- handling specific safeguarding challenges - including, for example, implementing best practice in safer recruitment in circumstances where local law prevents the organisation from carrying out key pre-recruitment checks; embedding a safe culture in the face of high staff and/or student turnover; supporting students and families who face particular challenges as a result of highly mobile and transient lifestyles; and isolation from local community and safeguarding structures
- advising on the management of an allegation of abuse by a child, vulnerable adult, member of staff or volunteer, including referral to local or international agencies, and legal, child protection, employment, communication issues, and victim support
- carrying out proactive strategic safeguarding reviews into the safeguarding systems, culture and practice at all levels of the organisation
- delivering in person training and advice tailored to the international organisation, which considers local law and context
- helping organisations to build partnerships with local law firms, child protection and law enforcement agencies, iNGOs, embassies and other local schools.
Aside from the various purely legal services which it provides, the Safeguarding Unit is very committed to thought leadership, and to developing innovative practice in the area of safeguarding and child protection. We have been working with various academics and key stakeholders on a number of initiatives – including, for example - on
- encouraging institutions that work with children to introduce a low-level concerns policy and/or culture
- working with the Police on new national sexting guidance and with the DfE on Guidance on Sexual Violence and Harassment in Schools
- designing a peer-on-peer abuse toolkit for schools which is referred to in DfE Guidance
- reviewing the extent to which the Child Protection System in England provides a sufficient framework for safeguarding adolescents from peer-on-peer abuse
- establishing a charity sector safeguarding steering group, which meets bi-annually and is represented by large national and international charities
- developing a protocol for international schools to use when responding to and handling allegations of abuse against members of staff, and
- working with INTERPOL and the International Task Force for Child Protection on a project to develop an INTERPOL Child Protection Audit Service (I-CPAS), the purpose of which is to prevent sex offenders from obtaining employment working with children.
In addition to the above, the SU hosts an Annual Safeguarding Conference, a rolling programme of seminars, and other standalone events throughout the year, and regularly publishes articles and briefings.
Members of the SU also speak at external safeguarding and sector-specific conferences.