I spoke recently at a conference about student wellbeing and mental health and what lessons can be learned from other sectors’ approach to safeguarding. I was struck again by what a huge issue this seems to be for people working “on the ground” at Universities and how many of the issues surrounding safeguarding also resonate in the area of student wellbeing and mental health.
Safeguarding student welfare is key to many areas of importance to Universities: ensuring healthier and more resilient students; creating a safer organisation for everyone (not just students); reducing student drop-out rates; reducing incidents of peer-to-peer abuse; and University reputation, including the important area of parental involvement in university choice.
People often ask what is meant by “safeguarding”. A simple definition is that safeguarding is protecting people and creating safer organisations. This can mean protecting children or those legally considered “adults at risk” (which are both very relevant to HEIs) but the principles and organisational approach apply to protecting young adults and students in particular. “Safer” in this context means protecting people from a wide range of potential abuse, including physical and emotional harm/abuse, sexual abuse, bullying (including cyber-bullying), domestic violence and relationship abuse, peer-to-peer abuse and preventing radicalisation (the Prevent Duty). We frequently see reports of these issues concerning students in the press and Universities do recognise how serious these issues are.
Employment law and safeguarding guidance regulate how to ensure employees, workers and volunteers are suitable to work in certain roles and it is, of course, vital to get this right. However, the overall aim is to protect people and create safer organisations and it is important not to lose sight of that and not to only focus on the detail and “box-ticking”.
The key is to consider how your organisation as a whole addresses issues such as low level concerns, early help, power dynamics, sharing information, having and following appropriate procedures; and organisational links with other duties such as Prevent Duty. As always, ensuring your staff have proper training is important to ensure that they have confidence dealing with these issues, particularly when there might be external criminal or regulatory aspects. This is something that we will consider further in future bulletins.
If you require further information on anything covered in this briefing please contact Kathleen Heycock (firstname.lastname@example.org; 020 3375 7113) or your usual contact at the firm on 020 3375 7000.
Further information can also be found on the Higher Education page on our website.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, June 2017