Observations from 15 years in safeguarding

Chris East, Safeguarding & Pastoral Services Manager at ACM, sets out the benefits of integrating safeguarding into the core values of higher education institutions.

Throughout my career, one constant has remained clear: the absolute imperative of establishing a robust safeguarding foundation within any organisation.

While most higher education institutions offer some form of student well-being and support services, the specific role dedicated solely to safeguarding is often lacking.

A safeguarding team is an indispensable aspect of any institution, ensuring the safety and well-being of all involved. While it may seem like a single person can shoulder the responsibility, in reality, it's a collaborative effort. Every institution, regardless of size, must have a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) and at least one Deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead (DDSL).

During my journey of building the safeguarding structures within my current institution, I came to recognise the pressing need for fostering a culture that truly embodies the principles of safeguarding throughout.

Effective safeguarding can support many aspects of an institution, such as:

  • staff and student perceptions of safety and security
  • mitigating institutional reputation and organisational risks
  • attracting students seeking a supportive environment where their wellbeing needs are met.

Changing the culture

Transforming an established institution's safeguarding culture is challenging but vital. It’s a gradual process that starts with establishment wide leadership commitment. Institutional leaders must champion a culture of safety through their actions, not just words. They should integrate safeguarding into the institution's core values and mission, making it an inseparable part of its identity.

Instituting regular and up-to-date staff training is paramount to ensuring that all members are well-informed about safeguarding policies, procedures, and the ever-evolving landscape of potential threats. To achieve this, clear and accessible policies and procedures must be in place, facilitating an environment in which everyone comprehends their role in safeguarding and is capable of taking action when necessary.

Open communication is a linchpin of effective safeguarding. It is crucial that both staff and students feel at ease reporting concerns. Encouraging a culture of reporting early and frequently is essential, as it enables timely intervention and resolution of issues.

In situations demanding a multi-departmental support strategy for a student, embracing the Team Around the Student (TAS) initiative proves beneficial. This collaborative approach goes beyond addressing just the legal and procedural aspects, but also the educational, psychological and social nuances. By involving a diverse array of institutional professionals throughout the organisation, this approach not only ensures well-rounded student support measures but also solidifies a broader influence on safeguarding practices.

Institutional leaders must champion a culture of safety through their actions, not just words

Reports, regulation and readiness

Regular data analysis and robust reporting systems support proactive handling of safeguarding issues. Audits and reviews are essential tools for assessing measures, identifying vulnerabilities, and ensuring compliance. They offer opportunities to strengthen safeguarding frameworks and align with long-term institutional goals. Adopting elements like data evaluation, policy review, and internal awareness campaigns ensures the ongoing health of your department and service.

Collective responsibility

Community involvement is crucial for holistic safeguarding. Engaging students, their families, staff and community stakeholders in discussions and awareness campaigns fosters collective responsibility, creating a vigilant and supportive culture. This strengthens the institution's protective ethos, promotes early detection and intervention in safeguarding issues, and enhances the overall safety of the educational environment.

Raising awareness

Proactive measures, such as awareness campaigns, play a pivotal role in maintaining a positive safeguarding culture. These campaigns enable you to shed light on critical subjects like abuse, disclosure processes, and signposting of essential support.

To ensure the effectiveness of these campaigns, it is imperative that they are concise, direct, and accessible across a range of platforms:

  • posters
  • social media
  • newsletters (print and online)
  • in-person or online training
  • topic specific videos
  • intranet
  • termly reminders (including links for viewers to bookmark)
  • pocket cards
  • flyers
  • sign-in procedures
  • website pages
  • information links below email signatures.

This multi-platform approach guarantees inclusivity, accommodating everyone involved, regardless of their technical proficiency or personal preferences.

Empowering the audience

Elevating awareness about safeguarding – what it entails, its potential benefits, red flags to watch out for, and guidance to available support resources – empowers the audience with the knowledge necessary to safeguard and care for themselves effectively. Furthermore, it reassures individuals that they are not alone, emphasising that support is readily available should they ever encounter a situation that threatens their well-being.

National framework

I believe that for the improvement of safeguarding in higher education, a national framework should be established similar to the statutory guidance for schools and colleges, Keeping Children Safe in Education. Such a framework would provide the necessary guidance to structure safeguarding provisions in higher educational settings. It should be accompanied by a supportive inspection criteria that emphasises support over punitive actions or fear-based approaches. This approach would enhance the effectiveness of our higher education safeguarding provisions.

Chris East

Chris was Co-chair of the IHE Student Services Network from 2021 - 2023

Chris East, ACM

With over 15 years of experience in safeguarding and pastoral support across numerous sectors, Chris boasts a comprehensive background in education at all levels. His expertise over the past five years has extended to higher education, where he has provided invaluable support and guidance on safeguarding matters, including structure, reporting, training, and awareness. Chris is now transitioning into consultancy, offering his wealth of experience to support and provide training opportunities in safeguarding across all sectors.

Connect with Chris on X and LinkedIn

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