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Assessing complaints and concerns

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Your first step is to make an initial assessment of the concern as soon as information is shared with you. If possible, talk to the person reporting the concern, and gather as much information from them as you can. 

Key questions to ask

  • What action has already been taken? 
  • Is anyone else in the organisation affected by this situation (e.g. other volunteers or those you work with)? Are there any attitudes or emotions that you may have to be aware of?
  • How might this concern affect what the organisation delivers in the short term? Who else might need to be informed? 

What you must decide when you receive information

  • What type of concern has been reported to you.
  • What actions need to be taken.

At this point, you need to start recording all the information you are given, the actions you take and why. 

Emergency incidents

This is when there’s a life-threatening situation where there’s imminent danger and harm to a child, young person or adult. 

What you should do:

  • Immediately contact the emergency services if they haven’t been called already.  
  • Make sure the current situation is safe. 
  • Establish how others are coping – do they need any immediate support?
  • Initiate the emergency response protocol or inform the senior person in your organisation. 
Jo called emergency services after one of the community group members was found in the toilet unconscious, having cut themselves badly. Jo stopped the session, called an ambulance and contacted the DSL. The DSL checked that Jo was ok and confirmed that another staff member was with the rest of the group, who were upset and anxious about the situation. Once the DSL was happy that Jo and the group were safe and being supported, they called the chief executive to tell them what had happened and to decide if the emergency response protocol needed to be initiated. 

Child or adult protection concerns

This is when a child, young person or adult (who you believe is unable to protect themselves) is at current risk of, or has experienced, abuse or harm.

What you should do

  • If the person is in immediate danger, or the abuse has happened where they live, immediately call the local authority safeguarding team or the police. 
  • If they’re not in immediate danger, you must call the local authority safeguarding team within 24 hours and make a telephone referral. 
  • Be guided by the safeguarding team or police on any further actions required of you. Always follow up your call with a written referral. 

Where these is an allegation that a child or young person is at risk of harm from another child or young person, read managing allegations of abuse made against a child (from NSPCC Learning)

Charlie is the DSL for an after-school club. One of the volunteers had received a disclosure from a child who said they were scared to go home because a family member had been violent and hurt them every night. Charlie recognised that this was an immediate concern, and it would be unsafe to let the child go home. Charlie called the local safeguarding children emergency helpline to report the concern and got advice on what to do next. 
Isi runs an evening art group the local library. Isi called the DSL because of a concern about a person they work with, who is cared for by another family member. The individual said they only get one meal a day at the weekend as their family member is too busy working. Isi didn’t have a chance to talk to the person before the family member picked them up and so called the DSL to share the concern. The DSL recognised this could be a potential sign of neglect. The person was not in immediate danger, and it was late in the evening, so the DSL called the safeguarding adults team first thing in the morning to get advice. 

Allegations concerning staff or volunteers

Someone has alleged that staff or volunteers from your organisation have harmed or abused another person.  

What you should do if the allegation involves a child or adult at risk

  • You must contact the local authority safeguarding team as soon as possible within 24 hours.
  • Be guided by them on any further actions required of you. 
  • If your allegation involves harm to a child, you can read managing allegations of abuse (from NSPCC Learning)
Frank is the DSL of a befriending organisation who work with older people with severe dementia. Frank received a call in which a family member said they had frequently witnessed a staff member restraining their parent when they got angry. Frank knew the people they worked with are adults at risk, so called the safeguarding adults team to report the concern and got advice on what to do next. 

What you should do if the allegation doesn’t involve a child or an adult at risk

  • Follow your organisational disciplinary procedures.
  • Contact the relevant senior person in the organisation as soon as possible within 24 hours to discuss the concern. 
  • Decide the next steps together, which might include an internal investigation.
The DSL of a local museum had received a concern from a member of the public, saying they witnessed one of the volunteers shouting and pushing another volunteer around. Because the incident involved two volunteers, neither of which were adults at risk, the DSL contacted the HR manager to discuss initiating the disciplinary procedures. 

Welfare concerns

This is when no one has been harmed in any way, but a child, young person or adult shows signs of being in need. It’s when you have concerns for their health, wellbeing or safety if they don’t get help. 

Within seven days you, or someone in your organisation, should speak with the person. When it is appropriate you should also speak with their family or carer. You must explain your concerns and make sure they have the support they need. 

Other things you may need to do

  • Help the person or their family access services or give them the information they need to do this themselves.
  • If the concern is about a child or young person, you may need to refer them to social services as a ‘child in need’. They can then assess what help they may need.
  • If the person or family already has a lead professional, for example a social worker, you could speak to them about their needs.
Ty worked with a person who had a death in the family. They were feeling anxious and emotional and Ty was worried about them. Ty called the DSL, who suggested a bereavement service could help and provide additional support. The DSL gave Ty the information as they agreed Ty was best placed to talk to the person, because they already had a good relationship. 

Concerns about other organisations

This is a situation where the safeguarding concern is about another organisation, their staff, volunteers or the people they work with. 

What you should do

  • As soon as possible within 24 hours contact the DSL of the organisation in question and pass on your concerns, if this has not already happened.
  • In some circumstances you may decide to follow up with the organisation to confirm they have acted on the issue.
  • If at any point you think the organisation has not acted and someone is at risk, you should contact the local safeguarding team yourself. 
A volunteer for Healthy Minds goes into colleges to talk about mental health. They reported that a student had asked for advice on supporting a family member with their mental health. The volunteer was concerned that the student might need additional help, so they told a staff member and reported it to their DSL as well. The DSL contacted the DSL at the college, to check they had received the concern. They confirmed they had already spoken with the student and were working to support them.  

Responding to historic or non recent concerns

You may become aware or be told about a concern from an adult relating to an incident which took place in the past, including when they were a child. Historical allegations of abuse should be taken as seriously as contemporary allegations.

Some additional actions to consider.

  • Remember that it's never too late to report abuse. An individual can make a formal complaint to the police about non-recent abuse, ideally in the geographic area in which the abuse is reported to have taken place.
  • Establish if the person alleged to have caused the harm works with children or adults at risk. Try to find out their recent or current whereabouts and any contact they have with children or adults at risk. A referral should be made to social services, with the consent of the person who experienced the abuse if possible.
  • Consider what consent the person has given for information to be shared. How, when and to whom they share this information should usually be with their consent. 
  • Signpost the person who experienced the abuse to relevant support groups that can help them. 
David is DSL at an animal shelter. A new volunteer Alan attended a mandatory safeguarding course for all volunteers. At the end of the course Alan asked to speak with David and said that the training has made him realise that as a child he was abused by a youth worker. At the time he thought it was consensual but now he thinks that he was groomed. David helps Alan contact their local authority social services and to share his experience. 

Supporting those who share a concern with you

Your primary concern should be the best interests of the person who is at risk of harm. However, the person sharing this concern with you may also be distressed by the situation, even if they are reporting on behalf of someone else. Everyone can respond to worries about another differently. If someone has previously experienced trauma they can find it especially upsetting. 

You should:

  • Thank them for bringing this concern to your attention and that they have fulfilled their key responsibility
  • Explain that you will now take responsibility in leading management of this concern and any contact with statutory agencies
  • Highlight that there may be limited updates that you have or can give them on the situation; that does not mean that it was not important for them to share this
  • Remind them of the importance of confidentiality and not sharing this information further
  • Ensure they have your contact details in case they think of anything else they have not yet shared that they think may be relevant
  • Discuss with them what additional support they may require. This may include informing their supervisor that they have dealt with a difficult situation, contacting any employee assistance programme or, if necessary, supporting them to access additional support
  • Consider contacting them later to check in on how they are doing 
Sabrina is a DSL in an organisation which runs an after school club. A volunteer Jo speaks to Sabrina about a child who she suspects is being neglected. She is very worried about the child and started to become quite upset. Jo says she knows what it’s like to be abandoned and that she just wants to get the child and help them herself but knows she can't. Sabrina listens to Jo and tries to reassure her she has fulfilled her responsibility. They talk about what other support Jo can access whilst maintaining the child's confidentiality.  

Next steps

Five things to remember when assessing a safeguarding concern
  • Gather as much information as you can from the person reporting the concern, but don’t delay in assessing or referring the concern if anything is missing. You can always go back and gather additional information later. 
  • If you think a child or adult at risk has been harmed or abused in any way, you must always go to social services or the police.
  • Wherever possible, tell the person concerned what you are going to do, unless you think it unsafe to do so.
  • If at any point you are not sure what to do, always call your local safeguarding team helpline for advice.
  • Record everything. You must record all the information you have, any decisions made, or information shared.  
Page last edited Oct 07, 2019

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