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Talking about safeguarding

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Why does language matter?

You might have noticed when reading about safeguarding or chatting with colleagues that there are lots of terms which can seem confused or overlapping. Safeguarding terminology has evolved over time. Some safeguarding language is outdated but still used by some people. Other language is used for slightly different things in different settings. It is hard to find a clear and current glossary of terms

You will want to move to the most up to date language but also know what other people mean when they use older terms, or terms that are specific to their context.

We all need to get language right for a number of reasons:

  • We want to make it clear that safeguarding encompasses all individuals and step away from old beliefs that it only covers children
  • We want to make sure that when we are having a discussion we’re all considering the same thing
  • We want to make sure we never use victim-blaming language which implies that a child, young person or adult at risk may be at fault
  • We only want to use legal terms when we need to for legal reasons
A trustee referred to a section of their board meeting as 'the child protection bit'. One of their colleagues corrected them and said 'no, it’s the safeguarding bit, don’t forget we’ve been talking about the fact that some of the parents we work with need safeguarding too'. Later in the meeting, the designated safeguarding lead mentioned an ongoing case where they had attended a child protection conference with the local authority, and reminded the trustees that that is the name used for discussions where the local authority is making decisions about whether there needs to be an intervention to keep a child safe.
In a meeting, colleagues were discussing how information about an external case that had been through the courts should be used for internal learning. The court recorded the crime as it is in law 'sexual activity with a child'. It was decided that for learning internally the phrase used should be 'the child has been sexually abused' so that the weight of responsibility was clearer.
  • To check the current meaning of a term, use our browsable glossary of safeguarding terms.
  • To see more examples of how language can cause problems, or be carefully used to avoid problems use this Language Toolkit (pdf from Safeguarding Children in Stockport)
Page last edited Jun 22, 2021

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