Protecting Children And Young People In Football – The FA's Safeguarding Policies


The Law Of… Raising Awareness Of Safeguarding

As the regulatory body for amateur and professional football, the Football Association (the FA), has a designated department that oversees all aspects of the game, including safeguarding children and adults.

Gregg Burrough, Solicitor in Education Law and Community Care, takes a look at what processes the FA has in place and what factors it considers when risk-assessing someone's suitability to work in football.

What Is Safeguarding?

Safeguarding refers to the different actions taken to protect the welfare of children and young people and prevent them from experiencing any harm.

This includes making sure children and young people are:

  • Kept safe from abuse and maltreatment
  • Not at risk of any harm to their health or development
  • Able to grow up with effective care
  • Given the chance to have the best outcomes

Why Is Safeguarding So Important?

Organisations that come into contact with children, or work with them in any capacity, must have safeguarding policies to ensure their wellbeing and safety. These policies also protect children from adults or other individuals who might present a risk to them.

The FA's Safeguarding Policies

The FA has detailed safeguarding policies and procedures for children’s grassroots football and comprehensive affiliated football safeguarding policies and procedures that include:

  • Safeguarding and protecting children and young people
  • Reporting poor practice and abuse
  • Recruitment of staff and volunteers
  • Whistle-blowing
  • Confidentiality
  • Health and safety
  • Anti-bullying
  • Equality
  • Codes of conduct (ethics)
  • Complaints

The affiliated football safeguarding document is signed by seven organisations including the Football Association, the Premier League, the Football League, the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers' Association.

Safeguarding is outlined as a three-part process in the policy for ensuring the safety of children in football. It involves:

  1. Involving the right people, including seeking references and conducting criminal checks
  2. Raising awareness of what safeguarding is and why it's crucial
  3. Dealing with concerns – for example, how to respond to allegations, problems and disclosure

All leagues and clubs are required to have recruitment procedures in place for all staff and volunteers, especially for those working with children.

The FA has also stated that clubs and leagues should have:

  • The right processes in place for shortlisting and interviewing candidates who are appropriate for a certain role
  • Recruitment checks that are in line with legislation
  • Two references (which must be provided before any offer of appointment) and criminal records checks

How To Create A Safe Environment

Keen on promoting a positive, safe environment for children and young people, the FA offers advice to all clubs and leagues on achieving this. This involves:

Communicating effectively with children and young people

  • Maintaining best practice consistently for physical and health care
  • Respecting different cultures and broadening their understanding of them
  • Building strong relationships with parents and carers, and involving them in events/activities
  • Looking out for any changes in mood, behaviour and appearance and raising concerns with families, carers or a Welfare Officer
  • Recognising that children and young people with disabilities are even more vulnerable and greater care must be taken to protect them

The FA also recognises that part of keeping children and young people safe involves educating and empowering them, as well as listening to their feedback and suggestions.

The FA's Referral Process

It is important to understand the process that is followed once the FA's safeguarding team receives a safeguarding referral.

Once the team receives a referral, a designated safeguarding officer will carry out an initial assessment of risk in accordance with their safeguarding policies.

The assessment will categorise the referral as a low, medium or high risk referral:

  • A low risk in the professional game is referred to the professional club’s designated safeguarding officer.
  • A medium risk is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In the professional game, it may be that the referral is made to the professional club’s safeguarding officer, in the same way as a low risk referral would be accepted by the FA’s safeguarding team.
  • A high risk referral will often, but not always, lead to a suspension without prejudice pending the outcome of a risk assessment to determine the suitability of the person to work in football. This risk assessment is often detailed, and a right of appeal is also available to the participant. The assessment is submitted to the Independent Safeguarding Panel, which will then make a final recommendation after seeing comprehensive evidence as well as looking at mitigating and aggravating factors.

If the referral is regarding a person in the professional game, the safeguarding team will liaise directly with the person and communicate regularly with them as well as the club's designated safeguarding officer.

How Do Schools And Other Organisations Approach Safeguarding?

The Department for Education has statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children and young people.

The guidance places a responsibility on all staff to create a safe learning environment for every child and have an understanding of the types of safeguarding issues that could affect them, such as:

It also explains the importance of staff being aware of the safeguarding policies and measures in place in their school or college, as well as them receiving regular child protection training.

What Does The Guidance Say About Safeguarding Children With SEND?

There can often be additional safeguarding issues that need to be considered for children or young people with SEND.

The guidance recommends that governing bodies should have child protection policies that take into account other barriers that they could come across when recognising abuse or neglect in vulnerable children.

This could include:

  • Assumptions that potential signs of abuse such as behaviour, mood and injury, might relate to the child or young person's disability, without further exploration
  • The potential for children with SEND being disproportionately affected by bullying, without showing any signs outwardly
  • Communication barriers and the challenges involved in overcoming them

Gregg explains how these policies are key to keeping the most vulnerable safe:

"When it comes to working with children or young people in any capacity, it's vital to follow safeguarding policies and processes and promote their best interests."

"The more that these policies are enforced and participants and their families understand the purpose of them, the greater the chance of preventing anything from occurring that could put the safety of a child or young person at risk." 

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