Working to Safeguard the Vulnerable in Sport

There have been many high-profile historical child abuse convictions highlighted in the media recently. But what was shocking to read was that these high-profile cases appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. Last December, Offside Trust, an organisation established in 2016 “by survivors for survivors”, revealed that at least eighty coaches have been convicted in the last two years for child sexual abuse. What is even more shocking is that almost 50% of these crimes against children have been committed since 2006 and more than 33% have taken place since 2013.

These facts from Offside Trust, compiled from media accounts as no official data is available, highlight the real and present danger that our children still face today from abusers. Further, Offside Trust believe that these figures probably do not portray the whole picture and that the real number is probably much higher. So, what are we doing to safeguard our children from these abusers?

Firstly, we should all be aware what is meant by child abuse. According to the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), a partnership between the NSPCC, Sport England, Sport Northern Ireland and Sport Wales, “Child abuse is any form of physical, emotional or sexual mistreatment or lack of care that leads to injury or harm”. If we are aware, we can be vigilant and help safeguard children by speaking out about abuse to the NSPCC, or to the sport club in question’s child-protection officer or even the police if a child is in imminent danger.

As a parent, the CPSU stress that “you have the right and responsibility to make sure your child is attending a safe club and that the environment they’re in is enjoyable, enabling them to develop to the best of their ability”. In fact, they believe that parents should be closely involved in their children’s sporting development and have an annual campaign called Parents in Sport Week. This campaign, set to run 7-13 October 2019, is to encourage parents to sign-up and make a 3-point Sports Parents Promise to their children regarding their safety and enjoyment of their chosen sport.

As a sports club owner it is important that staff are appropriately trained in safeguarding and this should include independent instructors. Speaking at the 2018 Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) Conference, Jude Toasland, Senior Safeguarding Trainer/Consultant, NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit said, “There have been a number of high profile stories in the press about abuse in sport yet such cases represent only one side of the spectrum of my work. Most of the concerns my unit deals with sit on the other side of the spectrum and include issues such as bullying among young people and missing children in leisure centres.”

During the same session at the conference, CIMSPA’s Head of Education, Colin Huffen, added, “Can we honestly say that everyone understands what they need to do in relation to safeguarding? It’s essential, therefore, that everyone is trained to recognise signs and symptoms and be able to challenge poor practice.

Huffen continued to reveal that CIMSPA, the CPSU and UK Coaching were working together to develop three types of professional standards related to people’s differing roles with regards to safeguarding children which were subsequently launched in June 2018.

The aim is to ensure everyone is appropriately trained, specialist training specific to the role is available, all training is appropriate and approved by people with the correct expertise and, finally, that training is transferable to reduce duplication.Safeguarding and duty of care - the new realities, CIMPSA.

One of the other major challenges with serial abusers is their ability to move around with impunity. When the fear of discovery in one sport/location is too great there has always been the option to simply move on and start afresh elsewhere.

That door of opportunity has now, thankfully, been slammed shut by tahdah. Awarding Bodies, as well as organisations such as CIMSPA, using the tahdah membership management platform also benefit from its verification and safeguarding capabilities to ensure the protection and safety of the vulnerable. To read more about tahdah and how we provide safeguarding in sport, please click the link.

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