Back in 2008, I was working as a Head of Service for a Local Authority managing multi-agency teams with a variety of other responsibilities to support vulnerable families and children, and in 2020 I am still working to keep families and children safe albeit from a different perspective and employer!
During the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on the current situation we are all in and this led me to think back to 2008 when another worldwide issue had a direct impact on families and children’s lives. Back then, the issue originated in USA and was the collapse of the Lehman Brothers Bank which caused a worldwide financial meltdown and the near collapse of many financial institutions in many countries including the UK. The Northern Rock Building Society collapsed, and the Government had to bail out the RBS bank and many others to the tune of billions of pounds.
The financial collapse had a direct impact on referrals to Children’s Social Care in a very short period of time, we witnessed a significant rise in child protection referrals which was replicated nationally. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) commissioned research into this and identified that the financial crisis has led many families who would not normally be known to agencies to be referred in for help. The financial crisis led to a significant rise in anxiety in family homes as their income was suddenly reduced and homes were at risk due to widescale redundancy at the time. This resulted in an increase in alcohol sales and sadly a steep rise in domestic abuse, the correlation between stress related to financial instability and child/adult abuse was established.
So we are now in 2020 with another world wide threat to our health and wellbeing from Corona Virus. The financial situation is very similar to that of 2008, with many households living on reduced income and the ongoing stress resulting from uncertainty about how long the restrictions will last and what life will look like following lockdown. We have information from the British Retail Federation about the increase in alcohol sales during this period and again we have an increase in domestic abuse being reported by the Police and the domestic abuse charity Refuge. This coupled with families having to socially isolate and some living in cramped conditions for the last 6 weeks has resulted in households where tensions are exacerbated.
So, what’s that got to do with sport you may ask, and I would answer ‘everything’! Karl Marx was once quoted as saying that he would “condemn those that do not learn from history”. From my experience of the 2008 crisis, where we saw an increase of referrals from families generally not known to agencies, sport has to be alert to the possibility that, when children return to their chosen sporting activities, they may disclose some form of abuse that may have been perpetrated by a parent, a friend or someone they met on line, or you may discover, through different sources, of things that may have occurred in households during these stressful times such as from a LADO. A distinct possibility is that a child may disclose abuse by someone you know very well, a coach or a volunteer at your club perhaps. This may shock you and you may find it hard to believe as the person may be a lifelong friend and you could never imagine that they may harm a child, however be warned, we are living in very stressful toxic times and our experiences from 2008 informs us to expect the worst. Schools are preparing for a return to education and Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) will be preparing for an influx of concerns about children, local authority social care teams are also preparing for the potential increase in referrals, it has been reported that nationally that child protection referrals have reduced by 75% during the lock down period, this highlights the importance of agencies such as schools, Police ,public health and the sports community who regularly refer children to children’s social care for support.
Sport must also be prepared to support children on their return. Now is the time for DSO’s and Club Welfare Officers to familiarise themselves with local reporting procedures and know what support is available should it be required, either from NGBs, Active Partnership safeguarding leads or other safeguarding partners. Do you know how to escalate a concern formally if you feel you are not being listened to and also do you know where to access support for yourself!
Mark Spitz; 7-time winner of gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, once said, “if you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail”, so let’s all start thinking beyond lockdown and start preparing for the recommencement of sport so that young people are safeguarded and able to participate safely.
Safeguarding in Sport Lead
NWG Exploitation Response Unit