Youth sector calls for strengthening of safeguarding leadership role

The role of Designated Safeguarding Officers (DSLs) in youth organizations needs to be strengthened and supported through improved training and support, according to youth sector organizations.

LSDs are appointed by voluntary and statutory youth organizations to advocate for safeguarding. They are also the main point of contact for other agencies when child protection referrals are made.

According to a report by the National Youth Agency and involving the NSPCC, UK Youth and London Youth, the role of DSL “has become more complex and difficult than ever” and needs to be overhauled.

The report, Keeping young people in sight, asserts that LSDs are unable to “fulfill their role effectively” due to a lack of support to cope with “ever increasing expectations, responsibilities and knowledge”.

Growing mental health issues among young people, online mischief, disclosure of abuse, preventing radicalization, and managing risk around offenders are among the wide array of day-to-day issues that LSDs face, with few support and gaps in their training.

About half of DSLs have no verified backup training qualifications and, when offered, it is sketchy, the NYA report adds.

“Interviews with the DSLs highlighted the wide variety of training available and although most of the DSLs who attended the training found it relevant, they also said it was basic and assumed that most of the training was the same. Very few have had training related to adult protection, ”their report indicates.

He adds that “the continued support and supervision” of LSDs is “weak and inconsistent, with only half of the feeling that they received the frequency of job-based supervisory support they needed.”

Only a quarter said they had benefited from reflective supervision regarding their safeguarding work.

LSDs are “the keystone” of the work of youth organizations to ensure the safety of people and are “the internal champion of protection who sets the direction of action and will provide support to those who have been injured”, indicates their report.

“They are an essential part of the team to ensure that young people facing abuse, neglect and exploitation are kept in sight. However, without the right support for DSL, protection systems are weakened, ”he adds.

The report calls for detailed regulation around the role, which is currently without a formal set of specific expectations and responsibilities.

One of the recommendations is that LSDs should also be seen as a “position of trust” in law. They should also be offered full legal protection if they report in the public interest.

The development of a national framework of professional standards for LSDs is also requested, in order to facilitate their training and compare their skills.

Meanwhile, separate research found that 97 percent of sexual exploitation of children references to the charity Catch22 have an element online or on social media.

The research, funded by the Violence Reduction Unit in London, also found that two-thirds of young people had seen violent or explicit content online during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The recommendations include safeguarding the rights of children to learn, play and be informed when they are online. This goal is “too often absent from discussions of online safety,” the research says.

In addition, teachers and protection officials need increased access to resources to tackle harm online and social media companies need to be “held accountable for inaction”.

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