Safeguarding guidance

At Friends of the Earth we believe that everyone has the right to live free from abuse of any kind, and that everyone should feel safe when participating in group activities. We all have a legal responsibility to do everything we can to keep children and vulnerable adults safe and to report any concerns we have about their welfare.

10 Feb 2021

This guide is to help groups:

  • understand what safeguarding means,
  • ensure that your group takes the necessary steps to keep everyone safe,
  • meet any legal safeguarding requirements, and
  • know what to do if you have a safeguarding concern.

You can view Friends of the Earth’s full internal safeguarding policy for information.

Safeguarding: what is it and what responsibility does my group hold?

Safeguarding means protecting children from maltreatment; preventing impairment of health or development; ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and taking action to enable them to have the best outcomes. It also means protecting the rights of adults to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. Some adults are considered more “at risk” or vulnerable to abuse than others and these groups are protected by law (see section further down on adults at risk for more information).

It is the responsibility of every individual to do what they can to prevent harm to vulnerable groups, and to report any suspicions as soon as possible to the relevant authorities. As a group member or coordinator/organiser you also have a particular role in ensuring that safeguarding best practice is followed within your group.

This guide outlines safeguarding responsibilities relating to children and adults at risk. Your group should have safer spaces and anti-bullying policies and procedures for more general guidance on keeping everyone safe.

If you have any questions regarding this guide, please email safeguarding@foe.co.uk.

What we expect of groups working with Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth expects all groups working with us to take the following steps:

  • Read and acknowledge this safeguarding guide.
  • Seek advice from Friends of the Earth where you have questions about safeguarding.
  • Operate in accordance with this guidance, including following the key prevention behaviours, reporting any safeguarding concerns to Friends of the Earth and informing Friends of the Earth if they plan to do direct work with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Appoint a Safeguarding Lead, especially if they intend to do significant work with children or vulnerable adults at risk.
  • Recognise that failure to follow this guidance could lead to an expulsion from the network.

Reporting a safeguarding concern

If you suspect that a young person or vulnerable adult attending your group meeting or activity is at risk of harm or is the victim of abuse, you must report it as soon as possible.

In the first instance, unless someone is at immediate risk of harm, please report all safeguarding concerns to the Friends of the Earth Safeguarding Team by emailing safeguarding@foe.co.uk. This should be done within 24 hours of the incident or concern being raised. We will then work with you to identify appropriate next steps – including contacting your local authority and/or childline. All safeguarding concerns will be treated seriously.

If someone is at immediate risk please call 999 straight away and then report it to the Friends of the Earth Safeguarding team.

See below for important guidance on behaviour, communication and note-taking if you observe an incident of abuse or someone makes a disclosure of abuse to you.

What constitutes abuse?

[Content warning: links to description of signs and symptoms of different types of abuse]

In order to recognise when to report a safeguarding concern, you need to understand the main types of abuse, and their main signs and symptoms. 

Children tend to be at risk from four main types of abuse:

  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse

Please read this page which provides an outline of different forms of abuse and the signs to look out for in children.

In adults there are ten recognised forms of abuse, including in addition to the above:

  • domestic violence
  • modern day slavery
  • discriminatory abuse
  • financial or material abuse
  • organisational or institutional abuse
  • self-neglect

Please read this page which provides an outline of different forms of abuse and the signs to look out for in adults.

Note that poor mental health and/or self-harm do not come under the legal safeguarding framework. However if you have a concern about an adult or a young person that you come into contact with please contact the Safeguarding Team. If someone is in immediate danger please dial 999.

Key behaviours for prevention

A key element of safeguarding at any activity or event is prevention. To ensure everyone feels safe and risk of harm is minimised, you should always adhere to the following behaviours and practices. If you are ever unsure if a young person is under 18 and you are unable to ask, please act as if they are.

  • Never work alone. Ensure that you are never in an enclosed or isolated space alone with children, young people or adults at risk. Always work in pairs if possible or take your activity into a shared or public space.   
  • Keep roomdoorsopen if possible, especially when working with a young person or adult at risk. 
  • Maintain appropriate boundaries.
    • Physical contact with young people should be of the kind that they can initiate or cease whenever they wish (high fives rather than hugs).
    • Remain fully clothed at all times (the minimum clothing required at Friends of the Earth events is a vest/singlet and shorts). Do not change your clothes in view. 
    • If you need to show a young person to the toilet, remain outside. 
    • Do not single out a young person for special treatment or individual attention. 
    • Do not give a young person gifts or money, even to access transport or buy food at your event.
    • Do not arrange to meet a young person alone outside of the event or activity.
    • Do not offer a young person a lift in a private car. 
  • Do not give out or accept personal contact details from under 18s. This includes “friending” on social media through personal accounts. 
    • If you need to keep in touch with a young person who is connected with Friends of the Earth nationally (for example a participant in one of our youth programmes) please go through a member of the Youth and Families team (contact your regional staff contact in the first instance). 
    • If the young person in question is a local contact and your group has a shared email inbox, use this to keep in touch. 
    • If neither of those approaches is possible please ensure that at least one other adult is cc:ed in to all communications with under 18s. 
    • With adults we do not suggest that you withhold contact details, but if you are concerned about someone’s vulnerability try to adhere to the guidance above (eg. always cc: another group member into any communications with them).  In all cases you should ensure that you are complying with our GDPR guidance.
  • Do not provide alcohol for under 18s. If there are unaccompanied under 18s at your event, it is best practice to make any refreshments alcohol-free. If this is not possible, have a means of clearly identifying under 18s to avoid giving them access to alcoholic drinks (eg. colour wristband system).
  • Do not fundraise from under 18s or adults at risk. Ensure your group only fundraises from over 18s and people who you are sure are donating with full understanding of their actions. 

Group meetings

When planning meetings, please consider the following to prevent any safeguarding concerns from arising:

  • Check whether anyone attending is under 18 or has any other risk factors. You can simply ask about age; you will need to be more sensitive when considering other risk factors. If in doubt it is generally sensible to assume that there are vulnerable people in the room. While not strictly a safeguarding measure, this is also a good time to consider access needs.
  • Set clear ground rules. This should be standard practice anyway, but where more vulnerable people are present it is even more important to ensure that they have space to be heard and are not at risk from bullying or abusive behaviour by other attendees.  Remember that seemingly mild “bad” behaviour (consistent interrupting, for example) can make a new person, particularly if they are young or have other barriers to speaking up, feel at best unwelcome and at worst unsafe. See our guide on setting ground rules and our safer spaces guidance.
  • Appoint a facilitator or chair for your meeting who is confident to implement the ground rules and keep the meeting to time (a younger person may feel less comfortable going home late from a meeting than an adult).
  • Appoint a safeguarding lead within your group. This could be a relatively informal role – someone who looks out for others and makes sure that young or vulnerable people have someone to go to if they need to.
  • Ensure that everyone at the meeting has read and understood this guide, the ground rules and any guidance or procedures that your group has.  Check that they are clear on what to do if they are told or witness anything of concern.

Other events and activities

While we want you to be able to get excited about planning and running creative and impactful events, we also ask that you consider how you keep participants safe. You should:

  • Fill out a risk assessment (use our template) and be sure that everyone is clear what to do if certain incidents occur. If you need to help with this please contact your regional support staff. 
  • Record names, contact info and date of birth of all attendees so you know who is under 18 (in advance if possible). If you’re unsure about someone’s age, act as if they are under 18.
  • Appoint a safeguarding lead (someone from your group) for the event and ensure that attendees know who they are.
  • Ensure members of your group attending the event have read this guide and are familiar with the procedure for recording and reporting concerns, as well as the key behaviours.
  • Write and adhere to clear ground rules. This is good practice at any event regardless of who is coming but if you have more vulnerable individuals in the room it is doubly important to ensure that the space feels safe from bullying, intimidating or otherwise inappropriate behaviour. Follow our guidance as a starting point.
  • If your event is a coalition-run activity or you are attending someone else’s event with young people as part of your group, ensure that the young people know who to come to if they feel unsafe.  Ensure that you remain with them at the event. 
  • If your event is to be primarily or entirely attended by young people or adults at risk see the section below about direct work with children and vulnerable adults.

Note: Friends of the Earth supports lawful campaign activity and we ask all groups to obey the law when planning activities; this is especially important when working with young or vulnerable people. Please keep this in mind when partaking in wider movement events where other groups may share different tactics.

Digital communications

In digital communications, particularly with young people, adherence to the key behaviour guidance above is as important as during face-to-face engagement. In addition you should do the following to ensure young people and vulnerable adults are safe in online spaces you host:

  • When working with under 18s you must gain opt-in permission to use their digital images and be clear about what the images will be used for. This includes photographs, videos or screenshots of online calls. Permission must come from their parent or responsible adult. You can use our template permission form.
  • Avoid private communications with under 18s. This includes social media, and private messaging on platforms such as Whatsapp and within the chat on webinars.
  • If you are hosting a webinar where young people will be present please follow the guidance above for face to face events as closely as possible. Some ways to ensure that young people are safe in your online spaces include:
    1. Making sure your online space is password protected to prevent uninvited participants.
    2. Using appropriate usernames (not offensive and correctly identify attendees by name).
    3. Having a sign-up process to gather basic information about participants in advance, including date of birth to know who is under 18. You can also ask about access needs.
    4. Disabling the private chat function so you can see all communications in the chat box.
    5. Having two hosts, one to keep an eye on participants and another to facilitate.
    6. Dropping into break-out rooms to check how the conversation is going.
    7. Making use of the mute button! Ensure you’re familiar with the host controls so you can facilitate effectively and cut off any harmful behaviour such as consistent use of bad language or sharing of inappropriate content by participants.
    8. Considering a friendly, informal check in with the young participants afterwards.

You might also find our guide on facilitating online meetings useful.

Direct work with children and vulnerable adults

Proactively involving young people and more vulnerable adults in our work is a hugely valuable and rewarding thing. Friends of the Earth can support you to do it effectively and safely with proper advice and guidance. 

This includes if you are:

  • Working in coalition with young activists, for example youth strikers
  • Supporting a Young Friends of the Earth group in your area
  • Welcoming children and young people to participate in your group (anyone under 16 must always be accompanied by a responsible adult)
  • Working in schools or colleges
  • Organising a project or event outside of the above that is specifically targeting young people or vulnerable adults.

If your group plans to work directly and/or extensively with young people, your group’s Safeguarding Lead should get in touch at safeguarding@foe.co.uk.

We will ask that they carry out a risk assessment which will be reviewed by the Friends of the Earth Designated Safeguarding Lead for sign off. We may also recommend that group members involved in such activity get a DBS (Disclosure Baring Service) Check, and our Youth and Families Team will provide some guidance for working with children.

More info: Adults at risk

An adult might be considered at risk if they are aged 18 years or over and: 

  • have needs for care and support (whether or not the local council is meeting any of those needs) and; 
  • are experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect; and 
  • as a result of those care and support needs are unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect. 

An adult at risk may be a person who: 

  • Is elderly and frail due to ill health 
  • Has a learning disability 
  • Has a physical disability and/or a sensory impairment 
  • Has mental health needs including dementia or personality disorder 
  • Has a long -term illness /or condition 
  • Misuses substances or alcohol 
  • Is unable to make their own decisions and is in need of care and support 
  • Is a young adult, over the age of 18, who has care and support needs and is 'in transition' from children to adults services 
  • Is a carer (looking after another person with care and support needs) 

This list is not exhaustive, other people might also be at risk. If you are in doubt as to whether an adult should be considered at risk, please record your concerns and contact safeguarding@foe.co.uk at the earliest opportunity. If anyone at your event or activity is at immediate risk of harm dial 999. 

More info: Guidance on recording abuse

A safeguarding concern could come to your attention via a variety of means. You might observe something, someone might disclose an allegation of abuse about themselves or someone else, or someone might report something to you that they have seen or suspected. In all scenarios it is vitally important to keep a cool head, keep your communication compassionate, objective and honest, and record as much factual information about what has happened as you can. You should not in any circumstance tell someone that you will keep a disclosure a secret, as you have a legal obligation to report any concerns that you have. 

The following guidance will help you to engage and record appropriately if a concern comes to your attention.

  1. Be a reassuring presence.

One of the most important steps you can take to help children or vulnerable people is to reassure them that they are safe and that they have done the right thing. If you are panicking or appear alarmed, they will be too. Make sure your behaviour mirrors your words.

  • Be truthful – never tell a lie to make someone feel better.
  • Frame it positively – use constructive, positive, peaceful language.
  • Be consistent
  • Be compassionate – use appropriate tone of voice and body language.
  • Explain – keep them informed of positive developments so they have ownership over their part in the situation.
  • Offer a drink of water or juice (no food unless they are with you for an extended period of time).
  • Do not have physical contact – regardless of whether it seems appropriate or not, it is best to refrain from physical contact to maintain a professional boundary. This is especially important as you may not know the extent of a person's vulnerability, and to maintain a bond of trust your behaviours must be completely professional.
  • Work as a pair with another member of your group or trusted adult.
  • Support but don’t give advice.
  • Avoid commenting on what they have told you. Reporting or disclosing abuse can generate a mix of emotional responses and your reactions may be unwelcome or inappropriate.

Some examples of reassuring things to say include: “You've done the right thing by asking us for help, we are going to make sure you get the help you need”.  “If you wait here with us you will be safe until more help arrives” or “This is a safe place to wait until more help arrives”. 

  1. Recording and reporting

You may need to record an incident that you have observed or that someone else has reported or note down a disclosure prior to notifying Friends of the Earth’s Safeguarding Team. Always follow these guidelines to ensure that your information is as accurate as possible, and you are supporting the person appropriately.

  • Never promise that you will keep it a secret. Ensure you inform anyone about to give you information that you will share it with the relevant people to ensure the safety of everybody involved.  If this means that they then do not tell you something, you must accept this. Please record the incident anyway and report it to Friends of the Earth.
  • Listen attentively, and if you are unsure about any details someone is telling you, ask for clarification (without making suggestions). For example, you may say “please could you repeat that last bit” or “what do you mean by that?”. You should NOT say “so, you mean that such and such happened?” because that is suggesting your version, and not listening to their facts.
  • Listen and record in chunks, rather than trying to listen to the whole lot and then writing everything down once the individual has gone. If another group member or trusted adult is there with you, it may be easier for one of you to talk and one of you to keep notes.
  • If applicable, repeat the record you’ve taken back so the person giving the information can check the accuracy.

Key information to record:

  • The date, time and location your notes were taken.
  • Make sure you record the identity of the person supplying the information, or the identity/description of the subject of your observations.
  • Record the name and contact details if possible of anyone else present during the record taking.
  • Record as much factual information about the incident, report or concern as possible.  Take care to only record what is said or what is observed – do not draw conclusions or include your opinions in your report.
  • Record any action that you took as a result of the report or observation.
General resources