Youth workers working with children and young people often feel overwhelmed already. There is so much need in our African communities, whether urban or rural. There is so much deficit in the education that girls receive in many schools, so much they need to learn to prepare for good jobs and futures, and so many daily problems that they need support to address. With so many concerns and so much work, it’s important that we can explain confidently to youth workers that safeguarding policies are there to protect them, and the work they value so highly, not to police them. 

Youth workers can feel threatened by safeguarding policies

We saw that they felt that new safeguarding policies were: 

  • An extra burden, demanding more of their time 
  • A criticism of the work they were doing, and the threat of ‘being caught’ or accused of abuses
  • Going to lead to young people making more claims against them, and falsely accusing them

Building policies together 

To address all of the issues above, it is important to engage your team at the beginning of this process, so they can see that these policies are not there to make their lives more difficult but to protect them. 

  • Help them to identify the deficits in your current policies – are there incidents that went unnoticed? Or risks that only a few people in the team are aware of, so no one else is addressing them?
  • Have there been incidents they didn’t know how to deal with or concerns about whether they had a responsibility towards a girl in a dangerous situation or not? Did this stress them? How much time did this take? What were they worried about at this time?
  • Are they committed to protecting the young women and girls they work with? What wouldn’t they do to achieve this better and with greater confidence?

Seeing the benefit

If we look at the points above, we can see that these policies protect our team, as well as the women and girls we serve: 

  • We can do our work to serve and empower women and girls better and more effectively if our team and organisation are aware of the risks they face, and we can take swift action to address them
  • It saves youth workers time and worries if they know who is responsible for safeguarding, who to report incidents to, what their own responsibilities are, and what help and support is available in these situations 
  • Safeguarding policies protect staff from false accusations, by identifying and mitigating risks. If your youth club has a policy that youth workers cannot be alone with under 18s either outside of the youth club or in enclosed spaces in the youth club, and you stick to these rules, you cannot be accused of abusing a young woman or girl – someone else would have seen it if you had. You will also be much more aware of whether or not staff and volunteers are a risk to children, and prevent many things from happening. 

Reflection Questions

  • Can you think of a safeguarding incident in your organisation? What stress did it cause youth workers and other staff? 
    • Did you have processes at this time? 
    • Do you think having good processes would have reduced the amount of stress caused to youth workers?
  • Has a staff member ever been accused of committing abuse in your organisation?
    • Did you have processes at this time? 
    • Did you know how to address the problem? Did it lead to division between staff on the best approach to take?
    • Do you think having good processes (i.e. a clear idea of what to do in this circumstance) would have reduced the amount of stress?

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