Safeguarding children in sport as lockdown eases
As the government, again, begins the gradual task of loosening restrictions, sports are understandably keen to start returning to face-to-face activities.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent lockdown had put a stop to active participation in sport for several months in the UK. As things resume however, restrictions, rules and practical guidance still govern these activities and must be accommodated by individuals, clubs and organisations seeking to bring more people together for sports activities of any kind.
Government guidance for sport
DCMS has released guidance for England on the re-introduction of some elements of sports activity at both elite and community level. Sports organisations and clubs should familiarise themselves and comply with this guidance.
Addressing the ongoing coronavirus risk will require an approach that will no doubt further stretch resources at delivery level. There are practical measures to put in place to limit the potential transmission of the virus:
- cleaning equipment
- not sharing equipment
- using personal protective equipment (PPE)
- social distancing
- restricting group sizes
These measures will put additional strain on those organising and delivering the activity, potentially with a reduced workforce due to people still needing to self-isolate.
What sports organisations need to do
Whilst following the government guidance on restarting sport during coronavirus, organisations should:
- not compromise on safeguarding practice to meet coronavirus measures
- postpone any planned activity until it can be provided safely, both in terms of coronavirus measures and safeguarding
- continue to risk assess safeguarding practice in your activity as before
- make sure all adults working with children are assessed for their suitability
- make sure all staff and volunteers maintain some level of safeguarding training and continue to refresh their safeguarding knowledge
It’s important for sports organisations to remember that parents and young people have a right to expect that children’s safeguarding and wellbeing is not compromised by the desire to restart activities.
Additional safeguarding considerations for coaches
Many children and young people have been apart from friends and away from any sort of social interaction for a long period of time. As they start to attend sports activities again, it is understandable that there may be some nerves and anxieties about returning.
Here are some additional safeguarding considerations to take into account as sport and activity begin to operate again and children return to play:
- regularly review and put all practical coronavirus safety arrangements in place and communicate these clearly to children and parents prior to reopening
- reassure children and parents and be clear on everyone’s responsibilities
- listen to what children and young people may be saying or showing – be receptive, patient, if necessary make time outside the activity
- be alert to possible disclosures and indicators of harm that occurred during lockdown
- be extra vigilant and aware of your reporting responsibilities and routes
- clubs may have children or staff members who have lost family or friends to coronavirus – be sensitive and supportive for bereaved individuals
- understand that many children, parents and carers will still be very anxious and afraid of existing risks (including returning to club activities)
- be aware of the impact of extended periods of social isolation on children and young people – disabled young people are more likely to have been identified as particularly virus-vulnerable and therefore isolated to a higher degree and for longer
- ensure continued communication with all members – whether they return to play or not
- understand the limitations of face masks for those who rely on lip reading or non verbal facial expressions. Try to safely accommodate these needs
Maintaining safeguarding standards and practice
It is absolutely vital that, in their enthusiasm to restart some face-to-face activities for young people, organisers do not ignore, abandon or otherwise dilute established practices, rules and regulations designed to safeguard children and provide the safest environment possible.
For example, in ‘normal’ times, most sports would carry out an effective assessment of the suitability of any adults working with children. In safeguarding terms, it is difficult to understand or justify why in the current circumstances, this protection would or should be reduced. For example, subjecting supervising individuals to much less, or even no screening arrangements simply in order to meet established supervision ratios.
As well as the everyday challenges that come with a pandemic, social distancing and self-isolation, the Coronavirus emergency has also given rise to important adult safeguarding considerations. Some people, particularly those that have care and support needs, are socially isolated, or live in residential/supported living environments, attending their local sports club/group and socialising with other members may be the only social outlet they have. They will undoubtedly be missing the contact and the social, physical and mental wellbeing benefits they are used to getting from their clubs and groups.