Saturday, 3 March 2012

False Accusations; Safeguarding young people and staff


Does the system protect the vunrable?

This is a big issue and working in the school enviroment and youth club enviroment has made me very aware of possible situations. Especially as my job is to talk about sex and relationships. This can be a very sensitive subject and needs to be responded to as such A good policy is essential.

When I read this BBC article I was alternatively annoyed, worried, relieved and concerned. Most of all it highlighted the importance of a robust useable safeguarding policy.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-16927479#story_continues_2

Most accusations against teachers in Wales are dropped

I was annoyed that teachers are getting their careers ruined by false accusation. Rex Phillips, from NASUWT is quoted in the BBC article as saying.

"It's every teacher's worst nightmare to have a false allegation made against them. Their reputation is damaged and they often find it hard to go back to work, even though they've been completely exonerated.

"We just want teachers to be treated fairly. Once an allegation is made, a teacher is often suspended immediately without even a bit of consideration given to if it can be true or not.

"There's no 'innocent until proven guilty'."

The final sentance hits home for me. My personal sense of justice struggles with the Child Protection norm of "Guilty untill proven innocent". It just doesn't feel right. Yet another way to phrase this is "dangerous untill proven safe". This phrase neatly sums up the rationale behind CRB checks. Treat people as a possible threat untill you know they are safe. I imagine we would have no trouble advising young people to treat a strange dog like this or from working as a first aid instructor I can tell you we teach people to have this suspicious attitude to situation. So maybe this mind sense makes sense but it still feels odd when applied with legal situations. It may be a sad necessary evil of keeping the vulnerable safe.

I was worried by this article because it did awake that personal fear. "What if I had a false alligation made about me?" I think this is a perfectly normal reaction that many teachers and youth workers face. Not only is this fear about what will people think of me but also I love my job and it would be horrible to loose all that on a false accusation.

But I was relieved that this article shows that false malicious accusation are identified. Key to this process must be the school or youth group having a good policy in place. Having accountability and having written records is a primary defence and Why at youth clubs and in schools we always have two staff in each room. I or my staff should never be in a room alone with a young person. Firstly to make sure the young people are safe but also to keep everything witnessed. This reduces any chance of false accusations. I suspect that for some cases of false accusations Safeguarding standards might have slipped. This created the opportunity for the false claim.

In my experience the best way to first respond to a young person making any complaint or expressing a concern is treat them seriously. If it is a real worry they are gratefull it is being treated seriously. If it was a sort of half hearted joke/wind up they back down seeing I am taking it serious. This method has served me well in a number of incidents. Yet it is not a defence against a malicious false claim. These claims are dealt with by maintaining high standards in safeguarding and keeping good records.

Finally, like Keith Towler the Children's Commissioner for Wales, I am concerned stories like this might make it harder for young people to raise concerns. Keith says

"We must not do anything that might undermine the child's right to be heard or deter children with genuine complaints from coming forward."

I especially resonate with the idea of not detering young people from raising concerns. Thousands of young people stay silent about abuse they are suffering. We must not let anything increase this number.

Overall I fell that whilst it is bad/sad that false accusations can happen, it is better then any system which makes it harder for young people to report a crime.