Why, oh why the safeguarder?

Date: 13th April 2016

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By Donald C Stewart

Before I left Ayr United Football Academy I was the Safeguarder and the go to guy for anything dodgy. Not that I was known for giving out anything corruptible but that I was the person to whom queries about people were directed. My 30 years of working in education with “difficult weans” meant people thought I knew what I was talking about. Post Dunblane having “a person” to whom you could refer issues like child and adult protection became the norm – as it should.

As a role it is vitally important as you need to get your SFA registration and they need you to have “a person”. For some clubs, I have little doubt, this shall be an administrative burden which is seen as “a good thing”. Due to the SFA having employed a child protection manager, it is now also “a vital thing”.

I was both the safeguarder for the Academy and for the Club and I can fortunately count on the number of one hand how many times I was asked by the club to get involved in under 18 disputes. Issues of child protection though were more prevalent in the Academy.

That is not to say we had a scandal or two or that we had recruited a number of paedophiles, no, it was because the type of issues with which we were concerned increased as coaches and volunteers became more able to spot, early, the types of problems that were on their way to becoming crises. We had very few but of those we can safely say we dealt with them as best we could; the key was that we had tuned in people who wanted to help.

In England, the FA have produced a short film to help widen the understanding and acceptance of safeguarding, including and especially how the footballing community can do good for their community.

The reasons behind having standards and rules in place were not just because of Dunblane but if there is ever an event after which we should be safeguarding our kids better, then no country has a better one than us.

I still get people who feel that football is the wrong place for such activity and gatekeeping. There are two main reasons why we are best placed to help our young people. The first is to do with the law, and in a recent interview the FA’s Head of equality and safeguarding for The FA, Sue Ravenlaw, explained, “The law, not football, governs who can and can’t have a criminal records check and simply playing, whilst that might bring quite a lot of celebrity for some, isn’t a role that we can legally criminal records check.

“If someone is that wider role where there is a position of influence and trust, such as coaching, managing or being a medic, then we must criminal records check those roles but simply playing doesn’t mean that we do.

“Unfortunately there a still people that slip through the net and don’t respect clear boundaries hen working with children and young people. We’ve seen the devastating effects of celebrities across many walks of life who have abused their position of power and influence, that the celebrity status gives them.

“We all have duty to learn from these instances and cases whether they’re in sport or not, take those lessons and improve the environments that we have.”

The second reason is down to the value that coaches bring to the lives of our young people. They are best placed to see them in an unfettered and free atmosphere – when they are enjoying themselves and natural with their peers. Any issues that may be below the surface shall become obvious and we see those issues as possibly leading to bigger problems. The opportunity to be the person who steps in and says no for a young person can be as daunting as it is fulfilling.

Every terrace the length and breadth of Scotland will have social workers, teachers, lawyers, children’s rights workers and youth workers as well as psychologists, doctors, nurses and parents who could lend a hand. The safeguarder needs to be impartial but have a firm grasp on what they are supposed to do. The SFA, amongst many others, offer training that could get you up to speed on the legislation and format as well as what is best practice. It could help us all by ensuring clubs with thousands of young people attached become a safe haven for our young people. A simple alliance between Terracing Tam and Director Dave could help us all out – wonder if it shall ever come to pass…


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