Working with children comes with the possibility that an allegation can be made against you by a child or an adult. Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 tells us that the child’s welfare is paramount. All allegations of abuse of children against anyone working with children must be taken seriously and considered within the four categories of abuse physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect.
You will know about the harms threshold, sometimes known as the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) threshold, which triggers a referral to the LADO, when an allegation or concern is raised against someone who works with children either in a paid or voluntary capacity. Recently we have been managing an increase in allegations under the fourth part of the harms threshold which relates to a member of staff or a volunteer:
- Behaving in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children (this is in relation to the alleged harm taking place outside of school, which may make the subject unsuitable to work with children and this is sometimes also known as transferable risk).
- Some examples are, they are a perpetrator of domestic abuse and/or their children are subject to child protection procedures, they are having (or had) a sexual relationship with a child under 18 if in a position of trust in respect of that child, even if consensual or grooming a child.
- Grooming can relate to the commission of a relevant offence under Section 15 Sexual Offences Act 2003) or other grooming behaviour that may give rise to concerns of a broader child protection nature e.g. inappropriate text messages or images, gifts and possession of indecent images of children.
The Difference between an Allegation and a Concern
It is not always clear whether an incident has led to an allegation. For it to be an allegation it has to be sufficiently serious and meet the ‘harms threshold’. It is important that the LADO is consulted to allow for concerns to be evaluated objectively. The LADO will only record those allegations which appear to meet the threshold, but it is for schools or colleges, as employers, to record the details of any low-level concern. The LADO will record the number of consultations that are determined to be low-level by the employer and this information will be included in their annual report to the LSCP. Statutory guidance is clear that references should only include safeguarding allegations that meet the ‘harms threshold’ and that low-level concerns should not be included, unless they relate to matters such as misconduct or poor performance. If there is a pattern of low-level concerns that meet the ‘harms threshold’, and found to be substantiated, they should be referred to in a reference.
Learning from Allegations
For the first time, KCSIE asks us to review the circumstances of unsubstantiated allegations (as well as unfounded, false, malicious or substantiated allegations) to determine whether there are any improvements that can be made to school or college procedures. This is so that we prevent future allegations from being made. Your low-level concerns policy should be part of the staff code of conduct.
Top Tips for Best Safeguarding Practice
Aways remember that the child’s welfare is paramount and to share any concerns with your headteacher or designated safeguarding lead, however insignificant they may seem or low-level.
Find out about your own setting’s process in respect of allegations against staff. It will be based upon Part 4 of KCSIE 2022, but do check your internal procedures to ensure you know the process well and are aware of whom you should report any concerns or allegations.
Remember that the definition of harm in statutory guidance includes the notion that a child can be harmed if someone fails to act.
Ensure you are clear about what appropriate behaviour is.
Read the Staff Code of Conduct regularly, this will help staff with their confidence in knowing the difference between expected and appropriate behaviour, from inappropriate, problematic or concerning behaviour, both in themselves or others.
Senior leaders should empower staff to share low-level concerns – communicating safeguarding responsibilities, sharing information, asking for their input, encouraging decision making and thinking of new ways of doing things, feeling they can make a difference and feeling valued.
Unprofessional behaviour should be addressed at an early stage and this includes supporting the individual to correct the behaviour.
Low-level concerns and allegations should be responded to sensitively and proportionately and shared confidentially.
After any allegation or low-level concern, ensure there is a process for reviewing to help identify any weakness in the school or college safeguarding systems.
If it is difficult to determine the level of risk associated with an incident the following should be considered:
- Was the incident a disproportionate or inappropriate response in the context of a challenging situation?
- Where the incident involved an inappropriate response to challenging behaviour, had the member of staff had training in managing this?
- Does the member of staff understand that their behaviour was inappropriate and express a wish to behave differently in the future? For example, are they willing to undergo training?
- Does the child or family want to report the incident to the police or would they prefer the matter to be dealt with by the employer?
- Have similar allegations been made against the employee – is there a pattern developing?
Incidents which fall short of the threshold could include an accusation that is made second or third hand and the facts are not clear, or the member of staff alleged to have done this was not there at the time; or there is confusion about the account.
Where it is decided that the incident does not meet the threshold of harm/risk of harm and is a concern only, then the employer should take steps to ensure any conduct or behaviour issues are addressed with the member of staff through normal employment practices.