The Fundamentals of Managing RISK with Children and Vulnerable Persons in Sport
An area that we are very passionate and knowledgeable about at Best Practice Investigations is the assessing and managing of risk for children and vulnerable persons. This exposure to risk is evident in all areas of life – be it schooling, work life, socially, family life and in SPORT. We promote that there are some standard rules that if followed and adhered to, should assist in significantly reducing and managing the risk. We have also championed that the principles which we promote are what we bought into from our policing background in the UK – but they would be equally useful and productive to other countries.
Our expertise has allowed us the opportunity to promote our skills and knowledge in both the public and private sector, from as diverse an area as sports clubs to support centres, through to the BBC.
Children are a major contributor to the figures around participation in all sports. This will ultimately place them in a variety of sporting arenas, with a variety of peers, coaches, family members and other persons. This introduces areas of risk to these persons in regards to abuse, whether physical, psychological or sexual.
Our risk group
So our risk group that we concentrate on are primarily children as well as vulnerable persons. That is not to say that the principles of what we do cannot be transferred to other individuals and groups.
Across the globe there are different definitions of exactly what a child is, but the commonly accepted rule is that it applies to a person under the age of 18.
The key areas to manage Risk within the sporting arena
We promote that Risk is dealt with when it is identified, assessed and managed.
These key areas are promoted to the police, local authorities, partner agencies, local clubs and schools.
We promote a robust background checking of employees, volunteers and other persons who by the nature of their role will come in to contact with our risk group within the sporting arena. This is a vital area of the process which we will deal with in a follow up article.
Identify, Assess, Manage – As stated previously this is the fundamental means to minimise risk to a subject.
If an area of risk is identified, for example a parent highlights suspicious bruising to a child’s arm and alleges that the coach was responsible, who does what?
The concern we have when we deal with clients in this area, is that often there is no clear directive, and no clear answer to this question. The majority would appear to tackle the problem with ‘kid gloves’ whereas we would promote that it requires a positive, swift and robust approach. The ‘kid glove’ approach would often be to inform the local police of the matter, and consider that is their role complete. Whilst procedurally this would be absolutely correct to inform the local police, it invariably will not result in any direct action and that should be the first step, but the first of several, not the first and last.
The first area is to engage, this should be an engagement with the individual concerned, their family, their peers. This engagement will be a great reassurance to the child and their family, and encouragement that their ‘issue’ is being dealt with properly.
The next step should be a proactive plan to address the issue. As previously stated, reporting to the local police would be a part of this but should not be followed by an attitude that the situation is therefore dealt with and no further RISK management is required. As RISK consultants this is where we would always encourage a client to engage our services. This may involve an internal investigation – liaising with the local police if they have an ongoing investigation to ensure there is no conflict.
The procedure that we would bring to an organisation, club or business is to document. This may sound very basic, however we so frequently see a situation where a client will state, “Oh yes, we always do that”, or “yes we spoke to the individual and they told us this and this.” Our next question will always be, “Okay, where is that written down?” Frustratingly often the reply will be that it was not written down, it was not signed and it was not dated. A fundamental area of police teaching that is drummed into police recruits from the outset is that “if it is not written down then effectively it never happened.” We bring that ethos with us as a company. We continually state that if a matter is discussed, it should be written down and where appropriate signed, dated, and counter signed. This was never more apparent than when we were seconded to the BBC on a contract in relation to the Jimmy Saville investigation. It was very apparent over the years that management decisions, awareness, and actions were simply not documented at all. We brought in a recording system for dealing with witnesses and victims whilst in the role where documenting was at the forefront so that the information was accessible. Our view is that there is no difference in this area between a worldwide media organisation and a local sports club.
A further area that we promote and is a fundamental part of the process is Information Sharing and working alongside partner agencies. The old saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is very true in this situation. Information Sharing has grown significantly over the more recent past, demanded as essential following tragic events such as the Soham murders. Organisations are encouraged to share the information that they have, with the subjects consent and appropriate Information Sharing Agreements in place if required, so for example that a local authority is aware of an incident, the Health Service is similarly aware, Schools Officers equally aware. Not only is this vital in them being aware but they may also have information from their organisation that provides further useful information to progress the management of the risk.
The final part of the process that we address is Review. Where can an organisation improve, what can be done differently next time, what went well, why, does a policy need to be reviewed to prevent further occurrence?
At Best Practice Investigations we have taken the best practices of policing and rolled this into the private sector. We were fortunate that the policing background was somewhat unique and very specialised in being a regional lead in the identifying, assessing and managing of RISK. We pioneered for new policies, measures, guidelines and action to firstly manage and ultimately reduce RISK to children and vulnerable persons and feel privileged that we are now able to apply our knowledge to the private sector.