STOP, LOOK, LISTEN : Safeguarding Young People from Harmful Government Policies

Stop look listen

Message from NCVYS

29 February 2016 – take action on safeguarding

NCVYS is calling on all children and youth organisations to make the 29 February the one day this year where organisations Stop what they are doing, Look at their safeguarding practices, Listen to young people and take action.  NCVYS’s national safeguarding campaign aims to inspire and encourage children and youth organisations to show commitment to improving their safeguarding policies and standards.

Obviously we would encourage our supporters to respond to this call in terms of their own situations.

In a tweet the NCVYS also specifically asks In Defence of Youth Work what we might be doing in our own right.  I have offered the following pledge.

Obviously we will publicise the campaign on our IDYW blog, encouraging people to respond. Given the nature of our small organisation, our contribution to trying to protect young people will be to continue arguing the necessity for open, universal youth services underpinned by the voluntary principle, which, as shown by the Rotherham tragedy, offer the opportunity to foster trustworthy and authentic relationships with young people, which unfold over time. So too we will continue to campaign against neo-liberal government policies, that harm young people e.g. the privatisation of youth prisons and that make their future prospects in terms of, say, employment and housing evermore precarious. In doing so we will continue to pause for reflection, to observe what’s going on in society at large and listen to young people’s anger and frustration. Best Wishes.

As ever your thoughts and criticisms welcomed.



  1. Safeguarding from political ideologies and doctrines, that’s interesting. I think I’ve doing that for years but getting more difficult

  2. Swearing allegiance to ‘Safeguarding’ has a kind of ritualistic feel to it. Here is the page of the organisations who have made their pledge: It is hardly possible in this day and age not to sign. So – what does this exercise mean? It looks like a commitment to an ideology.

    In practice ‘Safeguarding’ often means having the right bits of paper in place. Now when something happens the managers involved have a piece of paper to wave. They can say ‘look we took all the steps’. Who exactly is being ‘Safeguarded’? Young people or the managers who now have an automatic cover story when something goes wrong? Policies and procedures are not the same as social attitudes. It is the latter which permitted child sexual abuse to be absolutely rife in institutions up till the 90s. I’m not convinced that adopting the right ‘policies and procedures’ is synonymous with a real change in attitudes.

    Another concern: ‘Safeguarding’ promotes mistrust. For example a sports club may have an NSPCC poster on the wall which advises people if they have any worries to tell a parent or the club’s Child Protection Officer. The sports coach himself is notable by his absence from this list of people you can trust. The implication is that he should be called into question. Clubs have to put up such posters to get certificates of compliance. Funding may depend on it. In the early days of Child Protection the NSPCC published an online game aimed at young people (aged around 10) which contained a series of examples of young people being abused – for example by a teacher – even a mother. All these alerts undermine confidence in these authority figures. The cultivation of suspicion may sometimes pay off but it also causes damage. Also; power is transferred away from these authority figures to nameless officials.

    Another concern: ‘Safeguarding’ promotes an obsession with seeing young people as always potentially at risk of being abused. It is a mindset which sees young people as objects. The mind set is actually very similar to the perception of young people held by people who abuse young people. Safeguarding can be seen as a classic disciplinary system (in Foucault’s sense). It attempts to police a certain social field. It assumes that everyone is a criminal and makes that its starting point. As such there is a real possibility that it fosters crimes that would not otherwise have taken place.

    I’m quite willing to believe the sincerity of some people who promote the ‘Safeguarding’ agenda. But this is a social problem. What matters is a change in social attitudes. A change from the attitudes which permitted sexual abuse of young people to one which doesn’t. ‘Safeguarding’ per se is a kind of bureaucratic response by the authorities. It is designed a) to protect them from charges of collusion etc and b) to invent a policing mechanism to address the problem. But this policing mechanism itself does not change social attitudes. And as a policing mechanism (or disciplinary system) it lives alongside the criminality it manages. It even needs criminality. In summary social problems are best solved by society. It may be intrinsic to the dynamics of how the state bureaucracy works and how it relates to society that it can’t solve social problems of this kind.

    Personally I would want to ask what exactly is the commitment being asked of here?

  3. Thanks, Jason for this insightful and challenging response to the safeguarding issue. I agree that in its bureaucratic guise it feeds into a climate of misanthropy.

  4. Justin

    I really enjoyed your comment. Safeguarding children from perceived evil has built a society that no longer trusts other people.

    The reality is that whilst safeguarding may protect young people from serial abusers it fails often to address the issue that abuse is always the consequence of an unequal relationship.

    Whilst society continues to define us all in hierarchical terms then abuse will remain.

    The young woman of Rotherham were subjected to abuse because they were reflected by both the abusers and the system meant to protect them as second class citizens and broken individuals.

    Despite all these checks I have no doubt abuse will continue within institutions, including youth clubs and projects, and this will remain the case until children and young people are viewed as equals.

    Maybe therefore we need a call for members to address inequality in all its guise as well as focusing on the policy of safeguarding.

    Just a thought.

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