Is your organisation delivering online services or are you struggling with seeing how you might do this safely in view of specific needs of your service users, such as mental health needs? Many of us had to adapt quickly to the various lockdown restrictions, and you might be trying to balance:
- Maintaining much-needed service delivery during lockdown, with
- Ensuring that your service users are safe from harm when engaging in new digital services
For many organisations, especially those working with service users who are experiencing mental health difficulties, this has not been an easy area to navigate. Some organisations have been worried that if services discontinue that the service users would be left without support. Others have been worried that delivering online services might leave their service users open to additional risks. Both are valid concerns.
Basics of a risk assessment
As with delivering any new service or adapting an existing service, the place to start is by preparing a risk assessment for that service. It is helpful to think about risks relating to:
- the service (i.e. what you are delivering) and who is delivering it
- the environment in which they are delivering it (here online and the platform you are using)
- the individuals you are delivering it to and their circumstances (i.e. any addional needs to consider)
Once you have identified the potential risks, you can then assess their likelihood of occurring and the severity of harm if they occurred. This will then help you to prioritise and mitigate against the greatest risks first. If you decide that you cannot mitigate against a risk that is too great, then this is where you would need to consider whether or not you can deliver the service, or whether perhaps you need more resource or skill to do so, or potentially work with another organisation.
More detailed guidance on risk assessments and safeguarding
Here are some more key resources to help you to appropriately risk assess delivering services online and then put in place good safeguarding practices to mitigate any potential risks:
- NCVO Safeguarding in Voluntary Organisations includes sections on identifying new risks and issues during a pandemic, and planning for safeguarding during a pandemic.
- NCVO guidance on moving services online this includes some helpful prompts so you can identify your service users specific needs as well as some guides on using online tools.
- Catalyst has produced a Digital Safeguarding Guide. This has a really helpful section on how to assess risk and prepare a risk register. Once you have assessed the risk, this will help you to decide your approach to mitigate the risks. This will then enable you to clearly explain and share this approach with others, in various ways such as in your Safeguarding Policy and Procedure, and through inductions and supervisions with staff and volunteers. It’s important to keep this risk register under review as things can change. This will ensure that your safeguarding procedure is a living procedure.
How have local organisations applied this in practice?
Compass Recovery College have moved their services online and have shared how they approached their online safeguarding procedure.
We have an online safeguarding procedure, which we have had to put into practice a few times.
Ideally, all sessions with external tutors have two co-facilitators alongside them – a Compass staff member and volunteer. This is to enable the staff member to go offline to provide support to a student in emergencies, while the volunteer remains to support the tutor and group.
- Co-facilitators observe, monitor behaviour/presentation and communicate concerns through private message to each other and the session leader.
- If someone is presenting with challenging or concerning behaviour, consideration is given to removing them from the session and a decision taken by the staff member, who will then remove said person or as you to do so if needed.
- If removed, the staff member will leave the online session and telephone the person immediately, explain the decision and offer support and reassurance, refer to crisis support/999 as appropriate; signposting/referral to other services as agreed. Ideally, a volunteer will also be on the course to support you during the staff member’s absence.
- A follow-up check will be made by the same staff member on the following day.
- If someone does not need to be removed from a session but there are concerns, staff will contact them immediately after the session as above.
We’ve had people become distressed and have to be removed and followed up with individually, but there has been nothing opportunistic about it.
We do speak to all our students before they join courses and we are doing Individual Learning Plans with them too, so we are able to ascertain if an online group environment is safe or appropriate for them.
There is so little digital mental health provision right now that we are finding people accessing our courses every day of the week as a lifeline. With so many lockdowns and the fact that we are approaching a year of restrictions I do think having some online offering is essential.
Further training, support and reading
- Designated Safeguarding Officer training for charities and voluntary groups next date 25 February 2021
- NCVO guidance – day to day safeguarding: this includes tips on how to ensure your safeguarding practice is working in practice on the ground
- NCVO Specialist guides depending on your role in the organisation – for example:
- If you would like specific advice for your charity or community group about digital safeguarding and risk assessing your services, contact Herjeet at firstname.lastname@example.org.