What is Safeguarding?

Safeguarding is a term closely akin to another term that you will likely have heard of – protection (as in Child Protection or Adult Protection). In Europe, both safeguarding and protection are used, with a strong movement towards the former replacing the latter concept. Safeguarding is taken to be a more active term, which has broader connotations, from protection, which has often been linked to the work of particular professionals, such as social workers. The generic meaning of the term safeguard, is to protect something from harm, using an appropriate measure. In relation to the field of preventing and dealing with abuse issues in society, safeguarding means:

The organisation does everything possible to minimise risk and address concerns and incidents appropriately when they arise. e. Integrate safeguarding measures into all areas of the organisation.

(Keeping Children Safe, 2017)

You will notice that this definition is in relation to children and youth, this is because most countries separate out the issues to do with safeguarding children and vulnerable adults within their public policies and so definitions typically focus on one age group or another. However, it is notable that there are strong similarities in the types of abuse perpetrated against these different age groups and practitioners often find that where there is abuse against one age group, there are abuse issues relating to the other group somewhere in the situation (Lee-Treweek 2013). For instance, in many child abuse cases, there are often issues around domestic violence and adults, drug or alcohol dependence or disability-related concerns. Moreover, in the case of youth, they often fall between categorisations of age and so an understanding of child/youth and adult safeguarding is required from the person working in the youth workforce.

The way that safeguarding is often implemented in local, regional or organisational contexts, is through the creation of codes or standards of service or practice.

Activity 5: Find your own safeguarding standards from your organisation, NGO and so forth. Go online or ask a colleague from another organisation, for their safeguarding standards. Compare these documents for similarities and differences. Why might it be the case that these standards do not get implemented?


You may have found that there are similarities in areas such as, outlining forms of abuse, stating a process that is to be implemented when abuse is found and a clear direction on duties around abuse. However, you also may have noted differences around how the process is undertaken and who is involved. Some safeguarding policies are inadequate, despite everything known about abuse and the need to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults because the field is changing so rapidly, some organisations do not get experts to draft their safeguarding codes or protocols and some are just plain badly written.
Moving onto the issue of why standards might not get implemented, there are a number of reasons you might have identified and these might fall into the categories below:

  • Culture. Having great policies is fine, if people understand them and are culturally committed to implementing them. Many cases of abuse are not identified because members of the organisation have got into habits and ways of working that make their implementation difficult, if not impossible. For instance, seeing safeguarding policies and practice as ‘just another bit of paperwork’, can mean that implementation does not occur. Poor leadership and direction around safeguarding by senior staff or those in line management or leader positions, can also lead to other staff failing to comprehend the importance of safeguarding and inadequate implementation. Culture links to the next point below in preventing proper implementation,
  • Understanding the code and being able to identify abuse. In order for a safeguarding code to work there must be thorough dissemination, training and explanation to all staff, paid or unpaid. Communication and training within some organisations and groups can be inconsistent, leading to some people having more information than others. As safeguarding needs to be done well by everyone in an organisation, it is imperative that there is good spread of knowledge and training to everyone.
  • Lack of Funding/Resources. Unfortunately, resources provide a framework for implementation of all organisational goals. Whilst safeguarding effectively need not be too financially onerous on the face of it, lack of staff deployed in the right areas can impact on the ability to implement an efficient safeguarding policy.
  • Lack of Communication. Failure to communicate within and between sections of an organisation, NGO, local government agency or between different practitioner groups (Police, Health, Voluntary Sector, Social Services etc.) has been found to be a leading cause of failures in UK serious case reviews (investigations carried out after the serious injury or death of a child, youth or vulnerable adult, related to abuse).

Whilst there are issues in implementing safeguarding policies, these are not insurmountable and with awareness, organisations can avoid failure. However, if you notice a problem with a safeguarding code or its implementation, it is important to point this out to others around you, preferably senior managers in your organisation.

One might expect all people who work with others, especially in the health, social care, education and welfare fields should be interested in safeguarding others. However, it can be said that the concept has extended, to the point where, for instance, safeguarding may be said to be any person’s role; safeguarding is about protecting all in a society.

SIGNPOSTING TO RESOURCES: Safeguarding children and child protection resources can be found at NSPCC charity website