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Restarting face-to-face activities

Following on from our highly popular blog 7 Top Safeguarding tips for churches during the pandemic, we want to help you navigate safeguarding matters when returning to face to face activities. While your organisation will have a range of health and safety measures to consider in keeping people safe from Covid-19, the commitment to keeping people safe from harm and abuse has not changed. We want to encourage you to spend time in a careful and considered review of the work you have undertaken over the Covid-19 period to date.

Evaluation and reflection are important aspects of the safeguarding task, and
help you to consider:

  • Your journey so far
  • What has worked well and what has not
  • What things should you carry on and what can stop
  • How you move forward in a new landscape

We hope these tips will help with your review and guide you in the relevant safeguarding issues when returning to face to face activities. For further information and helpful links see the web link at the end of this article.

1. Health and safety

It’s important that when your facilities have not been used in a long time that you take time to ensure that they are safe to be used again.

Your organisation should already be carrying out your own risk assessments and putting in measures to be ‘Covid Secure.’ Although not specifically safeguarding, ensuring that adequate health and safety requirements are met is part of your commitment to keeping children, young people and adults safe from accidental harm.

If you are a registered charity, it is now required that Covid-19 outbreaks, which result from gatherings held by your organisation, are considered a ‘Serious Incident’ which needs reporting to the Charity Commission. For further information on what constitutes an outbreak check the latest government guidance.

2. Update Policies and Practice Guidance

Back in March the speed at which churches shifted into online activities meant there was a rush to ‘do’, rather than ‘plan’.

It’s almost guaranteed that you moved online, but you may also have created new ministries such as foodbanks and doorstep visiting in the meantime. If your organisation has a new ministry or has been using online tools for streaming, groups and youth activities then we recommend ensuring that your safeguarding policy and practice guidance documents include these extra elements if you wish to continue with them.

Things to consider:

  • Suitability of platforms for the ages you work with
  • Accountability of workers using online devices and platforms
  • Communication policy and practice between workers and young people
  • Flowcharts for responding to online concerns
  • Policy and practice guidance for new ministries
  • Risk assessing any new activities or of the return to live gatherings/groups or events

In our Online Safeguarding Manual for members we also have a model online safety policy, a flowchart for responding to concerns and model forms for registration and consent. See also our free guidance produced in partnership with the charity Youthscape on working and communicating safely online.

3. Live video streaming with people in the building

If you didn’t do this before, it’s likely that when people return to church you will still broadcast your services but you may not have gained proper consent for people to be filmed.

If your camera angles mean attendees will be in view, or that others will be involved ‘upfront’, ensure that you clearly advertise in your building that you are livestreaming. As with using photographs, you also need to ensure that you have consent for any children, or adults, if they will be in the picture. Some looked after children, or children on a protection plan, may not be allowed to be filmed at all therefore do manage this carefully. You may want to consider highlighting all the zones that may be filmed during the service and ensure there is space provided that isn’t in the shot.

4. Disclosures following lockdown

If you are returning to ‘in-person’ activities, you should be prepared to hear disclosures from young people and adults about abuse during the lockdown period.

You should prepare yourself and your teams by refreshing your knowledge on what your policy says to do when a disclosure of abuse is received. As well as meeting with your team you should remind them of who the key safeguarding contacts in your organisation are and also where to find the right forms to fill out the information to record. Send them a bullet point list of helpful things to say/not to say when hearing something which may be a cause for concern. It would also be helpful to remind yourself about our advice of responding well to domestic abuse disclosures.

5. Check in with your team

It is important that you check on the wellbeing of your workers.

When you spend so long apart, it’s easy to miss when someone is struggling emotionally or spiritually. The health of your workers is a high priority so we recommend checking in with them individually before a return to in-person activities, to see how they are feeling about what’s taken place over lockdown and the return to being together.

Alongside checking on their welfare you should also check on their DBS and training status. We would recommend that you review the recruitment status of your workers and volunteers to check on:

  • When they last had a DBS check
  • Whether their role description matches what you had them checked for
  • Is their training up to date?

Thirtyone:eight are offering a range of training webinars, so now it’s even easier to keep your volunteers up to date with good practice.

6. Notice who isn’t there

Lots of people won’t return to activities in person just yet, however it is easy to miss people when you can’t see them.

It’s important that we make extra efforts with those who may find themselves excluded because they don’t have access to the internet or are unable to attend in person. We recommend seeking contact with all your regulars to check on how they’re doing. Perhaps there is a family or a young person you haven’t heard from for a few months. Engaging your pastoral team in helping to make contact either by phone or where appropriate/permissible in person will help those individuals feel included and help ensure you can be aware of their needs.

7. Say thank you

You, your workers and volunteers will have worked tirelessly to keep people in touch and connected throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

It can often feel like there will be no end to the demands on our time, emotions and skills to continue this work. The strain of all the extra considerations of this, can drain our workers and leave them feeling exhausted. There’s no better time to give thanks to God for your workers and volunteers. You may not be able to gather together to celebrate what you’ve done but why not encourage them with a card, a takeaway gift voucher or something which will demonstrate how much you value them.

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