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At Thirtyone:eight our mission is to support organisations across the UK to create safer places for all. With significant differences in legislation, governance and terminology across the four nations of the UK, as well as some similarities, we employ a team of specialist safeguarding advisors that are able to offer help and support that is relevant to the context organisations are working in. Leigh McFarlane has recently joined us as a Safeguarding Advisor and leads our engagement across Scotland and Northern Ireland. We spoke to Leigh about her role and how Thirtyone:eight works within those two nations.

Tell us a bit about your role in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My role is to continue to build on the existing work of Thirtyone:eight in Scotland and Northern Ireland and further develop it so that we can reach even more organisations that need our help. By taking a partnership approach I want to work together with others with a similar desire to create safer places. Having lived and worked in both countries, I bring my context specific experience and understanding into safeguarding. My role varies a lot, from training, to advisory services, to keeping on top of legislative changes so we can keep our Scottish and Northern Irish members up to date with best practice.

What sort of work does Thirtyone:eight do in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

We work in a number of different capacities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, everything from training to advice and specialist consultancy work, all of which is completed within the relevant cultural and legislative context.

We deliver high quality training from our suite of courses, specifically for Scottish or Northern Irish organisations. These courses equip organisations with the necessary skills and understanding within their own country; our courses are differentiated not only by country-specific context but also by level. The foundation suite of courses is suitable for staff and volunteers (and is CPD accredited), whilst our specialist and advanced courses are suitable for people working in specific roles, for example Safeguarding Co-ordinators, pastoral care, church leaders and trustees.

Our safeguarding helpline is open to everyone in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We receive regular calls asking for specific advice on a range of matters that organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are dealing with. These calls range from policy advice, to safeguarding queries, to managing serious incidents. Our disclosure helpline also offers advice for Northern Irish members relating to Access NI.

We also offer our full range of consultancy services to Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are specialist services, designed to address and support specific aspects of an organisation’s safeguarding practice. These services include safeguarding audits, international child protection, past case review, safeguarding audits, listening service and independent reviews. For our members in Scotland and Northern Ireland we also offer specialist advice surgeries.

Are there any differences in safeguarding between Scotland, Northern Ireland and the UK?

Yes there are differences, but there are similarities too. Some pieces of legislation apply across the United Kingdom, for example the Sexual Offences Act 2003. But much of the legislation concerning safeguarding is devolved to the regional governments, therefore we see differences in legislation. In turn this impacts on practice. Each country has their own unique safeguarding set up, for example, who deals with what from a statutory perspective and the names of different governing bodies.

Whilst we have these differences, we still have similarities too. For example, grass-roots safeguarding practice is the same. This includes training and equipping our volunteers and staff in safeguarding, how we recruit safely, how we respond appropriately to a disclosure.

In Northern Ireland, depending on the size and location of the organisation, an additional consideration may be the need to consider a dual approach for those organisations working across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. For example, in an organisation’s safeguarding policy they may need to refer to both Access NI and Garda Vetting, or they may need to put the phone numbers for children’s services in both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland into their safeguarding policy. People working in the border areas between Scotland and England may also have similar considerations because of the different contextual approaches.

It is also helpful to remember that the religious and church attendance demographics are different. A recent study found there are significantly more regular churchgoers on average in Northern Ireland at 45%, with Scotland at 18%, followed by England at 14% and Wales at 12%. The last census in 2011 showed 93% of the Northern Ireland population identifying as Christian, whereas England and Wales had a lower percentage identifying with the Christian faith at 59% overall.

Have there been any safeguarding legislation changes in Scotland or Northern Ireland recently?

In terms of legislative changes, Scotland has recently enacted the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill 2020. This has brought change to the protection of vulnerable groups (PVG) scheme that Scottish organisations need to be aware of. For example membership of the PVG scheme is no longer for life, instead it must be renewed every five years.

In Northern Ireland the Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, has recently proposed a new adult safeguarding bill; this is in the early stages of the process of becoming law, but in due course, this will replace previous legislation in relation to adult safeguarding practice.

Northern Ireland and Scotland have also led the way with changes in safeguarding practice within the United Kingdom. Scotland became the first part of the United Kingdom to make physical punishment of children illegal and Northern Ireland became the first part of the United Kingdom to criminalise paying for sex (rather
than the provision thereof) within their Human Trafficking legislation, as they recognised that vulnerable persons should not be criminalised for the actions of others.

If you want to find out more about our work across the four nations and how to contact Leigh go to:


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