Policies and Procedures
Writing or obtaining policy documents can often be seen as a daunting task for small organisations, particularly as the number of issues requiring a policy seems to have increased. However, these policies are the cornerstone of a safe youth work environment and provide the framework for good practice. Learn more and find useful templates below.
A child protection policy is essential for all groups working with children (young people under the age of 18). The document should contain:
- Details of how volunteers are recruited and selected, including checks that are done to verify their suitability to work with children (e.g. written references and PVG Scheme membership). This could also be a separate policy.
- Details of relevant volunteer support and supervision (e.g. child protection training, regular meetings with volunteers).
- Guidelines that help volunteers deal with a disclosure of abuse by a young person.
- Guidelines for procedures to follow if an accusation is made against a member of staff/volunteer.
- The designated roles in dealing with any incidents – for ‘workers’ this should be to record information and pass it on to the ‘appropriate person’ in the organisation (i.e the Child Protection Officer in the organisation), who should then report it to the relevant agency. A secondary contact should also be detailed in case an allegation is made against the ‘appropriate person’. The confidentiality of the information must be safeguarded at all times.
- How and when information should be recorded – this should be as soon as possible, using a standard form such as the Sample Child Welfare Concern Form, to ensure all necessary information is recorded. Reports should also be made regarding subsequent action taken. All reports should be clearly signed and dated by the individual recording the information and kept in a secure place. These reports can be used as a basis for reporting the incident or concern to the Police or Social Work. If you have a concern that the young person will be harmed if there is any delay in reporting the incident, (e.g. if you allow them to go home to a situation they have told you is abusive) and the relevant person in your organisation is not available, you may need to contact the Police or Social Work yourself.
- What your organisation recognises as abuse and indicators that might suggest a young person is experiencing abuse.
- Reassurance that workers are protected from legal action if reporting a genuine, child protection concern. Even if the report turns out to be wrong, if it is made in good faith (i.e. it is not malicious) the person providing it is protected.
- When and how an organisation will make a referral to Disclosure Scotland if a worker has 1) harmed a child and 2) the worker was dismissed because of the incident.
Youth Scotland has developed a Child Protection Officer training course to help independent, voluntary youth groups ensure they are confident and competent to deal with child protection concerns. See our Training Catalogue for the next course dates.
The duty for organisations to refer individuals to the Scottish Ministers, to assess if the worker should be included on the Disqualified from Working with Children List, was part of the legal obligations conferred by the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act (POCSA) 2003. This duty continues under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act.
Organisations are required to refer a worker to Disclosure Scotland if the grounds for referral are met. Consideration will then be given to whether that individual should be barred from working with children.
Grounds for referral include when:
- an individual in regulated work (whether in the course if their work or not) harms a child or places a child at risk of harm
- the employer takes disciplinary action to remove an individual from regulated work (or would if the worker had not left for another reason)
- the worker engages in inappropriate conduct involving pornography, conduct of a sexual nature involving a child or given inappropriate medical treatment to a child.
The duty applies to paid and unpaid workers in regulated work, and also if the worker resigns or retires from their post before a disciplinary procedure can be implemented. The duty also applies even if the worker is disputing the dismissal.
Organisations need to ensure they have any incident(s) documented that constitute the grounds for referral. This information should then be passed to Disclosure Scotland. Disclosure Scotland has a standard referral form that can be completed, although organisations do not have to use it.
It is an offence not to make a referral within 3 months of the criteria for referral being met.
Sample Code of Conduct
A code of conduct should outline good practice guidelines that all workers are encouraged to promote, and also ‘unacceptable practice’ that should not be tolerated and would lead to disciplinary procedures. It helps set clear boundaries and ensures volunteers understand the behaviour that is expected from them.
When drawing up the code of conduct, make sure it reflects the particular needs of your group. You may want to talk about general statements, but also some more specific areas of practice that are relevant to you, for example:
- Giving lifts home to individual children or young people – would this prevent some young people from attending in rural areas where transport is limited? How could you implement a system that keeps young people safe, whilst ensuring volunteers’ actions are not misinterpreted?
- Young people invited into workers homes – a distinction may need to be drawn between the different roles that a youth worker may play in a young person’s life (i.e. a worker may also be the parent of a young person’s friend, a relative of the young person at the youth club, a maths tutor)
Remember, good practice also changes, and behaviour that was seen as acceptable a few years ago may no longer be seen as appropriate today. Your code of conduct should be periodically reviewed and revised as needed.
There could be several strands to your confidentiality policy:
- Young people – have a right to a youth club or group that is safe space where they can express their feelings or concerns and have their privacy protected. However, this right to privacy and confidentiality must be balanced with workers needing to act on valid child protection concerns
- Workers – need to understand that young people will develop trusting relationships with them, and disclose information that the worker feels should be reported. Also, adults that work with young people are obliged to disclose information about themselves that they may wish to remain confidential (e.g. conviction information)
- Parents – details regarding a young person’s domestic arrangements, their medical history or other personal information may be given in confidence to you by the young person’s parent or guardian (as well as the young person themselves)
Most voluntary organisations are exempt from registering with the Information Commissioner, but all organisations that handle personal information are required to comply with the eight principles of Data Protection, which state that personal information should be:
- Fairly and lawfully processed
- Processed for limited purposes
- Adequate, relevant and not excessive
- Accurate and up to date
- Not kept for longer than is necessary
- Processed in line with your rights
- Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection
Regularly reviewing the information you have will help your organisation comply with the principles.
Dealing with bullying can be a complicated issue, as it may be unclear what is actually happening. Creating a positive, inclusive and open environment is the key to preventing opportunities for bullying to develop. Proactively including anti-discrimination work in your programme and immediately challenging any discriminatory attitudes will help generate an atmosphere that doesn’t tolerate bullying. Rewarding positive and inclusive behaviour (e.g. young people welcoming a new member) further promotes a safe environment for young people.
respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service, also has anti-bullying information, including resources for young people and youth workers.
No one responsible for or supervising young people should be under the influence of alcohol or illegally using drugs. Most organisations state this clearly in their code of conduct. Some organisations also have a separate Drugs Policy, an Alcohol Policy or a combination of the both, whilst others decide to add restrictions on use of tobacco when working with young people.
It is up to your organisation to decide what is appropriate in your circumstances and ensure that all workers participate in the formation of any policy and understand the expectations in it. You may want to consider the impact of the Policy on workers during residentials, what disciplinary action (or other action) you may want to take if the Policy is breached and the signals the Policy send to young people about drugs, alcohol and tobacco. You also need to think about the cultural and religious views of your membership.
Obviously there are legal implications if workers are known to be using drugs illegally and your Policy may want to state the actions that will be taken in light of this.
Your group may receive a complaint of some sort, or you may have a volunteer that has a grievance against another member or staff or the organisation as a whole. Ideally, all complaints should be resolved informally with the complainant but you may receive a complaint from a parent, young person or neighbour that can’t be resolved informally. Volunteers also need to have the opportunity to lodge their grievance and have it considered. In these situations it is helpful to have a formal Complaints and Grievance Policy to refer people to. These can involve management committee members, or an independent external individual or organisation.