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Assessing complaints and concerns

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Your first step is to make an initial assessment of the concern as soon as information is shared with you. If possible, talk to the person reporting the concern, and gather as much information from them as you can.

Key questions to ask:

  • What action has already been taken?
  • Is anyone else in the organisation affected by this situation (e.g. other volunteers or those you work with)? Are there any attitudes or emotions that you may have to be aware of?
  • How might this concern affect what the organisation delivers in the short term? Who else might need to be informed?

What you must decide when you receive information:

  • What type of concern has been reported to you.
  • What actions need to be taken.

At this point, you need to start recording all the information you are given, the actions you take and why.

Emergency incidents

This is when there’s a life-threatening situation where there’s imminent danger and harm to a child, young person or adult.

What you should do:

  • Immediately contact the emergency services if they haven’t been called already.
  • Make sure the current situation is safe.
  • Establish how others are coping – do they need any immediate support?
  • Initiate the emergency response protocol or inform the senior person in your organisation.

Child or adult protection concerns

This is when a child, young person or adult (who you believe is unable to protect themselves) is at current risk of, or has experienced, abuse or harm.

What you should do:

  • If the person is in immediate danger, or the abuse has happened where they live, immediately call the local authority safeguarding team or the police.
  • If they’re not in immediate danger, you must call the local authority safeguarding team within 24 hours and make a telephone referral.
  • Be guided by the safeguarding team or police on any further actions required of you. Always follow up your call with a written referral.

Where there is an allegation that a child or young person is at risk of harm from another child or young person, read NSPCC Learning's guide to managing allegations of abuse made against a child.

Allegations concerning staff or volunteers

Someone has alleged that staff or volunteers from your organisation have harmed or abused another person.

What you should do if the allegation involves a child or adult at risk:

  • You must contact the local authority safeguarding team as soon as possible within 24 hours.
  • Be guided by them on any further actions required of you.
  • If your allegation involves harm to a child, you can read NSPCC Learning's guide to managing allegations of abuse.

What you should do if the allegation doesn’t involve a child or an adult at risk:

  • Follow your organisational disciplinary procedures.
  • Contact the relevant senior person in the organisation as soon as possible within 24 hours to discuss the concern.
  • Decide the next steps together, which might include an internal investigation.

Welfare concerns

This is when no one has been harmed in any way, but a child, young person or adult shows signs of being in need. It’s when you have concerns for their health, wellbeing or safety if they don’t get help.

Within seven days you, or someone in your organisation, should speak with the person. When it is appropriate you should also speak with their family or carer. You must explain your concerns and make sure they have the support they need.

Other things you may need to do

  • Help the person or their family access services or give them the information they need to do this themselves.
  • If the concern is about a child or young person, you may need to refer them to social services as a ‘child in need’. They can then assess what help they may need. Learn more about reporting concerns on NSPCC Learning.
  • If the person or family already has a lead professional, for example a social worker, you could speak to them about their needs.

Concerns about other organisations

This is a situation where the safeguarding concern is about another organisation, their staff, volunteers or the people they work with.

What you should do:

  • As soon as possible within 24 hours contact the DSL of the organisation in question and pass on your concerns, if this has not already happened.
  • In some circumstances you may decide to follow up with the organisation to confirm they have acted on the issue.
  • If at any point you think the organisation has not acted and someone is at risk, you should contact the local safeguarding team yourself.
  • If your concern relates to a child and you want support, you can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.
  • If your concern relates to an older person you want support, you can call the Hourglass helpline on 0808 808 8141 (available 09.00 – 17.00, Monday to Friday).

Responding to historic or non recent concerns

You may become aware or be told about a concern from an adult relating to an incident which took place in the past, including when they were a child. Historical allegations of abuse should be taken as seriously as contemporary allegations.

Some additional actions to consider:

  • Remember that it's never too late to report abuse. An individual can make a formal complaint to the police about non-recent abuse, ideally in the geographic area in which the abuse is reported to have taken place.
  • Establish if the person alleged to have caused the harm works with children or adults at risk. Try to find out their recent or current whereabouts and any contact they have with children or adults at risk. A referral should be made to social services, with the consent of the person who experienced the abuse if possible.
  • Consider what consent the person has given for information to be shared. How, when and to whom they share this information should usually be with their consent.
  • Signpost the person who experienced the abuse to relevant support groups that can help them.

To learn more about non-recent abuse, how to report and support available visit the NSPCC website.

Supporting those who share a concern with you

Your primary concern should be the best interests of the person who is at risk of harm. However, the person sharing this concern with you may also be distressed by the situation, even if they are reporting on behalf of someone else. Everyone can respond to worries about another differently. If someone has previously experienced trauma they can find it especially upsetting.

You should:

  • Thank them for bringing this concern to your attention and that they have fulfilled their key responsibility.
  • Explain that you will now take responsibility in leading management of this concern and any contact with statutory agencies.
  • Highlight that there may be limited updates that you have or can give them on the situation; that does not mean that it was not important for them to share this.
  • Remind them of the importance of confidentiality and not sharing this information further.
  • Ensure they have your contact details in case they think of anything else they have not yet shared that they think may be relevant.
  • Discuss with them what additional support they may require. This may include informing their supervisor that they have dealt with a difficult situation, contacting any employee assistance programme or, if necessary, supporting them to access additional support.
  • Consider contacting them later to check in on how they are doing.

Want to share these 5 things to remember? Use our slideshow of things to remember when assessing concerns.

Further information

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