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Recognise, respond and report

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Use this page to prepare for handling safeguarding concerns. It outlines all three main steps of the process and shows you how to think about meeting your reporting responsibilities.

When you do safeguarding well, you reduce the risk of harm and abuse for you, your team and all the children and adults you work with. There will still be issues to deal with, but a safer organisation prepares its staff and volunteers so they’re ready to deal with problems when they happen. Leaders in an organisation must work hard to make sure everyone feels respected and safe so they are able to speak up.

Recognising signs of harm and abuse

People in your organisation should know the signs and symptoms of harm and abuse. Signs and symptoms are not always obvious or clear. However, the more that staff and volunteers know about possible warning signs, the more likely they are to recognise abuse and take action.

You must understand the particular risks and circumstances of the children and adults you work with so you can decide what staff and volunteers need to know about. As a general rule, the more directly your staff or volunteers work with children or adults at risk, the more detail about recognising the different types of harm and abuse they should know.

Remember people don’t need to be certain before they speak up. If anyone in your organisation is ever worried about someone, they should always speak to the person responsible for safeguarding.

  • Thinking about children? NSPCC Learning has a collection of guides to different types of harm and a factsheet of definitions and signs of abuse.
  • Want to know more about safety of adults? The Ann Craft Trust has a list of types of harm with links to signs and symptoms of many issues that affect adults at risk.
  • Want to know more about supporting those affected by domestic abuse? Domestic abuse is not always physical violence. It can also include coercive control and emotional abuse. has a list of questions to help people consider if they might be in an abusive relationship.
  • Want to know about someone expressing extreme views or hatred, which could lead to them harming themselves or others? All sorts of people can be vulnerable to radicalisation. has a list of signs and vulnerabilities showing what to look out for.

Responding to safeguarding concerns

You must make it clear to all staff and volunteers in your organisation that they are expected to record safeguarding concerns, disclosures or allegations and take action in response. You need to develop procedures for everyone to follow.

You should let your staff and volunteers know that you understand it can be hard to take action.

Want to share this advice with your colleagues? Use our slideshow of statements about speaking up.

What to do next depends on the type of harm, level of risk and whether you are talking with a child or an adult.

You must develop your own specific organisational procedures. These procedures should recognise that safeguarding is often not black and white and people will need support to make the right judgement call.

However, some general principles apply when a staff member or volunteer is responding to a safeguarding concern:

  • Always make sure the person speaking up feels they’re being listened to and supported.
  • Don’t promise to keep information confidential between you and them. Refer to and follow your organisation’s policy and procedures to make sure information is only shared with people who need and have the right to know.
  • Ask for their consent to share the information – if they refuse and you are still worried that they or someone else is at risk of harm, you cannot wait for this consent. You must share this information to the person responsible for safeguarding in your organisation.
  • Tell the designated safeguarding lead about any concerns so they can decide what the next steps are
  • Write a clear statement of what you have been told, seen, or heard.
  • When you’ve been told something is wrong, don’t go straight to the person that’s been reported. Instead, tell the designated safeguarding lead

Want to know more about creating a culture where people can speak up? Our section on letting people know they have a right to be safe is a good starting point for ideas.

Reporting safeguarding concerns

As we note in our advice on policy and procedures, you must have a procedure that sets out how to report different types of incident. Different local areas have different methods and templates for reporting concerns about a child or adult at risk. Who you need to tell may be different depending on:

  • whether your organisation is a registered charity or not
  • whether it’s a child or adult at risk
  • if you or someone implicated belongs to a professional body
  • if you or someone implicated is part of a regulated activity
  • whether it is a safeguarding concern or a workplace harassment issue.

There are several types of report an organisation may need to produce. This will depend on what’s happened and the nature of your organisation.

Types of report could include:

  • an internal incident report
  • a referral report to social services
  • a referral report to the police
  • a report to the Charity Commission or other organisations.

Your procedures will state which of these elements you need to include, depending on your level of risk and where you are in the country. In addition to your reporting procedures you will want a whistleblowing policy or other guidance for what people should do if they don't think concerns are being dealt with properly.

Further information about reporting

Last reviewed: 18 June 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 June 2021

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