As a parent you play a very important role in protecting your child from abuse. The information you provide and the example you set can give them the knowledge and confidence needed to deal with threatening or abusive situations. And it is your right as a parent to be able to check how well a sports club is run, for the sake of your child’s safety and your peace of mind.
In this section you can find out:
– Questions to ask and things to look out for when choosing a club for your child
– Clear information about child abuse
– Common signs of abuse
– The importance of listening to your child and teaching them personal safety
– How YOU can help make sport safer for all children
CLUB SAFETY CHECK
Here are the key points you should check out when choosing a sports or leisure group for your child. Remember, a well-run club will welcome questions about their activities and policies. They will know they have a responsibility to give this kind of information to anyone who leaves a child in their care.
- Recruitment of staff and volunteers: Have they all been selected through a proper recruitment process? This should include interviews, references and police checks for staff working for children.
- How well are staff and volunteers trained? In addition to sports skills, they should all have been trained in child protection and health and safety procedures.
- Supervision of staff and volunteers: There should be someone in charge to supervise staff and volunteers at all times.
- Health and safety: Make sure that there is a leader qualified in first aid and that there are: a first aid box, arrangements for drinks, and guidelines about dealing with injuries; also that the premises satisfy fire regulations.
- Your child’s personal care needs: If your child needs help with using the toilet, feeding, or medication, ask about the procedures for personal care needs.
- Is the coach qualified? Your child’s coach should have a recognised qualification that includes child protection training.
- What about arrangements for away fixtures and other events? The sports club or centre should inform you about the event arrangements, including transport to and from the venue. You should also be given information about the venue itself. If it is a long way from home, you should be given a contact number for use in emergencies.
- If your child or you have any worries, who can you talk to? The sports organisation should be prepared to listen and tell you what to do. They should have information about local or national services that can also offer advice and support if you are unhappy about the way you concern is dealt with.
- Does the organisation have a written code of behaviour? There should be a written code of behaviour showing what is required of staff, volunteers and participants. Avoid organisations that permit bullying, shouting, racism, sexism or any other kind of oppressive behaviour.
- Does the organisation have a child protection policy? Sports and leisure organisations should have a child protection policy, with a clear procedure for dealing with concerns about possible abuse. Parents and carers should be able to view the policy on request.
- What boundaries exist concerning club relationships? The club should have clear guidelines about physical contact and social activities between staff, volunteers, partipating children, and parents. Find out who in the club you can speak to if you have concerns about boundaries not being observed.
WHAT IS CHILD ABUSE?
There are four main types of abuse:
Sexual abuse – when a child is pressurised, forced or tricked into sexual activity by an adult. This could include fondling, masturbation, vaginal or anal intercourse, or oral sex. For some disabled children in particular, it could mean being involved in behaviour they do not understand or have not consented to.
Physical abuse – when a child is hit, shaken, punched or slapped, given harmful drugs or alcohol or injured in any way.
Emotional abuse – when a child is starved of love or affection, or is constantly threatened or demeaned. This may occur if children are subject to constant criticism, name-calling, and sarcasm, bullying or unrealistic pressure to perform to high expectations consistently.
Neglect – when a child’s basic needs for food, warmth, clothing and medical care are not met. In sport, this could mean failing to ensure that children are safe, or exposing them to unnecessary heat, cold or risk of injury. In the case of disabled children, it could include not taking precautions to protect those who cannot see, hear or move themselves from danger, or taking away personal equipment on which they depend.
Bullying – although not formally recognised as a form of abuse, bullying by adults is also a form of child abuse and can harm children both physically and emotionally. Bullying can include deliberately embarrassing or humiliating a child, treating them unfairly or verbally abusing them, or deliberately ignoring them.
Tackling the problem in sport
The kinds of abuse most likely to occur during sports activities are sexual abuse, emotional abuse including bullying, and physical violence.
The sports community recognises its duty to safeguarded children from adults who may exploit positions of trust. Children must also feel able to report any worries they have about the behaviour of adults during sports activities.
More facts about abuse
Children of all ages may be sexually abused. The abuser may be a family member. Or they may be someone the child encounters within the community, including during sports and leisure activities.
Child sex abusers can be found in all areas of society, and from any professional, racial and religious background. Contrary to the popular image, they often appear kind, concerned and caring towards children. But this is deliberate – by forming close relationships with children, abusers can build their trust and help prevent adult suspicion.
Often an abused child will suffer more than one type of abuse at the same time. For example, parents who physically abuse their children may also be neglectful.
SIGNS OF ABUSE
Sometimes a child who is being abused may show some of the following signs:
A change in his or her general behaviour. For example, they may become unusually quiet and withdrawn, or unexpectedly aggressive. Such changes can be sudden or gradual.
He or she appears distrustful of a particular adult, or a parent or a coach with whom you would expect there to be a close relationship.
He or she may describe receiving attention from an adult that suggests they are being ‘groomed’ for future abuse
The child suddenly starts to lose concentration and to perform badly at school or in their sport, or refuses to attend school or club.
He or she is not able to form close friendships.
The child refuses to remove clothing for normal activities or wants to keep covered up in warm weather.
If he or she shows inappropriate sexual awareness or behaviour for their age.
The child has unexplained injuries such as bruising, bites or burns – particularly if these are on a part of the body where you would not expect them.
If he or she has an injury which is not explained satisfactorily or properly treated by staff.
A deterioration in his or her physical appearance or a rapid weight gain or loss.
Pains, itching, bruising, or bleeding in or near the genital area.
It is important to remember that these signs do not always mean that a child is being abused – there may be other explanations. But if you think that a child may be being abused, it is important that you discuss your concerns with a professional.
PROTECT YOUR CHILD
If your child talks to you about anything that is worrying them, always listen carefully and take them seriously. Try to build an open and trusting relationship so they know they can come to you with their concerns.
If your child tells you they have been abused, or describes what you think may be abuse, they may be feeling very anxious or embarrassed. So it is important that you do not react in a way that adds to their distress. Here are some points to remember:
- Try to react calmly
- Listen very carefully to what your child tells you
- Make clear that you believe what your child says
- Tell your child that they have done the right thing by telling you
- Tell them that they are not to blame
- It is very important that you take action to end the abuse
Another important way you can help protect your child is by teaching them about personal safety.
If you are worried that your child is being abused during sports activities it is vital that you talk to someone about it.
The idea of speaking out about abuse can be daunting. You will probably feel worried about the impact on you and/or your child. But if you have concerns you must take action. By doing so you will be protecting your child and also helping to prevent other children being harmed.
- Speak to the club child protection or welfare officer
- Find out the club guidelines for recording and reporting concerns and follow them
- Contact the NSPCC freephone, 24-hour Child Protection Helpline on 0808 800 5000. The Helpline also has a bilingual Welsh service, an Asian helpline, and a textphone service for people with hearing difficulties on 0800 056 0566.
- For concerns relating to swimming or football you can contact Swimline on 0808 100 4001/0800 731 7466, or the Football Association’s Child Protection Helpline on 0808 800 5000.
- If you think a child is in immediate danger of abuse, contact the police on 999, or your local social services department.
Teach your child about personal safety
- Talk to your child about keeping safe. Encourage them to tell you straightaway if they feel uncomfortable or have worries about an adult’s behaviour, whether during sports activities or in any other situations.
- Tell your child that he or she always has the right to say ‘No’ if an adult is trying to persuade them to do something they feel is wrong, or which makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened.
- Be a good listener. Children often feel very anxious and embarrassed about speaking out about abuse or bullying. So listen very carefully and take what your child says seriously.
- Make sure your child understands about sex and about their body. Talking about this may feel a little difficult at first, but it can play an important part in protecting your child from abuse. For example, your child needs to understand about the private parts of the body in order to recognise what is acceptable touching by an adult and what is not.
- Decide together on an ’emergency plan’ for your child to follow in situations when they may be at risk of harm. Make sure he or she understand what they should do. If they are going to an ‘away’ event, encourage them to spend their free time there with a friend or another participant.
How YOU can help make sport safe
Parents can play an important role in making sports safe and enjoyable for all children. Here are some ways you can help:
- Encourage your child’s club to develop child protection policies and guidelines.
- Check to make sure that the guidelines are being put into practice.
- Find out who the child protection officer is and support them in their work.
- Get involved as a volunteer.
- Go along to support your child’s involvement in training, matches or competitions.
- If you are actively involved in the club, make sure your behaviour sets the right example.
Setting the right example
If you are actively involved in your child’s sports club, remember that your behaviour can have either a positive or negative effect on the club’s culture and atmosphere. How you behave at a match or competition and what you say and do afterwards to your child will not only affect him or her. It also influences how other parents and children behave.
Your approval is very important to your child. What you say and do about their performance has a major effect on how they feel about themselves and their abilities. So give positive and constructive feedback about his or her efforts. You should not make negative, personalised comments or punish them in any way.
Don’t have a ‘win at all cost’ attitude, or encourage this in your child. Remember, learning to lose with a good grace is an important part of sportsmanship.
More positive behaviour:
- Find out the names of those who run the sports club and introduce yourself to them.
- Make sure you arrive on time before and after your child’s activity.
- Make sure you tell the club if your child isn’t able to attend a planned activity or if you need to make changes in pick-up arrangements.
- Help your child prepare by making sure they have all the necessary equipment, food and drinks.
- Find out ways you can actively support the club’s activities.
- If you have any concerns, talk about them to the appropriate member of staff. If you are unhappy with the response you get from the club, contact Wales Rugby League.
- Comply with any requests made by club officials, even if the request is being asked to leave.