More specifically, who would be a volunteer at a children's club or an organisation like The Scouts?
It has been reported that 51000 children are on a waiting list to become part of the Scouting Organisation. Sadly due to lack of willing volunteers, the clear demand cannot be satisfied.
It is a desperate shame. Hundreds of people across the country encourage your children to keep fit and active, explore the world around them and develop invaluable life skills such as independence and perseverance. Volunteering is a hugely beneficial experience. People do it because they enjoy it and value being able to give something back to their community and young people.
Recent media attention might put you off. Even more sexual abuse allegations against youth football coaches, bullying and grooming of children by club leaders. Who would send their children out the front door, never mind to a club? As devastating as these experiences are for the victims and their families, these occurrences are the minority. The physical and emotional benefits for a child participating in a group activity are huge. The same benefits can be had by the volunteer and more. Friendships, improving your CV, ensuring you and your children still have a common interest to share. Yes, there is a time commitment in no doubt busy lives but maybe it is time that should be found, if there is to be any meaning to these busy lives we lead?
Most children’s clubs and organisations like The Scouts are highly regulated. Some need to bring themselves up to standard. There have been youth football clubs across Scotland suspended as coaches have not had the necessary child protection checks carried out. This is not to say that the coaches or volunteers are inappropriate adults, but rather recognised essential procedures have not been followed and so causing the suspension. For example, each organisation should have a child protection policy and appoint a child protection officer. This is to safeguard children’s interests. The Officer ensures coaches and volunteers’ child protection training is up to date. He or she is expected to be a known and trusted face to the children, approachable if they have a concern about abuse. Similarly, he or she is a person that a coach or volunteer should be able to approach if concerned at all about a child. It is not for the child protection officer to be judge and jury and decide on whether or not there has been abuse. Their job is to report accurately to the organisation’s national governing body. Each coach or volunteer should have the appropriate enhanced disclosure checks under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme. This checks that there are no known convictions which would prevent you working with a vulnerable group such as children.
Beyond allegations of abuse, grooming and bullying, there are risks to be aware of in managing large numbers of children. However, if you take a common sense approach, carry out and document risk assessments of events and activities and follow the guidance of whichever national governing body that applies, then you should be on the right side of risk. Child protection training will likely be available for most organisations by contacting the national body. In the case of sports, formal courses are run in conjunction with Sports Scotland and Children 1st. These are essential for coaches and volunteers who may be contemplating being child protection officers. Details can be found at www.sportscotland.org.uk/training and they are usually run in conjunction with your local authority.
It is a worrying time for clubs, running on the barest of resources both in terms of funding and manpower. Tackling child protection and risk management might all feel like a second day job but it need not feel this way. Armed with training, information and the appropriate qualifications, volunteering can be an enriching and rewarding experience for all.
For more information on child protection issues for volunteer youth organisations, contact Angela Wipat, a Legal Director in our specialist Family Law team in Perth and volunteer at a local children’s mountain bike club.