Transcript: Working together to safeguard and protect children and young people in sport

The 'Working together to safeguard and protect children and young people in sport' conference was held on 29 October, 2013 at Celtic Park. It was a partnership event of WithScotland and Children 1st.

Podcast Episode: Working together to safeguard and protect children and young people in sport

Category: Child protection 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MD - Michelle Drumm
SR - Shona Robison
BS - Beth Smith
CB - Campbell Bell
DF - Deborah Fry

Working Together to Safeguard and Protect Children and Young People in Sport conference was held on the 29th of October 2013 at Celtic Park. It was a partnership event of WithScotland and Children 1st. Shona Robison, Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport was keynote speaker. Michelle Drum from spoke to her before the event began.

MD So can you tell me how significant this event is in relation to highlighting child protection issues in relation to the Commonwealth games?

SR Well I think it’s very significant and I think Children 1st and WithScotland are to be commended for their vision in bringing together this event today, involving government but also not government agencies, practitioners, policymakers and they key people who are involved with children and child protection in sport, and I think it gives us the chance to discuss some of the key issues affecting safeguarding and child protection in sport and to help shape future policies and legislation and it’s a fantastic event and a fantastic opportunity to do that.

MD What would you hope the people working with children and young people in Scotland can learn from the issues being highlighted in today’s conference?

SR Well we want Scotland to be the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up, that’s our ambition and I think today’s conference can help to achieve that in a number of ways. I think part of the philosophy of the Scottish Government and I think the philosophy of this event is about how do we keep the child and the centre, making sure that we look at early intervention and support that the focus is on the child’s wellbeing and that everything is around the child to keep the child safe. And I think people who are working with children and young people in Scotland, whether that’s in sport or in other walks of life, are expected to cope with a wide range of child protection issues and I think the good thing about this event is it will help to equip them with the right tools, the right policies and frameworks to help them to do their jobs in effective way and that’s hopefully going to be a really supportive event to help them to do what’s best for kids.

MD And what will it mean for Scotland and for Scotland’s children then to host the Commonwealth games?

SR Well it’s a huge opportunity for everyone in Scotland to be part of a once in a lifetime opportunity. The legacy from the games is fantastic, we have been working on legacies since the day that we won the right to host. And that’s about creating opportunities, particularly for young people, so whether it’s economic opportunities, if you can get a job or a modern apprenticeship, a training around the opportunities provided by the Commonwealth Games, many young people who have maybe not had the best start in life have been provided with an opportunity to have a good job or modern apprenticeship or training opportunity through the Games and that is great. Also we want people to be healthier and more active and a lot of work is going on with young people to provide them with the opportunity to be more active more often, whether that’s through opening up the school estate, getting the community sports hubs, 150 of those up and running, and just the whole atmosphere of the games will encourage young people to try new sports they have not tried before. I think also we have one of the best education programmes related to the Games, Game on Scotland, which will enable young people to form links with other Commonwealth countries to understand the lives of children and young people in other parts of the world, actually many of them less fortunate than themselves, and I think that will help the young people here to gain an understanding of their position as a global citizen and maybe those long lasting friendships will be something that is again, a really important part of the legacy but something that will go on for a long time to come.

MD also spoke to Beth Smith, Director of WithScotland.

MD It’s quite an exciting and timely event in a sense of the Commonwealth Games. Where did the event sort of arise, it’s a partnership event, isn’t it?

Beth Smith: It is a partnership event and we have actually done quite a lot of work and had a lot of close contact with Children 1st, safeguarding in sport unit, so it kind of, I think, emerged from that because we had also worked alongside them on a number of kind of issues relating to protection children in sport, so we thought it was quite timely, in fact again in terms of the venue being, I think this is where the opening ceremony is going to be for the Commonwealth Games, so it all just feels like it is timely but it is also really important, I think, to be highlighting all of this in advance of the Commonwealth Games next year.

MD And so what are the key issues then, things you have thought about in terms of protecting children in sport?

BS Well I think, I mean we have heard some of these already and I think you have already mentioned the research findings from Dr Ann Stafford and Deborah Fry, and I guess I thought that some of that was quite hard hitting, that some of the harms that children say they experience when they are undertaking sport, and it’s not just sort of coaches but it’s about peers. Also I think when we heard from Martin Henry, you know just talking about, can’t remember how he addressed it, but just basically the operating standards that clubs need and they need to actually be focused on, they have got to think the unthinkable and not that just because people are working in this area and they are interested and they are volunteering, that they are necessarily going to have children’s interest at heart.

I think what’s interesting for me, it’s like we have tried to bring together the statutory agencies, local authorities, child protection committees and the sports organisations and I think if they could be a sort of greater merger of some of these ideas, I know we are going to hear about some particular projects, community engagement projects, you know Sport in the Community, but I do think even if we could get child protection committees to be thinking more about how they engage with their sports organisations. Sometimes it feels that sports organisations are on the periphery of protecting children when in fact they should be core.

MD And are you going to any of the games yourself then, next year?

BS Yes I am, I am going to the … I think it’s the semi final of the athletics, going to the hockey and I am actually going to the closing ceremony. I just thought to myself, when will the Commonwealth Games be back in Glasgow, you know, I live here I should be supporting it.

MD Campbell Bell, Service Manager with Safeguarding in Sport, told us about child protection and community engagement in sport.

CB I work for Children 1st, which is one of the biggest children’s charities in Scotland, it used to be called the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. And Children 1st in partnership with Sport Scotland for the past, just over 10 years, have had a national service called the Safeguarding in Sports Service, so I manage that team, it’s a small team of project workers, and we work with sports organisations all over Scotland to help them to be good practices for safeguarding children in place.

I suppose for us, the Commonwealth Games are a landmark in terms of maybe the participation after the games and during the games of more and more people in sport, so that will probably produce more children and young people partaking in sport and also more adults volunteering to work with children and young people, so we’ll have a job beyond that, again in terms of making sure that volunteers and coaches are trained up in child protection, to give children the best possible experience in sport as they can have. Our strap-line is Stay Safe and Have Fun.

MD On being asked if child protection policy considerations were different in relation to safeguarding children in sport, he replied:

There’s not any difference in the fact that the baseline is if you have a concern about a child you need to pass that information on, that’s absolutely there, and the welfare of children always comes first in any situation. I suppose we look at it as being in terms of 2 sides of a coin, first of all it’s not just about keeping bad people out of sport, but it’s also about making sure that the people, the very good people who are in sport working with children and young people, are properly trained and skilled to be able to listen and know what to do if there is a concern about a child. And that could be something that a child, because that coach is a trusted adult, that coach needs to know … to be able to pick up maybe the signs about them, a child telling them something that might be an issue for them.

MD And what is the focus of … you are speaking a bit later on, I think, at the conference today …

CB Our focus is about … in a sense it’s about community development, it’s actually quite a simple message, or community engagement, and what we do is we train up tutors to go out into the community to do training and briefings with coaches and other people and we just see that as a trickle down effect. So it’s not only training people to be involved in safeguarding in sport but it’s giving them the wider issues around child protection and child welfare and child wellbeing, so that actually we have lots and lots of people in the community who are looking out for children and looking out for their wellbeing in the community.

MD Michelle Drumm from also spoke to Deborah Fry from the University of Edinburgh, NSPCC Child Protection Research Centre, about a piece of research entitled ‘Children and Young People’s Experiences of Harm in Organised Sport in the UK.

DF I am currently a lecturer in child protection at the University of Edinburgh, NSPCC Child Protection and Research Centre, and I have been at the centre for the past 3 years. Prior to joining the team at the Centre, I did quite a bit of research in New York City around sexual violence and sexual abuse prevention and response, working a lot around peer to peer relationships.

MD So what was the objective of this piece of research that was done…

DF So this specific study really is the first of its kind to look quite extensively at children and young peoples experiences of harm while participating in organised sport in the UK and it surveyed young adults, so 18 to 22 year olds, about their experiences participating in organised sport as children up to the age of 16, and was a 4 nation study, so it was an online survey with students in higher education, so primarily under graduate students, just about their experiences of participating in sport as children and young people.

MD So what were the key findings of the research?

DF Overall participating in sport was a very positive experience for children and young people but there were experiences of harm across a variety of types of maltreatment or harm experiences, so for example we found that emotional harm, both between young people, so team mates and peers, but also as young people experienced from coaches and other people in the club was quite high, so 75% of those that participated in the study reported at least 1 emotionally harmful behaviour that they experienced while participating in organised sport, and that could be sort of being sworn at, yelled at and criticised and humiliated within a sport setting. And this really mimics what we are finding in other areas around other research around emotional harm, in that is one of the most prevalent forms of child maltreatment, but also one of the most understudied. We also found quite a lot of other types of harm and one of the things that we looked at was the continuum of sexual, so harmful sexual behaviour, so ranging from sexual harassment through sexual harm and found that in terms of sexual harassment, about 29% of participants reported experiencing either physical or verbal sexual harassment and a lot of that was from peers and there were some interesting gender differences to come out in terms of sexual harassment findings, in that young women specifically reported experiencing more sexual harassing behaviours from coaches and other adults in the club as compared to young men, whereas young men reported experiencing sexual harassment primarily from peers and team mates, when you look at that compared to young women in the study. There was also, if we are looking at the continuum of these sort of harmful sexual behaviours at the sort of sharper end of sexual harm, looking at contact sexual abuse and unwanted touching and exposing of genitalia and even rape of children, it was … while the percentage was small, so 3% of respondents reported experiencing some sort of sexual harm within an organised sport setting, again we see gender differences and it’s very interesting in that 5% of those that reported experiencing sexual harm were males and 2% were females, and what was coming out quite strongly in the research was, especially for the young men that reported on their experiences as children and young people, a lot of the sexual harm was coming from peers and team mates as well within that setting.

And with all of these behaviours, we did find emotional harm, physical harm, so being forced to continue training even though you were injured or exhausted was quite prevalent, as well as some sort of physically aggressive behaviour, so throwing things, in some instances hitting or slapping out of anger, some of these were used as punitive actions within sort of being criticised about performance and this was … is a significant aspect that came out in the research, so about ¼ of respondents reported experiencing some form of physical harm, whether it was sort of being forced to train to exhaustion or when injured or experiencing verbal aggression or physical aggression. And what we see across all of these forms of maltreatment is that many of them tend to increase with the level of sport participation, specifically the sort of physical and emotional harm, so as a young person goes to more international and elite levels, sometimes these behaviours also increase and when the sport level increases we also start to see a more active role of coaches and other adults in the clubs, enacting these behaviours as compared to team mates and peers within the study.

MD There were also interesting stats around self harm …

DF Yes, so a lot of … we did ask a lot of body image questions but also self harm within the study and it was primarily linked to previous research that has shown that self harm, in particular, and also body image issues are intrinsically linked to emotional harm, especially for females. And we did find that about 10% of respondents reported self harming and that for young men this often took the form of hitting and punching themselves, whereas for young women it often took the form of scratching or cutting, and it was often linked to their feeling of low confidence around body image specifically related to participation in sport.

MD What are some of the recommendations of the research?

DF So some of the … you know one of the larger recommendations is really around supporting culture and ethos, so there can be a very negative sporting culture which both allows some of these behaviours to perpetuate and can also feed some of these behaviours within organised sport and it’s taking a very sort of prevention approach to thinking about, how can we create safe and child friendly spaces for children to participate in activities, and set examples around respectful behaviour but also appropriately respond when abuse or harm has taken place and also empower young people to have a voice in both shaping that culture but also in reporting if they have experienced and disclosing if they have experienced abuse. I mean one of the things about the sporting culture as well is, and about child maltreatment in general, there’s a specific culture of silence around it, so some of these behaviours will be happening behind closed doors and coaches and others also may not be aware of them, some are perpetrated by coaches and adults and there’s a very strong power relationship there, so it’s understanding how we can both prevent and put in place safeguards but also empower children and young people to know that they don’t have to carry these secrets and that they can share what has happened and that there will be an appropriate response and that they can be kept safe.

I would really like to see, you know so much of what we think about safeguarding in sport is thinking about abuse by coaches to elite child athletes and I think what this study has really shown is that when we are thinking about welfare and wellbeing of children is much broader than that. So one take home message that I would like to see participants have is that we do need to be mindful of some of the peer to peer harmful behaviours that are occurring within sports settings and also put into place policies and safeguards around those relationships and making sure that it’s a safe space for children and young people, so it’s not just about vetting and borrowing and keeping people from working with children but it’s also thinking about the harmful experiences they will have a the variety of different ways

MD The link to the report, Children and young people’s experiences of harm in organised sport in the UK is provided in the show notes of this episode.

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