Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Thursday, 18 April 2013
Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure
Investigation into Consistency in Child Protection across the CAL Remit: Museums Briefing
The Chairperson: I welcome the following officials: Paddy Gilmore, the director of learning and partnership from National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI); Mark Wilkinson, the head of HR from NMNI; Ruth Turkington, the visitor services manager at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum; and Chris Bailey, the director of the Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC). Thank you for attending this morning. Please make an opening statement, and then we will follow up with some questions.
Mr Chris Bailey (Northern Ireland Museums Council): I will start. As members know, the museum family has two components. One is National Museums Northern Ireland, which was established under statute, and the second is local museums, of which 37 are recognised and for which the NIMC is the umbrella body. The remit of the Museums Council is to assist local museums in improving their standards in collections care and their public services. I will make this quick presentation today on the latter element.
The NIMC does not run any museums. We are there to assist and guide, and provide support and training as required. Nevertheless, in 2009, the board of the Northern Ireland Museums Council adopted a policy statement, which is reviewed every two years, with the next review scheduled for later this year. As such, the council, the board and the staff do not undertake any regulated or controlled activity as far as the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults is concerned. We are not required, therefore, to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority. Given the nature of our work, we provide support to all the local museums, which have direct responsibilities under the legislation. Each museum needs to have an associated policy and procedures in place, and in line with our remit, we support them by providing advice, guidance and training.
This is not an area in which we have specialist expertise, so in composing our guidance, we drew very heavily on a partnership established with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and Volunteer Now. Indeed, we commissioned the NSPCC to review the guidance that was subsequently composed to ensure that it was compliant with legislation and best practice. A copy of that guidance is now freely available through our website.
We have an annual training programme, on which the staff and volunteers at the local museums and, indeed, the general public depend. From time to time, we ensure that that programme includes training on matters such as safeguarding. In that context, we asked Volunteer Now to deliver that training on the last occasion.
For our grant programmes, we require all applicants to demonstrate that they have robust and effective policies and procedures in place with regard to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, and that requirement is embedded in our grant application process. The funded museums are then required to provide us with a copy of their policy and procedures.
My final point, before I hand over to my colleagues from National Museums, is that we administer the UK-wide standards and museum accreditation scheme for local museums in Northern Ireland. All museums seeking recognition under that scheme are required to ensure that they meet all relevant legal, ethical, safety, equality, environmental and planning requirements.
Mr Paddy Gilmore (National Museums Northern Ireland): Good morning. Thank you very much for asking us along here this morning. I am the director of learning and partnership at National Museums Northern Ireland. I have the key safeguarding role within National Museums. Mark is our lead in the HR department and is responsible for matters such as Access NI checks, recruitment and selection. Ruth is the senior practitioner, if she does not mind my saying that, for National Museums in this area. She has daily involvement with the public. She is one of our two training managers who run out our child protection and safeguarding training programmes, and she has a long history of involvement with disability and access issues. She is also a board member of ADAPT NI.
Our presentation is slightly different to Chris's, so we will give you a flavour of some of the issues that we are involved with.
You are aware that National Museums Northern Ireland has four sites, which vary enormously in the facilities offered, their geography and layout. There is a major difference between the facilities and resources at the Ulster Museum and those at the Ulster American Folk Park, for instance. Each museum presents a different set of challenges for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.
Huge numbers go through the sites, which is also a challenge. Last year was the first year that we had one million visitors, and W5 was part of the group. This year, we closed the books on 904,000 visitors, so, again, they were very busy sites. You are aware that the Ulster Museum reopened in 2009, and it alone had 1·86 million people through its doors. This year, 127,000 people took part in organised learning programmes, which fall within my learning department. The Ulster Museum is a very busy site, and it had a great dinosaur exhibition this year. August was a particularly busy month, with almost 100,000 people coming through the museum's doors. On a busy day, there could be 4,000 or 5,000 visitors, as you probably know.
There is also a change in the organisation regarding the audience that we attract, which is now broader and more diverse. Before the closure of the museum, the C2DE audience profile was 23%. On occasions, depending on the programming, it can now reach 44% or 46%.
We also have a major partnership programme and work with a range of organisations, which also brings in different communities. We work with the Workers' Educational Association, Beacon Housing and the Polish community. Therefore, as an organisation, we are now working increasingly with interface areas, inner-city communities, people with mental health issues and so on. My key point is that the organisation is larger and busier. It has an increasingly diverse audience profile and, therefore, creates a series of ongoing requirements to review and constantly check our safeguarding systems.
Our child protection policy dates back as far as 1996, and our latest version was published in 2011, after consultation and advice from organisations such the NSPCC and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). It follows a best practice format as set out by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). Over the years, we have gained considerable experience in dealing with safeguarding issues, and the staff are familiar with all those issues. Our visitors include children and families, vulnerable adults and disabled people. There is an ongoing process that allows us to examine any issue and refer it on in a timely and constructive fashion. Each of our sites has one designated officer. If internal issues arise, they are referred to the police and social services, and our sites maintain records of that. Importantly, when an incident occurs, we review it to see whether there are any learning points that will help to improve the policy and procedures and develop further best practice.
As I mentioned, as the director of learning and partnership, I hold the lead responsibility for safeguarding. That is a fairly new responsibility in the organisation; in fact, my directorship is new and has been established over a four-year period. Importantly, it has elevated the issue of safeguarding to the executive team. Across the sites, the designated officers feel that that is an improvement.
The designated officers at site level have safeguarding built into their job descriptions. That is a bit of a change because, traditionally, we simply allocated the role to staff in key positions. That made sense, but we now have a more structured approach, and job descriptions include that safeguarding role. Our designated officers meet at a safeguarding forum, which I will refer to later. The forum comprises nine people, including deputy designated officers. The role of the safeguarding forum is to assess some of the issues that we deal with and refer them to the board of trustees so that it can make an annual safeguarding statement.
We are aware that we need a training programme and that the policy is only as good as the people who offer it on the ground. Our training programme, therefore, includes all staff. We have regular refresher training for our designated officers: that last happened this time last year. Two of our senior staff, one of whom is our visitor services manager, Ruth, are trained to City and Guilds level. They deliver a core programme and meet any other training needs.
Apart from safeguarding, our training regime covers disability access and awareness issues, autism training and working with deaf and visually impaired people and those with mental health issues. That is not to say that all staff get that training, but it is available for those in public-facing roles.
Group management is a particular issue in museums, and, as I mentioned, we have two residential areas. One area is operated entirely by us at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and the other area is the Western Education and Library Board premises at the Ulster American Folk Park. We pay careful attention there because of groups coming in. So the groups are made very aware of the policies and procedures before they arrive. When they arrive, they are met on site by a member of staff who goes through the policy and procedures, the codes of conduct, the by-laws, health and safety issues and safeguarding matters. Responsibility for safeguarding in the residential context probably rests with the designated officer: it definitely rests with the designated officer that the group brings with them. Once they are outside that and are on site, people such as Ruth will deal with the groups.
Apart from schools, the large solid groups are families. Our staff are trained to recognise the different dynamics between an organised group, a family group and any other group, and the potential safeguarding scenarios that could arise.
We set up the safeguarding forum. There was a network of people involved in safeguarding, but the forum came out of a best practice recommendation by the ETI. When the ETI was looking at our learning programmes, it asked us to complete a safeguarding pro forma, and it suggested that we set up the forum. It has now been set up and works really well. It is cross-functional and cross-site in nature, and it also makes sure that the safeguarding issue is not left entirely to the people in learning and partnership, as it had been. We have representatives on the forum from human resources, visitor services, operations, the curatorial team and the learning team. That not only provides a coherent management structure, but, importantly, gives us an opportunity to review our policies and procedures to try to develop better practice.
We also review changes in legislation, and we will review incidents and try to learn from them. Just the other day, for example, there were some changes to the vetting procedures by Access NI, and the safeguarding forum tried to report that and work out a response.
There are some museum-specific issues. We mentioned the residential accommodation at the Ulster American Folk Park and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and we hold Night at the Museum events at the Ulster Museum. The biggest challenge for us, as an organisation, is that of unaccompanied kids. We are not on our own in that, and it is a real issue. We deal with that under by-laws by reserving the right to refuse admission to anyone under 18 years of age. That is a bit of a catch-all, and it means that, on an ongoing basis, our staff are on the ground reviewing situations. Those situations change depending on the age of the kid, the nature of the site and how busy it is. That is a bit of an issue for us.
Online safety and security is also an issue. That is a fast-developing area, and we are the first to admit that we do not really have expertise in it: we do our best to keep on top of it, but it needs more attention. The issue of photography in a museum context is fairly new and has obviously changed. Photographic policies for museums were written with the standard conventional camera in mind. Things have moved on so fast: everybody has a camera on their phone, and there is instantaneous contact with the web, social media and so on. That presents a bit of a challenge for us.
There are some issues that the Committee may want to consider. I have some personal knowledge of the type of child protection support initiatives that are offered by the NSPCC, and I think that they are absolutely great. They allow sports clubs to access the latest training and get guidance on policy, legislation and best practice. We are quite a large organisation and are well resourced in this area. Smaller organisations will probably have a different perspective, but I think that an approach such as that would be really useful.
We understand that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) will be involved in the issue of the speed of progress of digital technologies and so on. We welcome that very much. We would like to be part of that sort of initiative to learn more.
We face a practical issue in maintaining up-to-date details. Given the number of visitors who go through our sites, we do not have a huge amount of contact with police and social services, but when we do, sometimes contacts have changed and people have moved on. There is an ongoing issue in trying to keep that information up to date. If there were some way of creating a resource for that, it would be helpful.
We welcome the development of additional interests in safeguarding. One thing that DCAL does really well is its learning forum. I wonder whether that model could be replicated and used for a safeguarding forum that is held in DCAL and resourced and properly managed.
The Chairperson: Thank you. Will you give us more information on the learning forum and how it operates?
Mr Gilmore: The forum includes all the arm's-length bodies and is funded through DCAL. I think that a part-time member of staff runs it, and Gerry co-ordinates meetings. The forum addresses issues of mutual concern in the learning context, and meetings are held at various venues. I suppose that, in one way, it is a networking forum that brings the DCAL family together. It creates a knowledge and awareness of what each arm's-length body is doing and helps to deal with best practice issues. It is the usual thing: speakers are brought in, people are asked to talk about their work and detail case histories and so on. That sort of knowledge sharing is very important.
Safeguarding is fairly fast-moving territory, and what is good practice one day will possibly not be good practice another day. That sharing of information and knowledge would be very valuable.
The Chairperson: That is certainly a common recommendation that has come from the majority of arm's-length bodies. It is interesting that a template is in place that could be replicated for safeguarding.
Chris, you said that you do not have any direct contact on child protection and that your role is very much to do with guidance, training and support. Does that go right across all museums, particularly the private museums?
Mr Bailey: We do most of our work with accredited local museums, but we do not discriminate. It is not the case that if a museum is not recognised, we will not work with it. The guidance that we provide and make available can be used by any museum.
The Chairperson: You mentioned that your training is done annually. Is that compulsory, or is it open only to those who wish to avail themselves of it?
Mr Bailey: It is not compulsory. The initiative to join our training came from people in the museums. About half the local museums are run by local councils, and the other half are independent and voluntary organisations. We sometimes find that the legislative requirements are focused in a more general way in the councils, so that if safeguarding training was going on in the councils, it may also involve museum staff. Independent museums tend to be more stand-alone and possibly more reliant on our guidance to ensure that they are cognisant of their special responsibilities.
The Chairperson: Are you aware of any complaints having been received on child protection issues in those museums?
Mr Bailey: No.
The Chairperson: Paddy, thank you very much for your presentation and the details you gave. Have there been many complaints or are you aware of any particular type of complaints that need to be addressed?
Mr Gilmore: With child protection issues? Statistically, the numbers are minuscule, but that is not to say that they are not important. Last year, to give you a general idea, we referred only three issues to police and social services, but, on the ground, these issues are constantly under assessment, and Ruth can comment on that. Of late, we have had specific examples in the Ulster Museum, and the attitude of the public ranges from people who do not see the harm or what the big issue is through to those who feel a sense of entitlement and think that we should really be looking after their kids. It is really strange. Our staff are well and truly briefed and know how to deal with particular instances. They deal with and assess child protection and safeguarding issues fairly regularly, but we feel it necessary to refer only a very limited number of cases. The figure for last year was three, and Ruth will, I think, concur that that tends to be about the number of cases that we deal with.
Ms Ruth Turkington (National Museums Northern Ireland/Ulster Folk and Transport Museum): It is a very small number, and we refer only those incidents that give us real concern. We do so by making a hypothetical case to the person on the other end of the phone, and he or she will then ask us to report it officially. That may even knock the question out of the arena at that stage. There are very few incidents that we need to follow through with the agencies, but that is not to say that we do not have ongoing concerns.
Mr Gilmore: We have a lot of school visits to our sites, but they tend to come inside for a couple of hours and then go, so no long-standing relationships or contacts are built up. The residential centres are slightly different, of course, and, last year, about 12,000 people went through those. They are not all children; there are organised groups. More children come to Cultra than to Omagh. One of the unique features is that kids go through fairly quickly, and it is not very often that we get disclosures from kids. On that limited basis, of maybe two or three hours of exposure, it has been our experience that that is not statistically liable to happen.
The Chairperson: You talked about unaccompanied children. Is that more of an issue in the Ulster Museum than on any other site?
Ms Turkington: No, we also get them at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. There, we have particular concerns because we have a site of 170 acres of very undulating and mixed terrain, and quite a bit of it is not safe for young children to wander about unaccompanied. We take quite a robust attitude to it. In the main, I am called to the kiosk to investigate when children are just dropped off and appear at the museum. I have, at times, called parents and asked them to come and pick their children up because they are, in my estimation, too young to be wandering around a site like ours unaccompanied.
Some older teenagers come along and, having talked to them, I may understand that they are there to, for example, carry out a study. I advise them of our safeguarding policy and of the role of staff and tell them that they can contact us if they have any concerns. I will make a value judgement and may admit them, but I take each case as it comes.
Mr Gilmore: National Museums Liverpool permits anybody on to its sites, with no restriction whatsoever. Some other museums say that children must be accompanied. We take the middle view and reserve the right to refuse admission, so there is an element of discretion. The numbers that go through the Ulster Museum mean that the issue has become more prevalent and come to our attention more. Last week or maybe the week before, quite a young child was left there unaccompanied. People take different views, and it is difficult to legislate for the views of the public. We are aware of our role in safeguarding that child in such a big building. A lot of people come through the museum, and not everybody will have the best interests of children at heart. Statistically, that is the way it is.
The Chairperson: That is, unfortunately, why we need to have an investigation such as this. Thank you.
Mr McMullan: Thank you for your very interesting presentation. You mentioned dependency and support. Can we not use the phrase "special needs" when we talk about disability and vulnerable adults? Disability and special needs are two different life conditions, with their associated dependencies and problems.
Ms Turkington: We prefer the phrase "people with access needs" rather than "special needs" or "disabilities". Our whole tenet is that we aim for universal access, so we do not want to discriminate in any way. We are trying to even out access for everybody at every level.
Mr McMullan: Talk to the parents on that one.
Ms Turkington: I have spoken to parents. I am very interested in parents' attitudes to children who have disabilities and access needs. They can be very protective, and quite rightly so, but to the extent that they put barriers in the way of their children enjoying experiences that they may well be able to achieve. It is quite an interesting area to investigate. We welcome a number of — I will use the phrase "special needs", which you prefer — schools, whose pupils use our sites regularly, and we have very good relationships with them. We at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum have a particular relationship with Fleming Fulton School, which regularly uses our residential centre. We also do outreach with schools such as that one because part of our remit is to go to people who cannot come to us.
Mr McMullan: I appreciate that, but it is not called an "access difficulties" school, you see —
Ms Turkington: Yes.
Mr McMullan: — and I do not think that there would be a problem with using the phrase "special needs". I think that it would also help staff to understand the group that is coming in and what to expect.
Ms Turkington: We have quite robust training in access needs. We do not work in a generalised way; we all work with specific communities. We have a very good ongoing relationship with Autism NI. We have worked with the visually impaired community and the hearing impaired community. You cannot have a blanket one-coat-fits-all approach, so we try to drill down to meet individual needs.
Mr McMullan: How often do you train staff? I read that staff are put through rigorous training: how often is that training refreshed?
Ms Turkington: Are you talking about safeguarding training?
Mr McMullan: Yes.
Ms Turkington: We do that every three years. However, based on my experience as a trainer, if I notice a trend occurring, such as an increase in unaccompanied children, I will probably have a workshop to look at that trend. Just before Christmas, we were concerned about whether we needed to put in place special measures for unaccompanied vulnerable adults coming to the museum. So, under the safeguarding banner, I held some workshops with staff. So we have regular training, but we also provide induction and ad hoc training.
Mr Mark Wilkinson (National Museums Northern Ireland): The detail and frequency of the training are quite role-specific. As Ruth said, regular timetabled training is delivered by our designated officers for people in front-of-house, visitor-facing roles. However, office-based staff, who do not generally come into contact with the public as part of their role, do not have that frequency or detail of training. We are also developing an e-learning refresher training course for them.
Mr McMullan: First, I congratulate you on the content and depth of your guidance on training, as you have presented it. On looking through it, I found it to be one of the best that I have seen. You should be congratulated on the excellence of its content, and that is the only thing that I can take out of that. [Laughter.] I still believe that "disability" and "special needs" should be there, as do a lot of people with a disability. When we use the word vulnerable as opposed to special needs, the meaning is lost.
Ms Turkington: We were led in the terminology by the disabled community. We did not pick it.
Mr McMullan: Maybe you should go back and talk to them again. I congratulate you on your excellent presentation.
Mr Ó hOisín: Thanks for the presentation. I have to say that it is not common to receive praise from Mr McMullan, but he is right. The presentation had a lot of samples of best practice that other organisations and groups could adopt. I know the Ulster American Folk Park particularly well. Given its physical curtilage and layout, have there been any issues down through the years with group and events management or the residential centre?
Mr Gilmore: Going back over the years, there probably have been safeguarding incidents. I think that the statistics would be similar for each of the sites, and the numbers would be quite small. If you are asking whether it presents any particular difficulties, I would say that it does not. The fact that we have a residential centre brings a particular safeguarding concern. However, we have put in place fairly robust policies so that people coming on site with groups realise that they have a specific responsibility. Bear in mind that managed groups, such as schools, will have their own designated officer with them, and they will be fairly well aware.
The site itself does not present any specific problems. However, like the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, it is quite a big site. We are concerned when children come in on their own, as has happened. Sometimes, they are left off at the gate to spend half the day there. We cannot control a big, wide geographical area like that because we have a limited number of staff. That occurs with the same frequency as it does on the other sites. Is that fair, Ruth?
Ms Turkington: Yes.
Mr Gilmore: I do not think that there are any more specific issues or problems on that site than on others.
Mr Ó hOisín: Paddy, you touched on the ever-changing photographic requirements. Museums and photography nearly go hand in hand. What is the current policy?
Mr Gilmore: You are absolutely right. For many people, especially those coming to open-air sites, taking photographs is an intrinsic and enjoyable part of their visit. Our photographic policy is built into our safeguarding policy and covers a range of things: why photographs are taken, what the uses will be, and so on. Ruth will deal with this is in a bit more detail, but consent forms are signed, and very specific advice is given to people who take photographs on site. The changing nature of photography means that people can now take snaps on mobiles. Our staff will intervene if necessary
Ms Turkington: I deal with photography in quite a lot of detail in training because staff are concerned about it. It is part of the nature of a visit to a place such as a museum that people will want to record their family outing. We have to allow that to happen but within boundaries. The boundaries are that a handheld device must be used, and it must be pointed only at your own family. Staff look out for this, and, if they are concerned that a lone person is wandering around pointing a camera at other people's children, the other designated officers or I will be called. I have, with security's help, asked people to leave the museum because I was not happy with the reasons that they gave for being there with a camera. We are particularly alert if visitors complain. If, as happens occasionally, families complain about another visitor's behaviour, we intervene. I, as a designated officer, take the role extremely seriously. I will drop whatever I am doing immediately to deal with a safeguarding issue, including photography.
Mr Gilmore: It is an issue for further development. I spoke recently to my opposite number in the National Museum of Ireland and was given the safeguarding handbook that it has as part of its best practice. If I were to be critical, I would say that it deals with the more traditional types of photography. The likes of the child protection in sport unit are much more on the case. Our photographic policy probably serves its purpose, and our staff are reasonably well trained, but, speaking generally, it is an area that we need to develop further. We need more specialist support because photography is so fast-moving, and there is instantaneous contact with media such as Twitter.
We realise, too, that cyberbullying could become an issue, and social media is used extensively. We do not have a huge amount of contact with that and are doing the best that we can, but we could do with more help, support and guidance.
Mr Ó hOisín: It must be a very difficult thing to control. Events such as the Iroquois Nation exhibit lend themselves almost automatically to the use of cameras.
Mr Irwin: Recently, the Committee has realised that the protection of children online is difficult because things can happen under the radar and are not easily seen or caught. Is that an issue for you, and, if so, do you have measures in place?
Mr Gilmore: It is an issue for us. Mark and Ruth may want to talk about that. We provide free Wi-Fi at the Ulster Museum, so our concern is to ensure that people do not download inappropriate material. Our ICT people have put very stringent measures in place, including firewalls, to block that sort of material.
We are concerned about kids engaging in cyberbullying. One problem that we face currently is that there is less money around in the public sector and, obviously, less money for advertising. We are looking at how we can reach a mass audience, so our marketing people will e-mail their databases and use texts and so on.
This is a new area for us, and we will have to develop it. The child protection in sport unit gives briefings on social networking services and social media. Those promote safe and responsible use, give advice on using text messages and provide guidance on using such media in the best interests of child protection.
We are concerned about that area, and we need additional support to address it. We are doing our best and are managing the issue, but, quite frankly, it is not our area of expertise, and the cultural sector needs additional support.
Ms Turkington: We would appreciate some help.
The Chairperson: You discussed with us your safeguarding forum. How often does it meet, and are any external organisations involved?
Mr Gilmore: The forum is quite new. We established it last year, and it meets formally twice a year. It is also empowered to meet on an ad hoc basis and has done so three times since it was established. We met just the other day to deal with a specific issue.
There is nothing new in the world. We thought that we were unique, but when I spoke to National Museums Liverpool recently, I discovered that it also has a safeguarding forum. It operates in a slightly different context because its museums have a local authority reference point. We miss out on having that overall reference point here, but the forum helps us to deal with best practice issues and any policy issues that come up.
Ms Turkington: Prior to the establishment of the safeguarding forum, we had a very strong network, but we lacked input into the senior executive, so we very much welcomed Paddy's involvement, which has been extremely beneficial to the organisation.
The Chairperson: Chris, you mentioned that the training guidance that you offer could be open to the public. How do you make that available to the public?
Mr Bailey: All our training appears on the website. We advertise it and do the training annually. It is predicated on the demands and needs that we ascertain from the museum sector, so it is quite specific, but we are not averse to anyone from outside the sector coming to our training.
The Chairperson: Although it is open to anyone, has no one from outside the sector yet availed themselves of the training.
Mr Bailey: The training tends to focus on museums. On occasion, depending on the subject matter, people come from the broader heritage sector, from visitor centres or local history societies. On occasion, we also get attendees from the border museums in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal.
The Chairperson: I thank all of you for attending today and for your informative presentations.