Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Thursday, 31 January 2013
Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure
Investigation into Consistency in Child Protection across the CAL Remit: DCAL Briefing
The Chairperson: I welcome Ms Deborah Brown, the Department's director of finance and corporate services and Mr Damian Brady, the Department's equality officer. Thank you for making the trip. Please make an opening statement, after which members will have an opportunity to ask questions.
Ms Deborah Brown (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure): I thank the Committee for the invitation. I apologise for not being able to make it last week, and thank you for accommodating us this week.
We welcome this investigation, which is being led by the Committee. It is very timely given the legislative changes to disclosure and barring arrangements and, obviously, the publication of the Yewtree report on Jimmy Savile.
This briefing will outline the existing safeguarding structures and the arrangements operated by the Department. It will provide the background and some insight into how we develop our safeguarding measures. It will demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ensuring that children and young people can avail themselves of culture, arts and leisure opportunities in a safe and secure environment.
The Department rarely provides services directly to children. However, most of our partners' activities involve contact with children and young people. The aim of the work with our partners is to establish agreement on and consistency in safeguarding standards, and we want to maximise and extend our influence to individuals or organisations funded or commissioned to provide any services for children and young people in the culture, arts and leisure sector, to ensure that they effectively address the safeguarding requirements. The Department is committed to developing and implementing the policies and procedures that enable everyone to know and accept responsibility in their duty of care for young people.
I would like to outline some of the background to how we arrived at our current safeguarding guidelines. In 2006, we commissioned the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) in the Department of Education (DE) to undertake a review of the child protection arrangements in a sample of the organisations sponsored by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). ETI's findings were that, although there were a number of strengths and instances of good practice, there were some gaps and inconsistencies in both policies and practice. The report found much uncertainty and a lack of understanding among some of the sponsored organisations about exactly what was required of them and how the child protection aspect of their work should be managed. The 2006 ETI report identified the need to provide formal guidance to sponsored organisations on matters relating to child protection; to deliver a child protection workshop with external input and providing examples of best practice; and to examine how the Department, given its arm's-length management and arrangements, can develop a more robust system of monitoring the child protection arrangements across its sponsored bodies.
In response to that report, the Department developed its written departmental safeguarding guide, which was issued to arm's-length bodies (ALBs) in June 2009. We held two training events, in February 2008 and May 2010, which were attended by departmental staff and representatives from arm's-length bodies, to consider the complex safeguarding issues. Those workshops included input from internal and external agencies, so we had in attendance representatives of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), for example, to support the sponsoring bodies in developing and understanding the rigorous safeguarding policies and procedures. We introduced a system of monitoring and reporting child protection arrangements across our arm's-length bodies, and we established a departmental child protection working group to act as a co-ordinating unit for raising awareness on the implementation of the safeguarding policies and legislative developments that were affecting DCAL and its sponsored bodies at that time. That group consisted of a representative from each business area and a policy officer from the NSPCC.
I will turn to how we monitor and report. We have regular governance and accountability meetings, with which you are familiar, and those also ensure that child protection policies, and nominated child protection officers, are in place in all of the arm's-length bodies. Safeguarding is an agenda item at those ALB accountability meetings. ALBs have to complete an annual audit checklist, which assesses the organisation's performance against those generic standards. Safeguarding also forms part of our risk management process, and our heads of branches within those sponsored bodies ensure that the appropriate checks have taken place. That, in turn, is reported on at the end of the year through what was the statement of internal control in the annual accounts, but which has now been changed to the governance statement. These processes provide the departmental accounting officer with assurances that satisfactory safeguarding measures are in place across all arm's-length bodies.
Following on from the review in 2006, we asked ETI to carry out a follow-up investigation, which it did throughout the year 2009-2010. That report found that the quality of safeguarding arrangements in all sponsored bodies inspected was satisfactory. In particular, it noted good progress made by DCAL in ensuring that the sponsored bodies had comprehensive and appropriate guidance on safeguarding children. It recognised and noted the inclusion by DCAL of the monitoring of the respective safeguarding arrangements in each of its sponsored bodies through the accountability meetings; the compliance of the sponsored bodies with DCAL's guidance; and the appropriate use of the associated annual checklist, which evaluates the safeguarding arrangements in place within organisations.
Following the recent developments, and the NSPCC's briefing to the Culture Arts and Leisure Committee in November, we met the NSPCC. We discussed the recent report and also, more importantly, where we could add value and make improvements to our current safeguarding provision. The NSPCC suggested a number of areas that we should look at, such as developing links with the new Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI), so we have set up a meeting with the board for 11 February. The NSPCC also said that DCAL should consider the merits of an internal safeguarding group to bring together the issues in the arm's-length bodies and to promote awareness. So we have decided to reinstate our departmental child protection working group. Obviously, the membership of that group includes representatives of the arm's-length bodies.
The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has a gapping exercise under way on child internet safety. That will be a good vehicle for us to look at any issues coming to our attention. Those issues should then be passed on to the arm's-length bodies. We are represented on the OFMDFM interdepartmental group, and we will ensure that anything that comes out of it is disseminated across the arm's-length bodies and then into the funded organisations.
They suggested that there might be a business case for developing structural support for the arts similar to the child protection in sport unit. That suggestion was in the report, and we will look at it in the context of our wider review of the child protection and safeguarding arrangements that we have in place. We will consider the business case and the need for it. They also said that there would be opportunities to develop the NSPCC 24-hour helpline, specifically in the arts sector. Our safeguarding guidelines highlight a number of organisations that can be turned to, and the helpline is one of those. However, we want to work with the NSPCC on how we can better promote that.
We have also used the opportunity to undertake a formal review of our safeguarding policies. We have engaged with the DHSSPS office of social services and safeguarding vulnerable groups unit and asked them to look at our safeguarding guidelines. Given the developments in September 2012, we know that the guidelines on vetting and barring, and so on, need to be updated. We asked them to look at whether the guidelines were still fit for purpose and whether there were areas in which we could improve them. We are happy to feed back to the Committee any recommendations that come out of that review. We will take those recommendations on board, and, through the working group that we will re-establish, and which will include arm's-length bodies, we will ensure that the information is disseminated across the DCAL family.
I hope that I have demonstrated that the Department sees it as critical and crucial that we ensure that we have the appropriate safeguarding arrangements in place and that our arm's-length bodies are complying with them appropriately. We want to continue to work on and develop them and ensure that we take into account any recent developments.
We welcome the Committee's investigation and are happy to listen to its comments, views and any recommendations that it makes and reflect those accordingly in our safeguarding guidance. More importantly, we will ensure that the information is properly communicated and disseminated across the DCAL family.
That is an overview of where the Department is with safeguarding, and we are happy to take any questions.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much. It seems that you have been very busy in the past number of weeks looking at the issues that have been raised, and the Committee welcomes that. That work was spurred on by some of the work done here, too, so thank you again for what you are doing and for responding very positively.
This is, of course, a topic of great interest to all Members, as reflected in debates planned for the House next week on internet safety, cyberbullying, and so on. It is also a topic that, unfortunately, appears regularly in the media.
You said that you had regular meetings until the ETI report was published and that you subsequently asked for a review. However, the departmental working group that had been established then ceased to meet. Why did you take that decision?
Ms D Brown: We did not consciously take a decision to cease meeting. The vetting and barring issue was still being debated, and we had set up that group specifically to ensure that it understood on whom it was necessary to have the appropriate checks done. Then, as we know, some changes were made, and we were not quite sure where those were going. As we know, the changes have, in fact, relaxed the position slightly from where we had thought that vetting and barring was going. So this was not a conscious decision; it was simply because there were no further developments at that point to necessitate meeting. We had meetings about issues that were due to come up, and that was how they were geared. However, the group did not meet again because very little had been happening on that front. Given the focus now and some of the changes, we recognise that it is right and proper that we should reconvene the group. We have not yet decided how often we should meet, but it might be sufficient to do so biannually. We also have the accountability meetings, and a structure is in place whereby the arm's-length bodies are supposed to report any incidents to the Department — to me as children's champion — and we look at those. In many cases, the incidents are very isolated and do not require us to say that something happened despite the safeguarding arrangements that were in place. It is more a case of incidents being reported, dealt with appropriately and referred to the police and social services as required. No huge lessons have been learned as a result of the small number of incidents that have been reported to us.
The Chairperson: Do you hold data on those incidents?
Ms D Brown: We have some information on those occurrences.
The Chairperson: Are they held centrally and analysed over time?
Ms D Brown: Yes. In 2012, we had six incidents in the museums sector, eight incidents in the library sector and two incidents in the arts sector. In each case, we were satisfied that they were dealt with appropriately. Some cases were referred to social services and the police. In some instances, it was a question of re-examining internet access security and such issues. The incidents were dealt with appropriately, and we have received information on each of them.
The Chairperson: Do the same policies apply in all the arm's-length bodies in the way that they report back to the Department?
Ms D Brown: Yes. When we wrote our guidance in 2009, we made sure that the arm's-length bodies were consulted, and all their guidance mirror our guidelines. The arts guidelines, for example, clearly go through a code of behaviour on what to do in those situations; how to approach a child; and how to deal with the way in which the issue is raised. They reflect our guidelines. Training is available and is run through the NSPCC or Volunteer Now.
The Chairperson: You are probably the best person to ask this question: is there an allocated budget for child protection in the Department?
Ms D Brown: There is not a budget for child protection in the Department, but the arm's-length bodies are required to have a designated officer who is the point of contact, has an element of expertise in the area and is able to signpost and advise people when those issues arise. Our arm's-length bodies are required to have that, and all of them do. In a sense, there is a budget in that they are funded to make sure that they have those officers in place. Some of them are full-time, and for others it is only part of their job, depending on the nature of the issues. We have designated dedicated people in libraries, for example, whereas in other bodies it would only be part of their role.
The Chairperson: The NSPCC mentioned the success of the sport unit and the possibility of replicating that for culture and the arts. What is the Department's stance on such a proposal? You mentioned a business case.
Ms D Brown: We are more than happy to have a look at that. That came about in 2001 as a result of work by UK Sport and a number of organisations. It emanated from a joint code of ethics and good practice for children in sport in Ireland that was published by the Irish Sports Council and Sport NI. It was recognised that a central point was needed to which people could go. We have the NSPCC helpline. When someone reports an incident appropriately, social services and the police are involved, so the right people are involved. We need to establish whether there is a need in the arts sector or whether ChildLine, and so on, and the designated officers, are sufficient. This particular unit goes beyond advising people who are not only funded by DCAL, whereas, in the arts, our concern is that those who are funded by DCAL and by an arm's-length body must have appropriate safeguarding arrangements in places. They can get advice through the designated officers in the Arts Council and so on, but it does not go beyond that. So if a local dance class is not funded by DCAL, for example, where does it go for help? The issue is to make sure that there is proper signposting and promotion. We will work with the NSPCC to ensure that it is the right model and to find out whether we should do further work to make people aware of where they should go.
From the Savile case, it is very alarming that incidents were not reported for 40 or 50 years. Why is that? We know that, in the 1970s, there was not the same level of awareness, but there are no excuses now. How do we make sure that people know where to go to when something like that happens? That is the important issue.
The Chairperson: You have hit it on the button. You have been able to expound the information on arm's-length bodies and what they do in the processes that are in place, but dance groups, individual piano teachers and so on are perhaps working in all innocence. They may become a perpetrator, but at the same time they become a victim. That is the precise issue that we are looking at. It is outside our remit over arm's-length bodies. People who are involved in those types of activities need to know that they are covered and can be signposted in the right direction.
Ms D Brown: We know that a lot of it is about education. Even with cyberbullying, the Department of Education has a huge role to play in getting the right messages out to children and raising awareness. Primary responsibility for safeguarding a child lies with the parent, so how do we make sure that a parent knows, if a child attends a dance class or whatever, that the right checks, balances and assurances are in place and that a child knows how to approach someone. There is more awareness now, but there is also an education aspect to let people know where they can go to when such an issue arises.
Ms McCorley: Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. How confident are you that measures are in place that can help to deal with cyberbullying? It is an underground problem, and it is difficult to see how it can be stopped.
Ms D Brown: That is completely outside our remit, and I have no expertise on the subject. OFMDFM is setting up a group, and there is a key role for the Department of Education to make children and parents aware.
Ms McCorley: So cyberbullying is not covered by your work.
Ms D Brown: No, it is not. However, we ensure that training is given so that people such as coaches know the signs of a child being bullied. That training includes coaches being made aware about how they should behave on Facebook and being careful about friends and access. When we get more information from the OFMDFM working group and consider DE's work, we will ensure that we link into that and that our arm's-length bodies give up-to-date and appropriate training to their staff and the funded organisations.
The Chairperson: Did you have any discussions with the Safeguarding Board before it was raised by the NSPCC?
Ms D Brown: No.
The Chairperson: Did you have any contact with it on sport-related issues?
Ms D Brown: No, we did not.
Mrs McKevitt: Apologies for being late. When the Department funds groups, do the guidelines insist on you seeing a child protection policy and the training?
Ms D Brown: Yes.
Mrs McKevitt: What follow-ups does the Department do to make sure that that is hitting the right buttons? I know, from having been involved in local clubs, that you can simply go onto the internet and get guidelines on child protection and another organisation's policy that perhaps no one knows the details of. What assurances do you give to those who need training, are setting up a new group or are looking for funding? What checks do you do?
Ms D Brown: There is a safeguarding checklist that people have to go through to ensure that they have done x, y and z. They have to be able to produce the evidence. It is not just about going onto the internet and pulling up some material: for example, they have to produce a copy of their statement to show that they are promoting it on their website. They have to ensure that the organisation has written procedures for the recruitment and selection of staff and their volunteers so that we have the job description and the application form. References are also sought and written references are followed up. All those types of things, which are detailed on a list, are supposed to be documented. Funding usually goes out from an arm's-length body to a funded organisation, and it is a condition of that funding. The Arts Council, for example, is clear when it issues funding that it is about ensuring that those conditions are in place and that organisations are operating effectively and have appropriate training.
Mrs McKevitt: As part of the bid, can some of the funding be used specifically for training in child protection?
Ms D Brown: It depends on the programme or project. If staff are involved and there is a requirement to ensure that child protection is incorporated, that can be part of the bid. It depends on the criteria and the funding conditions.
Mrs McKevitt: Have Departments been given any guidelines? Changes in the past few years mean that child protection requirements can go out of date very quickly. I am particularly referencing cyberbullying, the internet, Facebook and so on. Has the Department investigated increasing the possibility of a new line of child protection guidance?
Ms D Brown: We have done that with DHSSPS, because there are no real recommendations coming out of the Savile affair that this, that or the other should be done. It is more concerned with what failed to happen, and there are issues such as awareness and proper signposting. We have asked the safeguarding unit in DHSSPS to look specifically at our guidance because, in light of what happened in September 2012 with vetting and barring, we know that it needs to be refreshed to find out whether any improvements are needed. That unit is looking at our guidance now.
Mr Ó hOisín: The remit of the investigation is to cover a lot of the people who were falling through the grate in the area of protection. Have you considered creating a trickle-down effect on the arm's-length bodies that fund some of the governing bodies, perhaps through the education boards' youth services, to throw the net as wide as possible? How far can that spread? You gave the example of individual piano teachers. There are organisations and activities that are not necessarily covered by arm's-length bodies, governing bodies or other services.
Ms D Brown: We will work with the NSPCC and DHSSPS to see how to manage those areas that we do not fund directly or have a direct influence over. There is legislation in place that requires organisations to do x, y and z, but we will need to liaise with the NSPCC and DHSSPS.
Mr Damian Brady (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure): There is a role for the involvement of local government. Much culture, arts and leisure activity takes place in local government facilities, which is where the gap is. We need to ask local authorities what they demand of someone who comes to hire a hall or a venue in the local leisure centre. Is that coach's vetting checked by the council? I do not know whether that happens, and that is where the big gap is in Northern Ireland.
Mr Ó hOisín: There will also be an insurance issue at local government level. Some facilities are hired only to bona fide groups with their own insurance. There must be some crossover, and there may be a lack of knowledge between those two factors.
The Chairperson: Deborah, you mentioned reports from National Museums NI, Libraries NI and the Arts Council. Have you ever had any reports from Foras na Gaeilge or the Ulster-Scots Agency?
Ms D Brown: I have only the 2012 information. I do not recall. There may have been.
Mr Brady: No incidents were reported from that sector.
The Chairperson: Do they work alongside the same processes and guidelines as other arm's-length bodies?
Ms D Brown: Yes.
Mr Hilditch: Damian hit the nail on the head when he talked about disparity between certain tiers. There are the simple, downloaded templates that people use for funding, right through to the high-spec, all-singing, all-dancing type, where some clubs can be accredited and be exemplars of policy. It is about the range in between — in that gap — at the end of the day.
I am aware that, from a council perspective, local courses are available, and not just through the associations that are involved in arm's-length bodies. Local government is now trying to deliver locally. When you take a course that is dedicated to your activity but move to a different activity — say that you are involved in football and took a child protection course, but you move sideways into hockey, for example — you have to revisit the course. The course is not overarching.
Mr D Brady: Previously, a child protection awareness course would carry from sport to sport, but, under the vetting and barring arrangements, you could not carry your vetting check with you. You had to get a fresh vetting check for every move —
Mr Hilditch: From Boys' Brigade (BB) to football club, or whatever it might be.
Mr D Brady: Even if a governor of a local school were moving to another school, a fresh check would have to be done. That has now changed as a result of the changes to the vetting and barring arrangements that came into effect in September 2012.
Mr Hilditch: To go back to the original point about the different levels and the gap between them, is that a concern?
Mr D Brady: We can reach out only to the organisations that we fund. There is a massive number of them, particularly in the arts sector, outside those organisations that are funded by the Department or the Arts Council. It is about getting the message across to those organisations. That is where a partnership role with local government could help.
Mr McMullan: I agree with you. Local authorities need to revisit their child protection policies. However, as long as their current policies tick the boxes, for want of a better phrase, for them, they can get their programmes out. Moreover, the issues around child protection for young people with special needs and disabilities have not been explored in depth. Those issues always get lost in the wording of a policy. The policies are general in nature, but there are complex needs and issues around special needs and disability, and those require a standalone policy, because there are more and more groups out there with children and young adults, many of whom still come under the Children Order. That throws up another problem, which is not being dealt with by local authorities.
In all honesty, a lot of the time, council officers in local authorities are not up to speed. I do not know whose fault that is, and I will not go into that. However, that is an area that needs to be looked at seriously.
Ms D Brown: Our guidelines have a section on dealing with a situation in which a concern is raised by a child with a disability, where there is a need for a slightly different approach to be taken. Our policy reflects the need to recognise that in the first instance and manage it. That has been fed through in the policies for our arm's-length bodies as well. I take your point that it is about training and how that plays out in practice.
Mr McMullan: You said that the policy mentions it, but some organisations look at the delivery of that child protection course for disability as being an additional expense on top of the expenditure on the course that deals with protection for able-bodied children. The whole question of expense comes into it. I have first-hand experience and knowledge of that, so I ask you to look into that area.
Mr Swann: I want to go back to your checklist. Who does it apply to, and at what stage?
Mr D Brady: It is a two-pronged process. It is usually an accountability meeting between the Department and the arm's-length body. We then advise the arm's-length body to use the checklist with the funded organisations. It is used by the Department to ensure that the ALBs are meeting standards, and then it is used between the arm's-length bodies and the funded organisation.
Mr Swann: Is there any onus on the ALB to use it, or is it merely guidance?
Ms D Brown: It has to be done annually. All that feeds into our annual assurance statement and our governance statement, which find their way into our annual accounts.
Mr Swann: I am just trying to get my head around this. The Department insists that the ALB uses it. The ALB insists that any organisation that it funds uses it. What if that organisation is then breaking down further funding? I am just thinking about the structure of organisations. The main funding body might fund a subgroup. Is there any requirement for that group to use the checklist?
Ms D Brown: The conditions of the funding are that appropriate safeguarding arrangements be in place. It should follow the pound.
Mr Swann: It should follow the pound to the subgroup.
Ms D Brown: It should, yes.
Mr Swann: Are there any checks?
Ms D Brown: I do not know the detail of how the ALB does that in practice. However, we get assurances from ALBs that these things are being done.
Mr Swann: If there is a simple checklist or tick-box form, should due diligence be done to make sure —
Ms D Brown: If an arm's-length body funds an organisation, that organisation is required to have appropriate safeguarding arrangements in place. If that organisation, in turn, funds other organisations, it is required, under its safeguarding guidelines, to ensure that any funding that it gives out is properly managed and that appropriate safeguarding arrangements are in palace.
Mr Swann: If those arrangements went the whole way down, the Department would be happy enough that the final recipient is compliant with child protection.
Ms D Brown: We get our assurances through those various methods. They are as good assurances as you can get.
Mr Swann: The Department would be happy enough if those assurances were in place.
Ms D Brown: Yes.
The Chairperson: Do you look at best practice elsewhere?
Mr D Brady: We have regular contact with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Volunteer Now. In the past 12 months, we have brought Volunteer Now into the Department to train our staff who have direct contact with children, although only a very small number of fisheries officers have that direct contact. That was the most up-to-date training provided at the time.
We keep in regular touch with the NSPCC. It sits on a number of interdepartmental groups with DHSSPS, as do a number of sector organisations. We are constantly aware of what is happening out there.
The Chairperson: Do you look at anything that is being done in other jurisdictions or at any European-wide models? Do you look at innovation and technology, at how things are moving forward, and at how that could be best applied here so that we keep moving forward?
Ms D Brown: We have not, but we place reliance on the NSPCC, Volunteer Now, OFMDFM and DHSSPS to make us aware of that.
The Chairperson: I understand that the Irish Football Association (IFA) will be launching a safeguarding app shortly. That could be looked at and adapted for others in the sector and perhaps rolled out across the arts sector. It is about using technology in a positive way.
Mrs McKevitt: I come in on the back of what Damian said about Volunteer Now. Do you find that there is a gap in local volunteers putting themselves forward to be the designated person who has to take on such responsibility within the child protection loop?
Mr D Brady: I will speak personally outside of my work role. I volunteer, and that was the initial fear in the organisation that I am involved with when the new vetting and barring requirements came on board. However, I can say that those did not deter anyone. We had no issues with carrying out the vetting checks or having designated officers.
Ms D Brown: Having those checks and balances gives people reassurance. If they are dealing with children and have their clearance, they get confidence. Therefore, it is in everyone's interest.
Mr Ó hOisín: I know that a number of organisations still have a concern over vetting and the time frame for its delivery, whether that is done through Access NI or the PSNI. There is a concern that people are being prevented from coming forward. In one case that I was dealing with as recently as yesterday, the organisation has already been waiting 90 days for clearance to come through. There is a frustration there, and it might prove to be a deterrent to people coming forward.
Mr McMullan: To go back to local government, I think that you have an excellent opportunity now, through the review of public administration (RPA), to go in with a fresh policy with two council clusters, taking into account all that.
The Chairperson: We are all speaking off the same page on these issues. It is about making sure that children and young people feel safe in environments. We must do our utmost to make sure that that happens. I appreciate the positive work you have been doing in recent weeks. Anything that comes out of this will only help. It is not to be seen as a criticism but as being of assistance.
Ms D Brown: Words such as "gaps" are quite worrying. We are trying to improve and enhance what we already have in place. What we have in place is good. We just need to make sure that it is robust and fit for purpose, given the issues that have been raised here. The question is this: what is DCAL's remit outside those organisations that it actually funds? We must make sure that we are lining ourselves up with what the NSPCC, DHSSPS and other organisations are doing so that there is no duplication or confused messages. It is about making sure that the right people are taking the lead, and that we are doing what we need to do behind that to complement it or, in some cases, to take the lead. It is about making sure that we are clear about who is doing what.
The Chairperson: That is important. It is also very important that it be signposted for those who are outside the normal funding mechanisms. I take the point on local government. That may be something that the Committee will want to take up in correspondence.
Thank you for your presentation. Is it possible to have a copy of your written briefing, which we did not get in advance?
Ms D Brown: Yes.
The Chairperson: It may be useful for members to have a look at that later. Thank you very much.