Safeguarding, lockdown and helplines

Annika Howard
Woman with laptop and man on phone sitting on the floor

Helplines Partnership’s Director of Operations, Gemma Khairi talks about safeguarding, what it means for helplines and how now as many face-to-face services are suspended it is even more important to be alert.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and a basic human right – if you see signs or indicators, you a have a duty to share, act and support.

At a time when people do not have access to face to face support, and assessments are being done over the phone, safeguarding is even more important.

Helplines can help bridge this gap, as services are cut and suspended, which put increased pressure on the sector to identify and act where it can.

With social distancing, less interaction and spending a lot of time at home isolated, our opportunity to witness, to notice and to pick up on signs of abuse have significantly decreased.

Isolation, and being unable to leave home, can put people at greater risk of neglect, domestic violence, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Figures from our members show many of them reporting surges in call volumes throughout the first lockdown.

How can helplines identify safeguarding concerns?

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic means it has become more difficult to establish if there are safeguarding concerns as isolation and the other effects of covid on people’s mental health can result in behaviours that could cause concern.

Helpline teams may find that the people calling their service are presenting feeling anxious, depressed, withdrawn etc. A caller may be quiet, appear aggressive during the contact or unresponsive to exploring certain key areas.

There is a risk that callers who are vulnerable are being exploited by those who seek to take advantage of people due to factors such as age, disability, mental or physical impairment or illness.

For helpline teams, volunteer listening services or services that were face-to-face but are now being delivered over the phone or by text or webchat it’s important to be aware that without face-to-face contact we are not able to see key indicators such as:

  • Someone else may be in the room with them
  • If they are alone, how long have they been left alone?
  • What does their environment look like – are there signs of neglect?
  • Are there physical signs such as marks or bruising?
  • If it is an adult calling are there other people in the house with them such as children?
  • Self-neglect, looking unkempt, not having changed their clothes, these are signs that can highlight potential mental health deterioration

Gemma stresses “It’s important to always remember that signs do not always mean that abuse is taking place, however they should be something that prompts you to explore further. Safeguarding is also about people’s capacity to cope, to establish adequate mental health or access to health or medical-related support.”

Power of helplines and engagement

There are ways we can continue to support, and safeguard, children and adults at risk even when we are working remotely, at a distance, on a helpline.

Gemma shares five key things that people working on helplines can do to support and safeguard people accessing their service.

  1. Focus on building rapport and a level of trust. Go at the caller’s pace, this is even more important when dealing with safeguarding when there can be fear and mistrust about what may happen to them. The unknown can often be more powerful than the issues they currently face.
  2. Ask open questions and explore the world of the caller. This will give you more insight and a fuller picture of what their daily routine may be and what their life is like.
  3. Explore with them how life is different for them, what they feel the main changes are. This will give you clues and insights but also allow you to sensitively identify the key things impacting them right now.
  4. Always listen carefully and avoid making assumptions, offer reassurances, be clear about what your role is and the support you can offer.
  5. Be open honest about what may happen next and what you will do to support them. Don’t promise – you do not know exactly what will happen.

Always remember, if you do need to report any safeguarding concerns, do not delay. Where possible, seek to gain the consent, ask the child or adult at risk what they would like to be done. You also need to be aware of mental capacity, can the person make an informed decision, if you are not sure. talk to your helpline supervisor or manager.

Finally, make sure that you accurately record and note facts and assessment which can act as evidence and, respect confidentiality.

Resilience

One of the greatest risk factors in safeguarding during the pandemic is financial, people seeking to exploit the vulnerable at home.

When you talk to callers, explore this and make sure they are aware of the risks and signs to be alert to.

Although you don’t want to create any anxiety in others, suggest they are more aware of strangers and to check with family, friends and their support networks if they have them.

Review your policies, both your regular caller and safeguarding policies.

Make sure that you are following best practice in both and that you have strategies in place to respond to and meet the needs of your callers during the pandemic.

Remember that you are not alone, as a helpline, safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. Explore ways to encourage better partnership working in order to refer appropriately and work together to support the most vulnerable. Joint work can help identify safeguarding issues early and also provide ongoing shared support.

Learn more

We have developed a short, safeguarding for helplines toolkit to help organisations think about developing a safeguarding policy, identifying risk and practice and your statutory requirements.

We also offer safeguarding training for helplines and you can find out more about what this covers on our website.

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