With unique access to many homes and families, members of the fire and ambulance services have a valuable role to play in the ongoing improvement of child safeguarding. FIRE & Ambulance News’ Richard Hook looks at how the NSPCC are working to ensure firefighters and paramedics know how to spot signs of child abuse and where to report these:
“When I started some 35 years ago, child protection was not even mentioned as part of our basic paramedic training, but since [the death of Victoria] Climbiè in 2004 and the re-organisation of Ambulance Service Trusts in 2006, scrutineering of safeguarding has never been greater,” David Blain, Chair of the National Ambulance Safeguarding Group, told us.
Yet despite this level of commitment to ensure safeguarding needs are met in all ambulances across the country, there wasn’t until recently a child safeguarding training resource aimed specifically at UK fire and ambulance service personnel.
Emergency service-specific scenarios
That is why Blain was happy to be approached, alongside Fire Services Youth Training Association (FSYTA) chair John Cartwright, by children’s charity the NSPCC with a goal to produce such a resource.
Safeguarding children: key skills for ambulance, fire and rescue services includes interviews with fronline professionals and dramatized scenarios showing situations they come across on a daily basis that may contain safeguarding issues.
Having those firefighter-specific scenarios is key according to FSYTA chair Cartwright who helps provide training on working with young people to fire brigades across the country.
Safeguarding crucial part of role
“We’d always use safeguarding resources and videos featuring potential scenarios in an office or in a factory and it would take a while for our firefighters to re-interpret the scenario and identify the learning points for their job,” Cartwright explained.
“By contrast, the new NSPCC resource, which provides advice on how to respond to scenarios such as seeing a young child out late on their own, or to a neglected child when making home safety checks, will really help to bring to life the message that safeguarding children is a crucial part of a firefighter’s role.”
Increasing awareness of safeguarding
Cartwright says there has been a real increase in awareness of safeguarding issues over the past two years, with high-profile cases such as the investigation into Jimmy Savile leading to many firefighters asking their brigades to put on additional training.
The current profile of safeguarding has led to Cartwright being seconded to the Chief Fire Officers Association as National Organisational Support Officer for the Supporting Inclusion Programme where he works very closely with the Youth United Foundation.
“We have a responsibility to give firefighters a good grounding in working with young people when they join the service,” he continued. “The role of the firefighter has changed so much in recent years, with more and more of their work involving being out in the community and delivering safety messages to at-risk groups – including young people.”
“So it’s essential they are trained to recognise and report signs of child abuse and neglect, be that when responding to a house fire or giving a safety lesson at a school. Any member of the fire & rescue service who has concerns about a child’s welfare must always report it.”
Big risk factors
Head of Safeguarding for the Yorkshire Ambulance Trust, Blain, is equally pleased to see the increased involvement of the ambulance service in the safeguarding agenda.
Blain told us that the NASG were consulted on the Department for Education’s biennial ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ guidelines for the first time in 2012, a move he believes is both welcome and overdue.
“We have so much information [about children’s conditions] that could be used nationally to improve the level of data available to councils and child safeguarding boards,” he said.
“For example, 999 call responders can pick out some big risk factors: who called, how often have they called, what noise is there in the background; it’s key all this information is picked up as soon as possible to build up as wide picture as possible of potential abuse.”
Insight into children’s everyday lives
NSPCC Training and Development Consultant Ann Norburn agrees that that both fire and ambulance professionals have a unique opportunity to spot signs of child abuse and neglect, as during home visits and contact with families they are well placed to gain an insight into children’s everyday lives.
The qualified social worker who was lead NSPCC training consultant on the Safeguarding children: key skills for ambulance, fire and rescue services resource said: “Firefighters and paramedics serve a vital role in protecting our community this includes helping to safeguard children.
“Our [NSPCC] expert trainers and consultants have worked closely with ambulance, fire and rescue services for many years. They, along with colleagues in these services responsible for delivering training internally, identified a real need for a training resource focusing on situations that firefighters and paramedics deal with every day. We believe our new resource will be valuable in helping firefighters and paramedics to recognise and respond effectively to signs of child abuse and neglect.”
Listen to Ann further discuss the resource in this exclusive interview recorded at the NSPCC’s recent ‘How Safe are our Children?’ event:
To find out more about emergency services child safeguarding visit: www.nspcc.org.uk/emergencyservices