Diversity & Inclusion Correspondent Lorna King reports on the development of the Professional Fire Standard for Safeguarding and speaks to the driving force behind it – Donna Bentley MBE.
‘The position of trust that the role of a firefighter holds within its communities is well documented. Indeed the role of firefighter has been cited as the second most trusted position held within the UK and only second behind that of a general practitioner’.
From the 2019 NFCC Safeguarding Position Statement
The position of trust that firefighters hold across the UK enables the fire sector to be in a prime position for safeguarding vulnerable adults and children in our communities, and was the inspiration for a safeguarding conference hosted by Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) in 2018. Donna Bentley was responsible for organising the conference and subsequently writing the NFCC Safeguarding Position Statement, both of which would prove to be the early stages of her extraordinary journey to developing the newly published NFCC Professional Fire Standard for Safeguarding.
Donna’s wealth of experience and knowledge more than qualified her for this project. Before her Fire Service career, Donna worked in law, specifically family and criminal law surrounding children and young people. She then worked as the Community Development and Safeguarding Manager for ECFRS for over 16 years, and her responsibilities included the successful Firebreak Scheme: an early intervention programme working with vulnerable groups on a week-long course, education in schools, juvenile firesetters, fire cadets, Duke of Edinburgh award licence manager and safeguarding children and adults.
To enrich Donna’s already vast skill-set, ECFRS funded her placement at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford to study social care – a step on the ladder that would inspire her safeguarding passion even further. Donna says: “When I qualified, I wanted to implement all the effective safeguarding measures into ECFRS, but this was quite a challenge because there was a significant amount of legislation, a significant amount of guidance and policy, and it was really hard to try and interpret how that aligned to the fire sector. It was very clear for statutory agencies, but for those that aren’t, what were our responsibilities and our duties?”
Donna Bentley MBE
Rather than attempt to answer this question alone, Donna came up with the idea for the safeguarding conference as a way of discussing these emerging issues with other fire and rescue services (FRSs) and working together in navigating what was then a complex system of legislation and guidance. At the time she was sitting on the NFCC Children and Young People Board alongside Phil Garrigan, CFO for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS). Donna says: “I was wholly supported by Phil, I need to be clear on that. I used to go to him and say, ‘I think there’s an emerging issue here around our legal and moral duties, we really need to support the sector around up-skilling professionals within the service and making sure that we’re on point regarding our [safeguarding] duties. We need to act in order to ensure that the trusted position our sector holds is never compromised. A far greater prevention agenda was emerging daily, and in amongst all of this, the very roots of our work being safeguarding, we needed to make sure that was filtering through to the prevention, protection and response agenda’. Phil fully supported the idea of a conference to address this.”
The conference was a huge success, with over 40 FRSs attending. Donna says: “We spent the whole day looking at what difficulties services were having, and at the end it was very clear to us that we needed a significant amount of sector guidance and training on safeguarding.”
The conference inspired the development of the NFCC Safeguarding Workstream in 2018, of which Donna was invited to be the Chair. A lot of brainstorming meetings ensued and Donna and her team very quickly developed the NFCC Safeguarding Guidance that clearly lists the fire sector’s legal duties and responsibilities, but there were more challenges to come. Donna says: “One of the things that every FRS was having trouble with was that they were being invited to attend their local authority safeguarding children’s board and adult’s board, and both of those, under the Children’s Act and the Care Act, provided requirements for audit returns for fire and rescue services, which were quite long and complex audits that needed to be completed and submitted to the local authority.”
In response, Donna and her team scrutinised the audits and picked out the areas relevant to FRSs. Donna says: “We then designed and implemented our own sector specific self-assessment audit toolkit, which was a combination of duties defined within both the Children’s Act and Care Act, and it meant there was just one document and one area of focus. It covers every possible duty and requirement relevant to the fire sector, and it has enabled every FRS to have a sense check of where they stand regarding their legal and moral safeguarding responsibilities, which was very popular.”
“I wanted to make sure that safeguarding was raised within organisations to be a really credible and professional area of advice and guidance”
The self-assessment toolkit was very well received among local authorities as being good practice among FRSs. The next logical step for Donna was to explore how FRSs would continue to develop good practice in the area of safeguarding. She realised this would require the introduction of professional advisory roles within every FRS, enabled by up-skilling the workforce where required. Donna says: “It could no longer be a job that was just added on to someone’s existing role, it needed to be a role that was taken seriously as a profession. I wanted to make sure that safeguarding was raised within organisations to be a really credible and professional area of advice and guidance.” In response to this the team designed and implemented their own CPD credited level 3 and 4 safeguarding train the trainer packages. This has been offered to every FRS and the majority have attended, which means the training can now be widely delivered within all of those services.
It is worth noting here that all this work so far on developing safeguarding guidance, self-assessment frameworks, peer review templates and advice for FRSs around the country was completed largely in Donna’s spare time, alongside her usual duties for ECFRS, often during her evenings and weekends. And yet she knew there was much more to be done. Her next move was to contact the Professional Fire Standards Board. In a letter to the board, she wrote: ‘I would really welcome professional standards for safeguarding, which underpins all our activity in the professional standards that come out of protection, prevention and response, moving forward’. The board were delighted with the proposal and agreed immediately.
The press release from the Fire Standards Board stated that: ‘The Safeguarding Fire Standard aims to ensure that fire and rescue services are doing all that they can to support safeguarding. Its desired outcome is that services work proactively to promote the safeguarding of those within their communities as well as employees and volunteers, reducing the risk of abuse, harm and neglect. The Standard clearly defines what is expected from every FRS and provides tools and guidance to implement the best practice: a service must have a designated Safeguarding Lead, and it should work collaboratively with partners to share learning and experiences in order to contribute to the continual improvement of safeguarding. Full details of what services need to do to achieve this Standard are detailed on the website: www.firestandards.org.
Donna and her team have gone above and beyond to make sure the correct information is easily available. Donna says: “To support the sector we wanted to have a workplace directory where we could put sample policies, guidance, briefing documents, training packages, etc, so we created this safeguarding NFCC workplace directory, and in there is a library as well. This saves everyone re-writing their own documents. They can download the most appropriate policies and procedures that fit into their service.”
Donna is clearly passionate about the development of the Professional Fire Standard for Safeguarding. She describes one of her proudest moments at the NFCC 2019/20 autumn conference where she and Phil Garrigan gave a presentation on the subject: “Safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility, it’s not just something that we should be looking at doing to others in the community, we should be aware of it internally as well. We need to safeguard those who safeguard others, we need to safeguard the trusted position our sector has earned within our communities and amongst our partners, we need to safeguard our organisation and make sure that our workplace, and all the people that represent us, are in the best possible position themselves to safeguard our communities. They are our eyes and ears, they are the people that we ask to safeguard others. We wanted services to recognise that it’s not just something we do for other people, we do it for ourselves and our people too.”
This was the key message of Donna and Phil’s presentation, and in support of this message, Donna and her team are currently writing a sector specific training programme that will go out to every employee and FRS. It teaches basic awareness around what safeguarding is and how it can be linked to everybody’s work within the sector and, at the time of writing, it is due to be launched very soon. This message is also clearly explained in the animation that was released on YouTube on February 15, highlighting the publication of the Safeguarding Standard. You can view the animation here: https://youtu.be/_k-sJpCgpFk.
“Donna has had to overcome some significant challenges to get [safeguarding in the fire sector] to where it is now, and we’ve got a really solid, strong and well established Fire Standard”
CFO Phil Garrigan
Returning to my initial comments on the position of trust that firefighters hold in the community, Donna sees this as fundamental to the sector’s safeguarding responsibilities: “We have whole communities, nationwide, that have grown up knowing that FRSs are there to save you in your hour of need, and that is such a powerful tool for our sector and partners in regards to engaging with our communities, and particularly those who are vulnerable. What you see nowadays, as safeguarding becomes more embedded in our sector, are statutory agencies like the police, social care, health, contacting the FRS to say, ‘we want to access this individual in their home, but they won’t open the door to us, can you knock on the door?’
“It’s being increasingly recognised and written into policies that there’s a broader understanding of how powerful that brand is that we wear, that uniform. Firefighters and other FRS staff save so many lives every year, not only by attending incidents but through their significant work in the community. Every single day, in every FRS that is carrying out their prevention, protection and response agendas, they are identifying vulnerable groups and working with them, they’re saving so many more lives. That needs to be celebrated, and I don’t think we highlight that enough in our sector. I don’t think we’re very good at shouting from the rooftops just how many lives we do save on a daily basis.”
Donna speaks very highly of her team and those in the FRS who have supported her continuing work on safeguarding. She says: “I have been so fortunate to have had wonderful support, not only from all my colleagues that attend the NFCC Safeguarding Workstream but also CFO Rick Hylton and Director of Operations Chris Parker from ECFRS, CFO Neil Odin from Hampshire FRS, CFO Dawn Whittaker from East Sussex FRS, CFO Jason Thelwell from Buckinghamshire FRS, and of course, my mentor for many years, CFO Phil Garrigan from Merseyside FRS. It is those individuals that have encouraged and supported me in raising the bar with regards to safeguarding duties within our sector.”
Phil Garrigan, CFO for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service
Phil Garrigan was kind enough to have a quick chat with me about the development of the Safeguarding Fire Standard, and he immediately made it very clear that all the hard work and drive to push this forward came from Donna. Phil says: “Whilst I’ve given Donna a little bit of support, more of a sounding board really, listening to her thoughts and ideas and what she needs to do to take some of those ideas forward, it has all been absolutely and categorically down to her passion and her focus on doing the right thing and protecting FRSs, and more importantly, the people who work within them, and even more importantly, the people who benefit from the services we provide in our communities… Donna has had to overcome some significant challenges to get [safeguarding in the fire sector] to where it is now, and we’ve got a really solid, strong and well established Fire Standard. It’s going to take the whole of the UK FRS forward in regards to how it safeguards its people and the public that we serve.”
I asked Phil how MFRS are working to implement the requirements within the Standard. He said: “The Standard is still relatively new, but what we tend to do in terms of the process is, the Standard comes in, whatever that might be, and it’s allocated out to the particular department that has responsibility for the delivery of that, so safeguarding, for us, sits within our prevention team. They will then review and do a gap analysis to see if there’s anything we need to do to ensure that we’re meeting the requirements. They will then come back to the strategic board to provide an update… Standards need to be acknowledged, actioned, and if there are any gaps, plug them. The Standard sets the bar, and [within the Safeguarding Standard] the peer review process and the self-assessment toolkit are easily accessible guidance for meeting the criteria. If you follow the self-assessment process and you underpin that through peer review you won’t be far from meeting the requirements of the Standard. In fact, you’ll probably be surpassing it at that particular point in time, because the work that Donna and her team have done is so good!”
Donna is now the Strategic Safeguarding Lead for the NFCC, and her position is funded for four days a week. The other one day a week, she is the Head of Safeguarding for both ECFRS and Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service. Donna and her team are busy planning the next three years of work, developing projects such as reviewing existing government policy and legislation to ensure that it acts as enabler for the sector moving forward, guidance for DBS checks and more training around counter-terrorism PREVENT duties, for which they will be working closely with the Home Office. Donna says: “There is a lot more to do but we’ve definitely got our roots firmly planted!”
At time of writing it is International Women’s Day, and it feels fitting to be celebrating the enormous amount of positive action that has come from all of Donna’s hard work and determination. Her developments in safeguarding will continue to support and guide the FRS and the communities it serves long into the future. Is it any wonder that this remarkable woman was short-listed for the Excellence in Fire and Emergency Most Influential Woman in Fire Award?