A Person’s A Person…

After a chat with a friend about a child we both know (not professionally), I felt concerned for the child & telephoned a professional in another agency* regarding the concern.  Considered a “professional” at work, I called as a member of public.  I was asked was my name, and then predictably asked whether I was calling as a professional or a member of the public.  And so the flowchart of “professional” or “member of the public” began.

Having established I was a “member of the public”, calling with a real and legitimate concern for a child, the conversation continued, with a rapidly increasing air of dismissiveness from the “professional” on the phone.  Their tone changed from sounding slightly irritated to bordering on patronisingly condescending.  Feeling like l was wasting their time, in a fleeting moment of self-doubt, my conviction waned.  Immediately visualising the child at the centre of the concern, reminded me why I must not feel intimidated, why the call must continue.  I made the decision then to metaphorically show my ID badge.  Explaining my professional background, current roles in various organisational structures, and membership of relevant Boards, I reminded them about the child.  The professional on the phone drew breath, then began apologising.  The apology itself could perhaps be indicative of acknowledgement that professionals and members of the public  are responded to differently, which can affect attitudes, interactions and even decisions.

Then followed a succession of changes in tack.  The professional suddenly admitted having limited understanding about the area of child safeguarding of concern. They spoke to a line manager briefly to gain wider knowledge.  The safeguarding topic is indeed a lesser understood one, I had already said my own understanding of it was basic.  The child at the centre returned into sharp focus.  A proactive  attempt was made to clarify concerns raised and explore next steps;  a positive, progress-driven, can-do approach.  The most prominent change however was the professional’s tone of voice.  The brusqueness now replaced with warmth, empathy and apologetic compassion.   They now spoke respectfully.

Knowing it was essential to find learning in all this which is always key to affecting change, the following points emerged for me on reflection the following morning.

  1. The Front Door    People who are at the “front door”of any organisation, either answering the telephone or desk-based in Reception, need an understanding of their significant role in representing the entire organisation for the first few moments of any interaction.  If a “member of the public” calls with genuine concern for a child’s safety, perhaps for the first time, they need it to be a positive experience, not an off-putting one.
  1. Understanding Safeguarding    Let us feel ok to admit to each other areas of safeguarding we know less about.  Let us feel ok to ask our line managers to learn more about those areas.  Let us feel ok to ask a colleague for advice and input with areas we do not feel confident in.  We are all learning every day.  Ultimately, let us not judge, and not feel judged, by each other.  Put simply, that is working together to safeguard children.
  1. Community    Perhaps “professionals” and “members of the public” can all be considered community.  As part of a community we all have a critical role in protecting children from harm and promoting their welfare.  Every one of us has the incredible capacity to change a child’s life.

Are labels denoting professional & others necessary in safeguarding?  Do we declare our role, even when not operating in a professional capacity, further widening the divide?  How can we work towards people treating people with equality and respect, removing hierarchical infrastructures, and promoting better partnership working? How can we make sure everyone feels heard and taken seriously about child safeguarding?

Safeguarding children is everybody’s business.  We are all in it together.

Let’s create safer spaces, safer conversations and model safer practice…Let’s keep striving for safer childhoods.

Horton the Elephant after making a difference to the tiny community of Whos in Whoville said this:

They’ve proved they ARE persons,

No matter how small.

And their whole world was saved,

By the Smallest of ALL!”

—  “Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss

* Please note I have contacted the organisation regarding this situation so practice can be addressed.