When “Challenging” feels VERY challenging

Most would likely agree that development of a culture which enables professionals to challenge the actions, practice, decisions or opinions of others as needed, in relation to safeguarding children, is essential. Even so, challenging, in this context, can feel very difficult.  At the extreme end, a person may need to challenge in ways that have a profound effect on colleagues’ reputations and lives.  Professionally challenging is exceedingly challenging in itself, yet crucial given the critical imperative – safeguarding children.

Recently, reading a health organisation’s Safeguarding Children Quality Assurance Framework, the aspects of safeguarding children that partner agencies can demonstrate “quality assurance” for became very apparent.  On further reflection, the document illuminated areas of safeguarding which are harder to quality assure (QA).  Whistleblowing immediately came to mind.

A few days later, in a meeting where the above framework was shared, a colleague explained “Escalation procedures are clear and there are mechanisms to QA them.”  This began an insightful conversation with colleagues from partner agencies on professional challenge, and the differences between “escalation” and “whistleblowing”.  The former is typified by open & transparent professional challenge.  The latter, while also a form of professional challenge, can also include defining characteristics of fear, intimidation, secrecy, isolation and shame.  Much of whistleblowing, for all involved, can feel very unsafe. Bearing all this in mind, and acknowledging the expectation to have clear policies and procedures for both escalation and whistleblowing in all agencies, questions emerged around how organisations can evidence that their processes are quality assured and that professionals can feel confident to use them, ensuring best practice is consistently upheld to protect children.

The press surrounding high profile safeguarding cases recently, including those focused on child sexual exploitation, has highlighted situations where professionals have attempted to whistleblow and perhaps not been supported or their concerns could have been handled more effectively.  Continuing to think about all this has led to more questions than answers.  Perhaps it is something to be mindful of, and begin to explore in relation to safeguarding.  Whistleblowing policies and procedures are only as good as the safety nets around them for those who need to use them to safeguard a child.  How are the safety nets checked, monitored and how are weaknesses addressed to ensure that those who need to whistleblow will feel safe enough to do so, confident in the very system that is there to enable them to, in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of children?  How can we test their strength and effectiveness?

Asking these questions of ourselves and each other could make a life-changing difference for a child today….equally, so could not asking the questions.