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Guidance for Safe Working Practice for adults who work with children and young people

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Adults may have access to confidential information about children and young people in order to undertake their responsibilities. In some circumstances they may have access to or be given highly sensitive or private information. These details must be kept confidential at all times and only shared when it is in interests of the child to do so. Such information must not be used to intimidate, humiliate, or embarrass the child or young person concerned.

If an adult who works with children is in any doubt about whether to share information or keep it confidential he or she should seek guidance from a senior member of staff or nominated child protection person. Any actions should be in line with locally agreed information sharing protocols.

The storing and processing of personal information about children and young people is governed by the Data Protection Act 1998. Employers should provide clear advice to adults about their responsibilities under this legislation.

Whilst adults need to be aware of the need to listen and support children and young people, they must also understand the importance of not promising to keep secrets. Neither should they request this of a child young person under any circumstances.

Additionally, concerns and allegations about adults should be treated as confidential and passed to a senior manager without delay. This means that adults:

  • should be clear about when information can be shared and in what circumstances it is appropriate to do so
  • are expected to treat information they receive about children and young people in a discreet and confidential manner
  • should seek advice from a senior member of staff if they are in any doubt about sharing information they hold or which has been requested of them
  • need to know to whom any concerns or allegations should be reported

Making a Professional Judgement 

This guidance cannot provide a complete checklist of what is, or is not appropriate behaviour for adults in all circumstances. There may be occasions and circumstances in which adults have to make decisions or take action in the best interests of the child or young person which could contravene this guidance or where no guidance exists. Individuals are expected to make judgements about their behaviour in order to secure the best interests and welfare of the children in their charge. Such judgements, in these circumstances, should always be recorded and shared with a senior manager or if the adult does not work for an organisation, with the parent or carer. In undertaking these actions individuals will be seen to be acting reasonably.

Adults should always consider whether their actions are warranted, proportionate and safe and applied equitably.

This means that where no specific guidance exists adults should:

  • discuss the circumstances that informed their action, or their proposed action, with a senior manager, or with the parent/carer if not working for an organisation
  • report any actions which could be mis -interpreted to their senior manager
  • always discuss any misunderstanding, accidents or threats with a senior manager
  • always record discussions and reasons why actions were taken.
  • record any areas of disagreement about course of action taken and if necessary referred to a higher authority

Power and Positions of Trust

As a result of their knowledge, position and/or the authority invested in their role, all adults working with children and young people are in positions of trust in relation to the young people in their care. Broadly speaking, a relationship of trust can be described as one in which one party is in a position of power or influence over the other by virtue of their work or the nature of their activity. It is vital for all those in positions of trust to understand the power this can give them over those they care for and the responsibility they must exercise as a consequence of this relationship6.

A relationship between an adult and a child or young person cannot be a relationship between equals. There is potential for exploitation and harm of vulnerable young people. Adults have a responsibility to ensure that an unequal balance of power is not used for personal advantage or gratification.

Adults should always maintain appropriate professional boundaries and avoid behaviour which might be misinterpreted by others. They should report and record any incident with this potential.

Where a person aged 18 or over is in a specified position of trust7 with a child under 18, it is an offence for that person to engage in sexual activity with or in the presence of that child, or to cause or incite that child to engage in or watch sexual activity. This means that adults should not:

  • use their position to gain access to information for their own or others’ advantage 
  • use their position to intimidate, bully, humiliate, threaten, coerce or undermine children or young people
  • use their status and standing to form or promote relationships which are of a sexual nature, or which may become so

Propriety and Behaviour

All adults working with children and young people have a responsibility to maintain public confidence in their ability to safeguard the welfare and best interests of children and young people. It is therefore expected that they will adopt high standards of personal conduct in order to maintain the confidence and respect of the public in general and all those with whom they work.

There may be times, for example, when an adult’s behaviour or actions in their personal life come under scrutiny from local communities, the media or public authorities. This could be because their behaviour is considered to compromise their position in their workplace or indicate an unsuitability to work with children or young people. Misuse of drugs, alcohol or acts of violence would be examples of such behaviour.

Adults in contact with children and young people should therefore understand and be aware, that safe practice also involves using judgement and integrity about behaviours in places other than the work setting.

The behaviour of an adult’s partner or other family members may raise similar concerns and require careful consideration by an employer as to whether there may be a potential risk to children and young people in the workplace. This means that adults should not:

  • behave in a manner which would lead any reasonable person to question their suitability to work with children or act as a role model.
  • make, or encourage others to make, unprofessional personal comments which scapegoat, demean or humiliate, or which might be interpreted as such

This means that adults should:

  • be aware that behaviour in their personal lives may impact upon their work with children and young people
  • follow any codes of conduct deemed appropriate by their organisation
  • understand that the behaviour and actions of their partner (or other family members) may raise questions about their suitability to work with children and young people

Dress and Appearance

A person's dress and appearance are matters of personal choice and self-expression. However adults should dress in ways which are appropriate to their role and this may need to be different to how they dress when not at work.

Adults who work with children and young people should ensure they take care to ensure they are dressed appropriately for the tasks and the work they undertake.

Those who dress in a manner which could be considered as inappropriate could render themselves vulnerable to criticism or allegations.

This means that adults should wear clothing which:

  • is appropriate to their role
  • is not likely to be viewed as offensive, revealing, or sexually provocative
  • does not distract, cause embarrassment or give rise to misunderstanding
  • is absent of any political or otherwise contentious slogans
  • is not considered to be discriminatory and is culturally sensitive

Personal Living Space

No child or young person should be in or invited into, the home8 of an adult who works with them, unless the reason for this has been firmly established and agreed with parents/ carers and senior managers or the home has been designated by the organisation or regulatory body as a work place e.g. childminders, foster carers.

It is not appropriate for any other organisations to expect or request that private living space be used for work with children and young people.

Under no circumstances should children or young people assist with chores or tasks in the home of an adult who works with them. Neither should they be asked to do so by friends or family of that adult. This means that adults should:

  • be vigilant in maintaining their privacy and mindful of the need to avoid placing themselves in vulnerable situations
  • challenge any request for their accommodation to be used as an additional resource for the organisation
  • be mindful of the need to maintain professional boundaries
  • refrain from asking children and young people to undertake personal jobs or errands

Gifts, Rewards and Favouritism

The giving of gifts or rewards to children or young people should be part of an agreed policy for supporting positive behaviour or recognising particular achievements. In some situations, the giving of gifts as rewards may be accepted practice for a group of children, whilst in other situations the giving of a gift to an individual child or young person will be part of an agreed plan, recorded and discussed with senior manager and the parent or carer.

It is acknowledged that there are specific occasions when adults may wish to give a child or young person a personal gift. This is only acceptable practice where, in line with the agreed policy, the adult has first discussed the giving of the gift and the reason for it, with the senior manager and/or parent or carer and the action is recorded. Any gifts should be given openly and not be based on favouritism. Adults need to be aware however, that the giving of gifts can be misinterpreted by others as a gesture either to bribe or groom9 a young person.

Adults should exercise care when selecting children and/or young people for specific activities or privileges to avoid perceptions of favouritism or unfairness. Methods and criteria for selection should always be transparent and subject to scrutiny.

Care should also be taken to ensure that adults do not accept any gift that might be construed as a bribe by others, or lead the giver to expect preferential treatment.

There are occasions when children, young people or parents wish to pass small tokens of appreciation to adults e.g. on special occasions or as a thank-you and this is acceptable. However, it is unacceptable to receive gifts on a regular basis or of any significant value. This means that adults should:

  • be aware of their organisation’s policy on the giving and receiving of gifts 
  • ensure that gifts received or given in situations which may be misconstrued are declared
  • generally, only give gifts to an individual young person as part of an agreed reward system
  • where giving gifts other than as above, ensure that these are of insignificant value
  • ensure that all selection processes which concern children and young people are fair and that wherever practicable these are undertaken and agreed by more than one member of staff


Occasionally, a child or young person may develop an infatuation with an adult who works with them. These adults should deal with these situations sensitively and appropriately to maintain the dignity and safety of all concerned. They should remain aware, however, that such infatuations carry a high risk of words or actions being misinterpreted and should therefore make every effort to ensure that their own behaviour is above reproach.

An adult, who becomes aware that a child or young person is developing an infatuation, should discuss this at the earliest opportunity with a senior manager or parent/carer so appropriate action can be taken to avoid any hurt, distress or embarrassment. This means that adults should:

  • report and record any incidents or indications (verbal, written or physical) that suggest a child or young person may have developed an infatuation with an adult in the workplace 
  • always acknowledge and maintain professional boundaries

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