Following the appointment of an Independent Advisory Board, a key recommendation of the Independent Review of Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football, Alyson Evans, Child Wellbeing and Protection Manager for the Scottish FA, provides an update on the steps taken within the organisation and the game in general since the Review’s publication.

Can you update us on what has been happening since the interim report was published last year?

The Interim Review report highlighted that the wellbeing and protection of children and young people had not always been at the heart of Scottish football. Therefore since receiving the recommendations we have been working on strengthening our foundations to ensure that this can never be the case again.

This requires a collective commitment to the highest standard of practice to ensure that children and young people are as safe as possible and that their wellbeing is promoted through having fun in football.  

Given the depth and complexity of the report and its recommendations, it was incumbent on us to take the time to consider each recommendation fully and to prioritise them.   Conversations took place across the game and the priorities determined. Within the Scottish FA a new Wellbeing and Protection Department was created, reporting directly to the Chief Executive. 

This team has been undertaking a review of the existing policy framework.  Senior leadership has been strengthened with the creation of a new Independent Advisory Board to advise, guide and monitor our work in this area. A new five-year strategy has been developed, to be published in August, with the involvement of stakeholders from across the national game. Working groups have also been established to ensure the implementation of the operational recommendations is led by those who are working in the relevant areas of the game.

What is the timescale for implementation of the recommendations?

All recommendations have been considered in depth and prioritised for work in the coming years. Thirty-five recommendations were prioritised for the first year and all have been completed or are being worked on actively.

To implement so many far-reaching recommendations across various parts of the game takes time. Some could be acted upon quite quickly and have been, while others require medium and long term timescales. Some of the areas identified by the recommendations will require constant work going forward to ensure our culture is one that prioritises the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in our game.  Our five-year strategy will set out how we intend to set and nurture that culture.

What will the role of the advisory board be and do they report to the main board?

The role of the independent advisory board is to provide advice, guidance and recommendations on all wellbeing and protection matters to the Scottish FA Board and the Wellbeing and Protection Department of the Scottish FA, including strategies, policies, procedures and practices.  The Board will oversee and monitor continuous improvement in wellbeing and protection practices within the Scottish FA and its members and generally support the work programme of the Wellbeing and Protection Department.  It will report to the Scottish FA Board and the Scottish FA Board can also seek advice directly as and when required.                                

You said last year that an implementation manager would undertake “significant outreach to all parts of the national game … to establish relevant jurisdiction to each recommendation and a practical timeline for recommendations to be actioned” – can you update on this?

The Implementation Manager worked with the Wellbeing and Protection Team for a six month period between July and December 2018 while permanent staff were recruited. The Implementation Manager met with around half our membership during this time to help members work through the recommendations that were of particular relevance to that club, association or league body. Timelines were established through the prioritisation of the recommendations. Engagement with all parts of the game will continue to be a fundamental part of our approach moving forward.

What is the Scottish FA’s view on the recent criminal cases and comments from survivors groups?

We commend the bravery of the individuals who gave evidence to the criminal courts which resulted in the recent convictions.  Many of these individuals also contributed to the Independent Review and their views and experiences are now leading the way in Scottish football being a safer place for children and young people today.   We cannot thank these individuals, and the friends and family members who have supported them, enough.  

It would be inappropriate for us to comment on individual cases or the criminal justice process, rather our focus is on implementation of standards for wellbeing and protection across the national game and in providing emotional support to survivors who wish to access that support from the Scottish FA. 

Have we engaged with survivors throughout this process?

The voices of survivors are at the heart of the Independent Review recommendations and we have continued to work with survivors who wish to continue to support and guide our work.  For example, a small group of survivors has been involved in developing our five-year strategy and their input was invaluable in shaping the transformational change that our strategy aims to bring about in the national game.  We are delighted that these individuals have indicated a willingness to continue to guide us in our work in the future. 

We continue to encourage anyone who has personal experience of abuse in football to come forward and speak about their experiences to us, Police Scotland or by contacting the NSPCC helpline:  0800 023 2642.  The Scottish FA can make available emotional support for survivors who wish to access that support.  This support can be accessed by making contact with me in the first instance – or 0141 616 6133.  

When will the full report be published?

The full report has not been able to be published while criminal proceedings are ongoing.  These proceedings have not yet been concluded. The Scottish FA Board and the Independent Review team remain committed to publishing the final report of the Review when we are able to do so.

How satisfied are you that the recent PVG lapses within the Scottish Youth FA have been rectified and how is compliance being assessed?

Working with the Scottish FA, the SYFA has undertaken a significant amount of work since issues with PVG membership were highlighted. This has included adopting the Scottish FA IT system and implementing an automated process for the appointment and selection of people in regulated roles with children, meaning that an adult will not be granted membership of SYFA without having completed the appointment and selection process, which includes satisfactory membership of the PVG scheme. The Scottish FA recently audited the SYFA’s compliance with the minimum standards expected in child wellbeing and protection and this audit recognised the progress that had been made in this area. The Scottish FA and the SYFA are committed to working together collaboratively to ensure the ongoing safety of children and young people in youth football. 

What assurances can you give parents and young players that Scottish football is a safe environment for children and will be safer for the implementation of these recommendations?

The wellbeing and protection of children and young people in our national game is a priority for Scottish football.  We are working across the game at all levels to prioritise safety and wellbeing.  Parents and young people themselves can play a key part in this work by asking questions of the clubs they attend, for example who is the wellbeing and protection officer at the club?

What is the criteria for staff and volunteers being recruited to the club? Who do they speak to if they are worried about something at the club? 

Further information can be found on the Scottish FA website, in the Safeguarding in Sport’s A Parent’s Guide to Finding a Safe Sports Club or The NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit website.