As Child Wellbeing and Protection Manager, Donna Martin plays a key role in ensuring that the protection of children and young people remains integral to the national game’s values and decision-making processes.
Donna’s work has already resulted in partnerships with Children 1st, UNICEF UK and the NSPCC, as well as the creation of policies, procedures and safeguards on Child Wellbeing and Protection to all of our members.
In recent weeks, the Board of the Scottish FA issued a directive that all affiliated bodies under its jurisdiction must comply with these procedures, therefore embedding consistency across Scottish football.
In this exclusive Q&A, Donna outlines the importance of safeguarding child wellbeing and protection.
In light of recent allegations in English football, how equipped is the Scottish FA to deal with issues of child protection?
The Scottish FA takes its role as the governing body of the national game seriously and today’s partnership with NSPCC to provide a dedicated 24-hour hotline for victims of child abuse reiterates our commitment.
We would urge anyone with any information relating to abuse or inappropriate behaviour – whether current or historic – to get in touch directly through our dedicated NSPCC hotline on 0800 023 2642 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
There are two main ways that we respond: firstly, our primary objective is to prevent unsuitable people coming into football to harm children and young people and to do this we have extended the safeguarding steps that take place when either a member of staff or volunteer is being recruited.
This includes background checks on individuals before placing them in a responsible position with young players.
Our reporting systems also help flag concerns over an adult’s behaviour, actions or conduct around children and young people, and we can take steps to address the concern.
Secondly, we provide training to all adults who work with children and young people in football.
As well as improving the understanding of children’s wellbeing it also gives some examples of potential signs and indicators of abuse that may be experienced. During training, they are also informed of the reporting procedures should a child ever disclose to them directly, observes anything concerning or someone else reports concerns to them.
Since appropriate reporting systems and procedures have been in place, we now have a more robust system that includes appropriate referrals to police and social work authorities.
From a Scottish perspective, how big a concern are the recent allegations and what is our responsibility?
We are ever-mindful of the threat, which is why our policies, procedures and practices are essential in ensuring vigilance and understanding. It has been long understood the difficulty that victims face in coming forward and the courage of the players in England speaking out and sharing their experience must be recognised.
It is our hope that this gives others the courage to come forward. It is our responsibility to ensure they are heard and that we respond to whatever information is shared with us.
How do you interact with your clubs and members to make sure there is an integrated approach?
The training we are currently leading on – we have one for all members at Hampden Park on Monday – is to ensure that our clubs and affiliated bodies have the knowledge, understanding and awareness to manage cases and situations that may arise in other areas of football.
This is being managed through a firm directive from the Scottish FA Board, which means that everyone in Scottish football will soon be working towards the same policies, procedures and safeguards.
Essential to this is the training we make available for everyone to raise their confidence and understanding of what to do and who to report to.
How does the Scottish FA support its affiliated leagues and bodies in these efforts?
We support in a range of ways. The key is harmonising their policies and procedures in line with ours, giving consistency across the sport.
Many clubs have also established strong working relationships with our Child Wellbeing and Protection Manager, which means any issues or concerns that arise, they seek advice and support on how to manage these situations.
Clubs are further supported with quarterly network meetings which informs clubs of relevant updates, sharing of practice, training, and extends that network for people to work together in this important area.
How do we ensure our coaches are appropriately Disclosure checked, both on current courses and previously?
The Scottish FA has a thorough Appointment and Selection of Adults in Regulated Work with Children procedure, which ensures that coaches are not only disclosure checked through their PVG scheme membership, but that references are also sought.
Any information that causes concern at recruitment stages can be risk assessed through our Safeguarding Panel before any individual is appointed into a role.
Furthermore, the induction and training process then ensures that coaches sign-up to a Code of Conduct for Safeguarding Children’s Wellbeing and complete full training on our policies, procedures and safeguards.
How equipped are we to deal with something like the Crewe Alexandra allegations in Scotland?
Should any historical or current allegations similar to those raised in England be shared, we will manage these in line with our policies and procedures.
Any concerns raised of a criminal nature will always be referred to Police Scotland and any action required to be taken within Scottish football will also be carried out.
How can a player or coach come forward?
We would urge anyone with a concern, allegation or information to contact the dedicated helpline on 0800 023 2642 or contact the Scottish FA Child Wellbeing and Protection Manager on email@example.com.
We fully appreciate and recognise how difficult it is for people who suffer abuse to speak out.
Whether this be the first time they talk about it to someone, or have already received help and support to overcome the lifelong impact of abuse, we would encourage people to come forward.
They don’t need to do it publicly and everything can be managed in a very confidential way.
However by having the courage to do this, it allows us to challenge the behaviours and take action to prevent other children and young people being harmed and abused.