New guidance entitled, Youth Work in Private Dwellings: Safety first – no compromises, published by the National Youth Agency (NYA) on 21 September, advises against delivering youth work in private dwellings such as homes, garages and gardens. Exceptions include where there is no alternative location locally, or where the young person is facing particular challenges, which means that unless the youth worker visits them in their home, they may be unable to access the support.

The Guidance responds to a recognition by the NYA that safeguarding in private dwellings was inconsistent across the sector during the pandemic, placing young people at potential risk and leaving youth workers open to criticism, despite their best intentions.

The document, which is available to download from the NYA’s Safeguarding and Risk Management Hub, is based on extensive consultation over the last year with youth work organisations, youth workers and young people through a survey of over 1000 practitioners, questionnaires and focus groups. The guidance responds to their experiences, challenges and concerns around delivering youth work in private dwellings. The final document was shaped and ratified by a panel of national experts including representatives from the Police, the voluntary sector and academia.

Abbee McLatchie, Director of Youth Work, National Youth Agency said: “Together with our new Youth Work Practice Standards and Safeguarding Standards for the youth sector, the Private Dwellings guidance reflects that the NYA is unequivocal about the safety of our young people. Whilst we are fully aware of the range of youth work that takes place in a variety of settings it is time for youth work organisations to be more robust in their safeguarding to ensure the integrity of the sector is upheld. By complying with our guidance you provide young people, their parents and carers with the reassurance that you have the appropriate checks and balances in place to keep young people safe and free from harm.”

Whilst the Department of Education specifies clear guidance and a code of practice for those delivering out of school activities – for example home tuition and after school clubs – there is limited reference to the use of private dwellings. This new guidance ensures that youth workers are fully equipped to protect and safeguard young people, first and foremost, as well as provide reassurance for those commissioning youth work that their provision meets the optimum standards for safeguarding.

The Youth Work in Private Dwellings guidance sets out a recommended baseline for safe youth work delivery covering the three areas of People, Place and Practice. Key recommendations are:

  • DBS checks for all those working or volunteering in the private dwelling as well as home-based checks to check the history and any ‘red flags’ associated with people living at the address.
  • Visitors to the youth work location should not be left unsupervised with the young people and all staff should have the relevant and up to date safeguarding training.
  • Organisations are encouraged to explore the values, personal beliefs and biases of staff within their organisations to create a culture which places the safety and wellbeing of young people at the fore.
  • There should be two unrelated adults present at any one time, and at least one of them must not own or rent the dwelling. For 1-2-1 activities a parent/ carer should ideally be present.
  • The guidance strictly advises against youth work taking place in the youth worker’s own residence or in a personal living space or bedroom.
  • Specific policies and protocols should be in place for staff working in potentially unsafe environments, for example lone working, travel and in the community.
  • To avoid the risk of any bias, any risk assessment should be carried out by a member of staff not connected with the premisses, and from another organisation or the local authority if there isn’t a suitably trained individual at the delivery organisation.
  • Young people should be made aware that provision is at set days and times and youth work should not take place outside the times specified for youth work delivery.

Carl Harris, Acting Service Head for Consultancy, NSPCC said: “This Private Dwellings guidance seeks to ensure that the welfare of children and young people, who access Youth Work services, remains the paramount concern, above any other.  It is hoped that this guidance will promote the safety and wellbeing of the many children that access Youth Services.”

The NYA’s Private Dwellings guidance puts greater onus on youth work organisations and those commissioning youth work to be held accountable for ensuring that any youth work taking place in private dwellings is delivered safely. Key recommendations include:

  • a national policy framework underpinned by legislation, which places local authorities at the heart of local safeguarding within the voluntary sector.
  • all spaces used for youth work should be registered and that the appropriate insurances and standards are in place as public venues and statutory organisations.
  • The development of national guidance for local authorities to support them to implement the framework working closely with the voluntary sector, community leaders and young people.
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