1. About this guidance
  2. Language and terminology
  3. The purpose of a DSL
  4. Who should be a DSL
  5. Training for and sustaining your role as a DSL
  6. Further reading
  7. Further resources and support

1. About This Guidance

This guidance talks about the purpose, roles and responsibilities of an individual that has been named the operational safeguarding lead for the organisation. This is commonly referred to as a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). This may or may not be the same person who has legal responsibility for safeguarding, which can sit separately to the DSL e.g., Trustee for charities and particularly aimed at youth workers[1] supporting young people aged 8-19 (or up to 25 with additional needs).

You can expect to understand more about the breadth or the role, including an example role description. This resource can be used by organisations run by volunteers, through to large organisations with capacity to have a larger safeguarding team. This document provides a template structure that can be developed or scaled back depending on your internal resource.

2. Language and Terminology

A DSL is currently not a regulated role or term. Therefore, a range of titles are often used to describe the person with operational responsibility for safeguarding such as: Child Protection Officer, Welfare Officer, Mental Health Lead or Designated Safeguarding Lead. For the remainder of this document, we will use the term Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). In some organisations there can be more than one DSL and in others, one DSL with a number of safeguarding or child protection officers (DSO/CPOs) that form a safeguarding team.

Sometimes the terms child protection and safeguarding are used interchangeably. Safeguarding encompasses the promotion of welfare as well as prevention of harm of adults and children, whereas child protection refers more specifically to the actions taken to protect a child, an individual under the age of 18. The youth sector frequently works with young adults up to the age of 25 and supports them to achieve their potential. As such, this guidance will focus on the broader remit of safeguarding.

Please see guidance on Setting up your Safeguarding Culture to understand more about safeguarding language and a glossary of terms.

3. The Purpose of a DSL

A DSL has overarching responsibility for how safeguarding is embedded and operationalised within an organisation. Ensuring a culture of safeguarding is far beyond simply managing safeguarding cases yet in reality we know the responsibilities of a DSL are often in addition to another role. To ensure a commitment to quality youth work, we would encourage any organisation to consider and invest in the development of their safeguarding culture as part of their commitment to the best outcomes for children and young adults.

The role of a DSL is likely to include responsibilities such as:

  • Champion a person centred approach to safeguarding.
  • Advise, support and report to the senior / leadership team.
  • Primary safeguarding contact.
  • Promotion of quality and care.
  • Promote appropriate learning and development.
  • Coordinate relevant policies, procedures and safeguarding resources.
  • Manage referrals and their case management.
  • Maintain own skill and development.
  • Develop, maintain and review the organisational plan for safeguarding.

Read more about each of these areas of responsibility, with additional examples, in Appendix A.

4. Who Should be the DSL

The organisational DSL can be a volunteer or a member of staff. In some organisations there may not be a choice about who takes on the role, in others you will be able to choose.

To be the most effective DSL you might like to consider:

  • Seniority and influence. Developing a culture of safeguarding requires you to work across the organisation and therefore being able to influence the strategic and operational focus can be of benefit. However, it is not advisable that it’s the most senior person, if possible, in order to retain a point of escalation if necessary.
  • Capacity. Being an organisational DSL does require time to manage, implement, develop and reflect on the organisational practice.
  • Resilience. Working as a DSL exposes you to some of the most profound and difficult experiences for children and young adults. A DSL needs resilience to manage their role, as well as a curiosity and willingness to learn, develop and understand the changing safeguarding and systemic landscape.
  • Availability. Whenever the organisation is operating or services are running, a designated safeguarding lead should be available. Therefore, the accessibility and working hours should be considered, as well as whether there should be a deputy or team of officers.

5. Training for and Sustaining your role as a DSL

As a DSL it is expected that you will have the relevant training, knowledge and skills to carry out the role. As there is no regulation of the DSL role, there is no required qualification or experience to take on the role. Therefore, in order to become a DSL you should consider the training and support you will need to perform your duties to your fullest.

Many organisations offer training for a DSL and it can be difficult to know which will be most useful and relevant. If you were to become a DSL you might want to give thought to:

  • Your current knowledge and areas of development e.g. legislation
  • The environment that you operate in e.g. offline or online, national or local, detached or open access
  • How you adopt a holistic approach to welfare and the protection of harm e.g. asset based approaches to support young people’s wellbeing
  • Your skill and confidence in the coproduction of practice and organisational culture with children and young adults.

Often a basic level of safeguarding knowledge will be acquired through training and then continue through delivery of the role and ongoing training. Whilst formal learning and development can give you knowledge, experience and personal qualities should not be overlooked in the identification and development of a DSL.

Safeguarding practices are regularly evolving and your training should be ongoing to ensure your knowledge is current. As a DSL keep up to date with relevant legislation, guidance and pertinent issues that affect children and young people. Organisations are also often in development and need to be supported through change and development in their culture and practices.

As such, to ensure you are well equipped to carry out your duties, you might want to give thought to:

  • Your personal learning and development
  • How you would keep updated with new developments in the safeguarding space
  • Integrating the roles and responsibilities into your current workload
  • Policy and procedure control (making sure they are appropriately reviewed and fit for purpose) as well as how they interrelate with other policy areas e.g. recruitment and risk
  • How safeguarding is integrated into organisational planning and development
  • Your own wellbeing as your experience and lead others.

6. Further Reading

When becoming a Designated Safeguarding Lead there are reports, pieces of guidance and legislation that are useful to read and understand. Below is a list that gives you an idea of where to start and build from.

7. Further Resources and Support

If you are becoming a DSL you might find the following resources of use. Some are key bits of legislation and guidance that can help you understand the purpose and breadth of a DSL role. Others are sources of support from peers or organisations.

  • NYA Safeguarding and Risk Management Hub. A freely accessible online resource providing guidance, support, advice and access to training resources in relation to safeguarding and risk management for organisations and individuals working with young people.
  • National Safeguarding Youth Forum. An informal network of DSL’s across the youth sector that offer support, learning and opportunities for improvement through regular forum meetings.
  • NCVO: Designated Safeguarding Leads. Here you will find information, guidance and templates for DSL’s in a charity setting.
  • Charity Commission. Charity sector guidance on how to safeguard beneficiaries, staff and volunteer, including good governance and responsibilities for Trustees.
  • NSPCC information for a Child Protection or Designated Safeguarding Lead.  
  • Ann Craft Trust. A charity that provides support, advice and training on the safeguarding of adults, including the 18-25 age range of young adults.

Appendix A: Example Role Description for a Designated Safeguarding Lead

Overall Purpose of the Role: To provide support, expertise and leadership that achieves a robust and effective culture of safeguarding.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Champion a person centred approach to safeguarding. Ensure a culture of listening where children and adults at risk of harm should feel heard, supported and part of actions to promote their welfare.
  • Advise, support and report to the senior / leadership team. Provide expertise to the leadership of your organisation, ensuring safeguarding is understood, on the agenda at all levels and good governance is promoted.
  • Primary safeguarding contact. Whether internally, for children or young people, or external agencies, you are the point of contact for all safeguarding concerns, allegations and incidents. As the primary source of advice and support, consideration should be given to the DSLs availability and who else can be contacted if they are unreachable.
  • Promotion of quality and care. Where appropriate coordinate and / or delivery supervision and support for workers involved in the delivery of safeguarding referrals. This includes the recording, holding and sharing of information, relevant to data protection legislation and regulations.
  • Promote appropriate learning and development. Advising on necessary training and development needs as well as ensuring internal training on organisational specific practices to upskill workers on effectively carrying out their safeguarding duties.
  • Coordinate relevant policies, procedures and safeguarding resources. In addition to ensuring they are in place and reviewed appropriately, you should raise awareness of their existence and impact internally and externally where relevant.
  • Manage referrals, interagency working and case management. Liaise with key safeguarding agenciesaround cases involving children and adults at risk of harm, as well as the Disclosure and Barring Service as needed. 
  • Maintain own skill and development. Advocating for resources needed to ensure you are familiar with current practices, issues, legislation and the distribution of that knowledge.
  • Develop, maintain and review the organisational plan for safeguarding. Ensuring a comprehensive approach to all elements of safeguarding outlined in as key responsibilities to ensure excellence and ongoing development of safeguarding.

Further examples can be found below.

  • NSPCC provides a comprehensive example of a detailed role description, particularly for those where safeguarding is exclusively their role.
  • Annex C of the KCSIE. Whilst this is used rigorously in the education sector it offers comprehensive guidance on areas of responsibility for DSLs.
  • NCVO offers the charity sector a concise review of the responsibility for a DSL.

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