MAKE IT BETTER: Helping to keep children safe
All across the city '“ in bars, taxis and hotels '“ '˜safe' adults watch out for warning signs of children in danger.
These trusted individuals, working in Sheffield’s licensed industries, play an important role in keeping vulnerable children safe from those who would seek to exploit them.
Often, these hoteliers, taxi drivers and bar staff are the last line of defence in matters of child sexual exploitation.
Garin Dart is the manager of Holiday Inn Sheffield and ensures his staff is trained to look out for signs of children that are unhappy or in distress, or who are with adults where all may not be as it seems.
“We have a responsibility to make sure people don’t consume alcohol under-age on our premises, which we know can make them vulnerable, or get them into situations they don’t want to be in,” says Garin.
“All licensed premises bear this same responsiblity - and it’s one we take very seriously.
“There have been situations where an adult checking in alone with a child, particularly one they don’t appear to be related to, has been approached by our staff, in an effort to gauge a situation. Often this is done perfectly under the radar, by striking up a conversation with the child perhaps, asking what they’re in the city for. Over time, you build up a bit of a sixth sense about these things, and your radar does tend to pop up if something doesn’t seem right.
“Staff that have children, including myself, have said they would be quite happy if someone approached them in this manner. At the end of the day, our goal is safeguarding children and, for most people, that’s enough of a reason for us to check.
“If we’re uncomfortable with a situation, we would call 101 and ask advice. We also have a great working relationship with police community support officers, and have a regular presence, which is great for us.
“We also don’t take cash-only payments, meaning that even if someone wants to pay cash for a room, we insist on taking a pre-authorisation on a credit card with a chip and pin, so there is always a record. We make it impossible to be anonymous, and we think that’s important.”
Last month, The Star launched its Make It Better campaign, to highlight the wonderful work being done by our local NSPCC centre, and their safeguarding partners, and the many preventative and proactive services that are currently in operation throughout the city.
NSPCC campaign manager, Helen Westerman, said: “People in the licenced industries trade play a really important role in keeping vulnerable children safe as, when we have really well-trained staff throughout the city, it stops perpetrators being able to take advantage of these young people.
“We’ve heard of stories about parents being asked about their relationship with the child staying with them, and it can feel a bit unsettling being questioned in this way. But we have to remember that in other circumstances that simple question could be the difference between a young person being kept safe, or suffering horrendous abuse.”
Julie Hague, licensing manager with Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board, works in partnership with the NSPCC - and the SSCB is a partner on the charity’s ‘It’s Not Okay’ campaign, which is seeking to raise awareness of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation in the city.
Julie said: “In 2005, the government reformed the licensing legislation, making ‘protect children and young people from physical, psychological and moral harm’ one of the four objectives that licensees must meet. That means that it is now a legal requirement for licensees to demonstrate that the way they operate is risk-managed in relation to children. It is a tall order, or at least we thought so back in 2005, but the business community has really worked with us on this, getting people to really start thinking about the environments children are in.
“We started to develop training and guidance for people working in licensed trades - which can extend to takeaways, corner shops, cinemas and shopping malls - and it’s been really well received. In fact, Sheffield has been recognised as a lead nationally on this, with other organisations sharing the city’s good practice.
“It’s so important that we have these adult eyes and ears all across the city, ready to report safeguarding concerns.
“One of the things people have told us is most likely to stop them from reporting a suspicious situation is the niggling worry of: ‘what if I’m wrong?’ My answer is always, simply: ‘and what if you’re right?’
“Every single childhood is worth fighting for.”
Text GOGREEN to 70744 to donate £5 to the NSPCC’s ‘It’s Not Okay’ campaign. Texts cost £5 and one standard network charge, and 100 per cent of your donation goes to ‘It’s Not Okay.’
Visit www.nspcc.org.uk for details.