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UK Coaching Team
Safety and Welfare

How to Act to Safeguard Adults at Risk of Abuse

It can be a quandary to know what to do if you are worried about the safety or welfare of a person you coach. Here is some advice on dealing with sensitive safeguarding situations

All coaches who have contact with adults have a duty of care towards them. 

Safeguarding adults is set out in the Care Act 2014 and makes it the legal responsibility for sports organisations and activity clubs to protect the health, well-being and human rights of adults at risk, enabling them to live safely, free from abuse and neglect.

It is understandable if coaches are apprehensive about adult safeguarding, and the process of noticing and reporting abuse. 

These example scenarios will help to develop coaches’ understanding of how to respond to concerns appropriately and effectively.


How might you start a conversation with one of your participants in the following situations? 


You coach a learning disability team and spot the carer of one of your players taking money from that person’s wallet.

Or you overhear a coach shouting at a player, who then seems reluctant to join in the activity.

Nicola Dean is the Safeguarding Adults in Sport Manager at the Ann Craft Trust (ACT) – a national charity which works to minimise the risk of abuse of disabled children and adults at risk.

She advises: “You could have a conversation with the person, ask them how they are, if they are okay. They might say they are absolutely fine, but you have to confirm this if you are concerned. 

Tell them you are going to have to pass this on and that you will support them by following the club’s safeguarding process. Then speak to the safeguarding lead and tell them about your conversation, even if the player has assured you they are fine. 

“It will be the safeguarding lead’s role, not yours, to then decide on an appropriate course of action. They might decide to follow this up with the person or team who provides the care or contact the local authority social services.

“If they were in immediate danger you would call the police or an ambulance service but if they were safe at that point in time, pass it on and write it down.”

This simple checklist is just an extension of what coaches already do: look out for people.

What if you suspect one of your participants is in a domestic violence relationship?

You may have seen marks round their arms or neck and, when you ask them about it, they reply that they have fallen. But you suspect domestic abuse. 

“It could be that you’ve seen something yourself, such as them having a heated argument in the car park, or they’ve commented on their partner’s behaviour before,” continues Nicola. “This is where you would build up a relationship with that person and feel you have the rapport to be able to address your concerns face-to-face with them. Again though, you would pass it on to your safeguarding lead.”

It is only natural for coaches to worry that they are going to get embroiled in an ugly dispute, and be apprehensive of jumping to the wrong conclusion by misinterpreting evidence that may be vague or ambiguous. But better to be safe than sorry.

We don’t want people asking themselves the question: Have I done the right thing? Or regret in the future that they could have done more.

“We’d always say, don’t go home worrying about something that you have heard or seen. If you’ve got a niggle or you’re thinking something’s not quite right, always have a conversation with someone within your setting, such as your club welfare officer or your club safeguarding lead. Don’t ignore your gut instinct.”

If a participant does reach out to you for support, remember that, as an adult, they have the ability to make choices for themselves. Ask your safeguarding lead for help in providing you with some signposting. You could, for instance, direct them to a local women’s centre that can provide them with support in a safe and confidential environment, or a national organisation like Women’s Aid or Men’s Aid.


Safeguarding Adults Online Course

The complexities and misconceptions around safeguarding adults, that are examined in the guide Safeguarding Adults: Your Questions Answered, are a potential recipe for coach inertia.

Which is why, in partnership with ACT, UK Coaching has developed an online course dedicated to safeguarding and protecting adults. It is the first of its kind to be endorsed by CIMSPA against their Safeguarding Adults and Adults at Risk Technical Specialism and has been awarded 3 Developmental CPD points.  

Designed for coaches, governing bodies of sport, Active Partnerships, training providers and tutors, Safeguarding Adults will equip learners with the confidence to take action, by helping them identify the different forms of abuse, the behavioural signs of abuse and manage and deal with any safeguarding concerns that arise.

The online course will help people realise what they can do to promote the safety and well-being of the people they coach and support people who are in need,” says Nicola.

“By offering the opportunity to learn-by-doing, making online decisions based on real-life stories and scenarios, it will help coaches get a firm grasp of the principle that we don’t do safeguarding to people, we do safeguarding alongside people, working with them to look at what outcomes they want to happen.”

Safeguarding Adults series

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