For any coach, one of the most difficult things to keep close control over, is communication – especially with young people. Even with a small group of under 18’s and just a few sets of parents to deal with, communications can be a bit difficult. And when you have dozens, even hundreds of members, this challenge is only amplified.
One of the most straightforward and cost effective ways of reaching a lot of people at the same time is undoubtedly by using email. However, with the sensitivity around safeguarding, especially considering recent high profile allegations in the football world, it has never been more important to make sure that you communicate with people under 18 in the right way.
Add to this the need for other members of your coaching/training team to contact junior members (whether assistant coaches or parents/volunteers) and you have a potential safeguarding nightmare.
In this article, we are going to look at the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) briefing ‘Text and email Messaging (April 2013)’ to see exactly what you can do to stay on the right side of safeguarding best practice. The CPSU’s briefing is very detailed and specific in setting out recommendations aimed not only at safeguard children, but also protecting coaches and their coaching team.
(Note: Any wording to follow in this article that is in Italics represents a quote taken directly from the CPSU Briefing.)
CPSU briefing – Text and email Messaging (April 2013)
By adopting these guidelines as best practices when running a club, coaches and managers can demonstrate that they have a clear understanding of how best to communicate with juniors in a non-threatening manner. Great for clubs, their members, NGBs and parents alike.
Implementing the CPSU recommendations will go a long way towards providing parents with peace of mind and reassurance that their children are in safe hands. All thirteen email guidelines in the briefing document are relevant to any sports club with junior members.
Note: the CPSU briefing provides guidelines that ‘County Sports Partnerships (CSPs), other relevant Community Sport Network partners, and Sport Unlimited activity deliverers should follow when using emails to communicate with young people.’
These recommendations could be accommodated by any club or organisation with young members with relatively little inconvenience to coaches and support staff.
The briefing itself
The briefing is split into two parts. The first deals with text messaging young people, and the second, emailing. Both parts have very similar recommendations when it comes to what should be sent to specific age groups as well as guidelines on including parents. We’ll look specifically at text messaging in a later article, and will concentrate on email for now, as ‘the significant benefit of emails is that it is not only cheap, but it is one of the most direct forms of communication with young people.’
1 - Enhanced DBS checks and references
Any chosen email system should only be accessible to people that can provide evidence of having the relevant safeguarding checks in place.
2 - Minimum amount of people & restricted access
With fewer people having access to send emails to juniors there’s a minimisation of any potential misuse of an organisation’s email system. Although not always practical, this can be further enhanced by any emails being sent using a specific computer within the organisation. Keeping a strict record of who is authorised to email juniors is essential ‘their details recorded and maintained by the organisation’s lead child protection officer’.
3 - Security of young people’s details
Any records or details for young people should be kept in a secure, lockable location, such as a cabinet, if in hard copy format. Alternatively, they should be password protected if stored digitally (and under lock and key if possible) on a computer, or password protected if stored online. In both cases, only those people authorised should be allowed access to this information and have permission to email young people. The content of any emails should only be relevant to the organisation’s involvement and activities with the young person.
4 - Consent
The briefing splits young people into two groups for email communications:
- Children 15 and under
- Young people aged 16 and 17
In group one (15 and under), ‘specific consent must be obtained from their parents’ to send emails to the young people.
In group two (16 and 17 years of age) no parental permission is required for sending emails to young members, but ‘written consent must be obtained from these individual young people themselves’.
The briefing suggests that parents should be informed of the intention to contact their children via email. In additional, all parents should be given the option to receive copies of any emails that are sent to their children, irrespective of their age.
5 - Groups
Under no circumstances should any email system be used to contact a young person individually. Any emails sent to members under 18 years old need to use the same standard email and be sent to a group of at least 5 members. If these members are all under 18, then the above conditions should be met regarding copying parents in on emails.
6 - Identification
The sender of any emails should be easily identifiable by the recipient. They should clearly state ‘which organisation has sent the message, rather than simply giving the issuing email address or name of an individual’.
7 - Replies to emails
Emails should be one-way communications and ‘Young people should not be encouraged or given the opportunity to email back to the system’.
8 – Language
‘The emails must never contain any offensive, abusive or inappropriate language’.
9 - Content
The email system should only be used to broadcast content that is relevant to the organisation. It could be used for signposting young people to ‘alternative sport and physical activity opportunities. However, the email system must never be used for any other reason or in any other way'.
10 – Opt Out
Recipients should be given the opportunity to stop receiving emails. This should be included on every email as well as information on how to report any concerns about email(s).
11 – External moderator
All emails sent to young people should be copied to a nominated external moderator’s email address. Any external moderator should have a safeguarding role within the organisation and the ‘moderator’s role will be to ensure that the email system is being used appropriately, and to respond to any concerns arising’.
12 – Discipline
Any misuse of the email system should be addressed. The organisation’s child protection and disciplinary procedure should be activated and acted upon accordingly.
13 – Agreement
Anybody authorised to use the email system should sign documentation agreeing to abide by these guidelines and those of the organisation when sending emails to all young people. If additional partners are to use the email system, they too should be subject to a similar commitment.
Accommodating these guidelines in your own club’s email broadcasting process and making sure that all coaches and support staff adhere to them is a great way of helping to fulfil your club’s safeguarding obligations.
Being coaches ourselves and as a result of interviewing dozens of other coaches, we appreciate that often in the ‘real world’ best practice isn’t always possible. With time consuming and onerous admin to take care of it isn’t always possible for club managers and head coaches to keep an eye on everything that is going on in their club.
However, maybe there is help at hand?
In our next safeguarding article, we’ll look at how many of these 13 essentials can be easily implemented to any sports club. And with relatively little effort needed from you.
Full credit is given to the NSPCC CPSU briefing – ‘Text and email Messaging (April 2013)’ on which this article has been based.
A full copy of the document can be downloaded by clicking here.
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