Safeguarding Children, Young People and/or Adults at Risk Help! Sheet

It is important for groups working with children, young people and/or adults at risk to ensure that they are aware of the responsibilities placed on them, both by specific legislation and the common law duty of care.

The Management Committee is ultimately responsible for ensuring that these obligations are met. By so doing, they will help to safeguard, not only these vulnerable groups, but also the organisation, its staff and its volunteers.

The obligations placed on organisations are designed to ensure that they:

a) recruit suitable people to care for children, young people and adults at risk; and

b) operate on the basis of good practice policies and procedures in order to minimise the risk of harm to those in their care.

Legal and Policy Context

Common Law Duty of Care

All voluntary and community groups working with children, young people and/or adults at risk have obligations under the common law ‘duty of care’.  Organisations must ensure that the standard of care provided meets reasonable expectations, bearing in mind generally accepted good practice standards.

In fulfilling their duty of care, the management committee needs to take steps to safeguard and take responsibility for children and/or adults at risk of harm with whom their organisation works.  This means acting in their best interests; taking all reasonable steps to prevent any harm to them; putting policies and procedures in place; and responding appropriately to allegations of abuse.

An organisation working with vulnerable groups should have a safeguarding policy in place, supported by robust procedures and guidelines.  The organisation should have clearly defined procedures for:

  • Recruiting and selecting staff and volunteers
  • Effective management, support, supervision and training of staff and volunteers
  • Raising awareness of, responding to, recording and reporting concerns about actual or suspected incidents of abuse (including procedures for whistleblowing)
  • Risk assessment and management with regard to safeguarding children and adults
  • Receiving comments and suggestions and for dealing with concerns and complaints about the organisation
  • Management of records, confidentiality, and the sharing of information
  • General safety of activities and to ensure the effective management of activities

The organisation should also provide guidelines through a Code of behaviour that outlines the behaviour expected of all those involved with the organisation.

Legislation, Standards and Guidance

Management committees must also ensure that the safeguarding policies and procedures of their organisations are compliant with relevant legislation and standards.

There are a number of key pieces of legislation relating to safeguarding children, young people and/or adults at risk which can be accessed at

  • The Criminal Law (NI) Act 1967
  • The Mental Health (NI) Order 1986
  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989
  • The Children (NI) Order 1995
  • The Human Rights Act 1998
  • The Public Interest Disclosure (NI) Order 1998
  • The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) Order 2007 (as amended by The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012)
  • The Sexual Offences (NI) Order 2008

Relevant standards and guidance include:

  • Co-operating to Safeguard Children, DHSSPS 2003
  • Adult Safeguarding, Prevention and Protection in Partnership, DHSSPS & DOJ 2015
  • Our Duty to Care, Volunteer Now 2009 (currently under review)
  • Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults, A Shared Responsibility, Volunteer Now 2010 (currently under review)
  • Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) Child Protection and Safeguarding Learning and Development Strategy 2014 – 2017
  • Northern Ireland Adult Safeguarding Partnership (NIASP) Training Strategy and Framework 2013 - 2016

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) Order 2007 (as amended by The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012)

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) Order 2007 (as amended by The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012) governs recruitment and selection procedures and places a requirement on organisations to prevent Barred people from undertaking regulated activity.  Organisations must ensure they are doing this by obtaining an Enhanced Disclosure Certificate with Barred List check for all employees or volunteers who are going to be engaging in regulated activity.  The definitions of regulated activity in respect of children and adults are outlined below.

For those staff and volunteer roles which sit outside the scope of regulated activity but still involve significant contact with children and/or adults at risk, the organisation can (but is not required to) obtain an Enhanced Disclosure without Barred List check.  To do so would be best practice.

Under the Order organisations are also required to refer unsuitable people to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).  Where a staff member or volunteer has harmed or placed at risk of harm a child/adult at risk and the organisation has permanently removed them from regulated activity, the individual must be referred to the DBS for possible inclusion in a Barred List.

Regulated Activity (Children)

  1. Unsupervised activities: teaching, training, instructing, caring for or supervising children, providing advice/guidance on well being, driving a vehicle only for children.
  2. Work for a limited range of establishments (specified places) with opportunity for contact with children, for example, schools, children’s homes, childcare premises, children’s hospital.  Work undertaken by supervised volunteers in these places is not regulated activity.
  3. Relevant personal care, (e.g. washing or dressing), or health care by or supervised by a professional (even if carried out once).
  4. Registered childminding and foster care.

Work under 1 or 2 is regulated activity if undertaken regularly.  Regular means carried out by the same person frequently (once a week or more) or on four or more days in a 30 day period or overnight.

NB For ‘supervised’ activities, organisations must have regard to the statutory guidance.  Supervision must be provided by a person who is in regulated activity; be regular and day to day; and be ‘reasonable’ in all the circumstances to ensure the protection of children. 

Regulated Activity (Adults)

  1. Providing health care - any health care professional providing health care to an adult or anyone providing health care to an adult under the direction or supervision of a health care professional.
  2. Providing personal care - anyone providing physical assistance, prompts and supervision, training, guidance or instructions to an adult with eating, drinking, toileting, washing, bathing, dressing, oral care or care of the skin, hair or nails because of the adult’s age, illness or disability.
  3. Providing social work - a social care worker providing social work in connection with any health or social services, including assessing or reviewing the need for these services, and providing ongoing support to clients.
  4. Assistance with general household affairs - anyone providing day to day assistance to an adult because of their age, illness or disability, where that assistance includes managing the person’s cash, paying the person’s bills and/or shopping on their behalf.
  5. Anyone providing assistance in the conduct of a person’s own affairs by virtue of the Enduring Powers of Attorney (NI) Order 1987, the Mental Health (NI) Order 1986 or the Social Security Administration (Northern Ireland) Act 1992.
  6. Conveying - anyone who transports an adult, who requires it because of their age, illness or disability, to or from a place where they have received or will receive health care, personal care or social care (health care, personal care and social care as outlined above).

NB Anyone who provides day to day management or supervision of someone in regulated activity is also in regulated activity.


AccessNI is the system for the disclosure of an individual’s criminal history to help organisations make safer recruitment decisions.  Management committees should ensure their organisation is registered to use the service either directly with AccessNI or through an Umbrella Body.  Organisations can register with AccessNI and access details and associated costs for Umbrella Bodies by clicking here.

Further information on all of the above can be found in the publications section of Volunteer Now's website here.

Volunteer Now deliver safeguarding training for managers, supervisors and management committee members.  To find a course in your area visit their Training Calendar

Further information:

Common Law Duty of Care Help! Sheet
A simple guide to understanding the ‘duty of care' and how it relates to Management Committee responsibilities.

Getting it Right
Volunteer Now guide to standards of good practice in child protection.

Our Duty to Care
Volunteer Now guide outlining principles of child protection good practice and including practical resources such as sample forms.

Volunteer Now
Support, advice and training in issues relating to child protection.

Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults: A Shared Responsibility
Standards and guidance for good practice in safeguarding vulnerable adults.