I first started working as a speech and language therapy lead for safeguarding about 15 years ago. My arm was twisted into it by my then manager. We needed a named lead and I was the one who kept coming to her with the most cases ………so she said “It seems really relevant to you Rachel”…. and asked me to take the role.
To start with, the role was not well defined and involved a lot of finding out what was expected and what policies I was supposed to follow. To say I was confused and uncertain would be an understatement.
This led me to develop better links with the safeguarding team, which I still have to this day, some of them the same people. It also led to lots of courses, lots of reading and lots of trial and error of ideas that do and don’t work.
The most relevant courses surprised me. Courses such as ‘induced and fabricated illness’, which has surprising links to the families we work with, ‘addiction recovery courses’ (one of which involed acting in a play!!) and the best one of all… ‘the signs of safety’. There are many others, but most of them are well known to speech and language therapists as being relevant to their families and caseload in some way; domestic violence, child neglect, attachment disorder, safeguarding and disability.
‘The signs of safety’ is an approach to working with vulnerable families and people which aims to support your practice with the family, your ability assess risks, improves how you work as a team with the family and makes the child the centre not the policies. It hopes to make you more reflective and best of all its based on a therapy approach not a social working approach. It is used the world over and is developing and changing based on feedback – it does not stand still.
The model has an approach to group supervision which has transformed the skills and awareness of speech and language therapists in my team. Not only do they feel more confident to talk about and raise safeguarding concerns, they are also more confident with how to handle them. I run groups as a drop in every month. To start with attendance was minimal. Now we have so many wanting to come we need to turn some away. Some therapists request supervision every month. Some have spread the word and invited other professionals. I now have professionals, such as dieticians, OT, physios, health visitors, teachers attending my sessions on a regular basis. I am also told by the lead nurse for safeguarding that we are the star performers’ on supervision for the trust!
What I have learnt from my journey so far is that the links between safeguarding and speech and language therapy are far reaching and extensive. I think it is a crucial part of our role to have good support, training and skills development in this area. I have also learnt that using approaches that support safeguarding also support clinical skills and staff development in other ways.
I would highly recommend skilling yourself as much as possible, asking for good safeguarding supervision that is dynamic and reflective, and doing as much learning on it as you can.
Rachel Moitra (Chadwick)
Lead Speech and Language Therapist for Deafness and Language Resource Provisions,
Tower Hamlets Community Children, Barts Health NHS; Clinical Tutor, City University London (Part Time)
Tel : 0208 821 2971 or 0208 980 3510 ext 271