Within the youth football environment, it is important that we follow the correct procedures to ensure the safety of the children. If we do not, this can be termed as poor practice. For example, training on a pitch that is frozen can be deemed poor practice as the safety of the players has not been fully considered and so puts the players at risk.
Abuse occurs when an adult intentionally harms a child. For example a coach may have let his/her players train on ice as he/she had not considered the consequences. However once an injury occurs and he/she persists on training on the surface, possibly saying that it will toughen up the players, this may constitute abuse. This type of abuse can be regarded as neglect as the safety of the players has not been considered.
Where does the abuse come from?
Though most people working in football are good people, any type of person is a potential risk to a child. Family, Coaches, other players, outside persons, strangers or even spectators can harm children. Therefore we must be extra vidulent.
Child abuse is a very emotive and difficult subject. It is important to understand the feelings involved but not to allow them to interfere with our judgement about any action to be taken. It is also important that child abuse and child welfare are openly discussed as this helps create an environment where people are more aware of the issues and sensitive to the needs of children. Open discussions also create environments that deter abusers.
Child abuse both within and outside of the family can occur anywhere. This includes sport, leisure, cultural, religious and care environments and on the transport to and from these places. Recent inquiries have also indicated that abuse which takes place within a public setting is rarely a one-off event. This means that if abuse is detected, it is highly unlikely to be the first time it has happened. It is therefore crucial that all allegations and suspicions are treated seriously and appropriate actions taken. An environment that explicitly attempts to identify and report abuse helps create a safer culture for children and young people.
Allegations may also relate to poor practice where an adult’s or a peer's behaviour is inappropriate and may be causing concern to a young person within a football setting. Poor practice includes any behaviour that contravenes existing Codes of Conduct, infringes an individual’s rights and/or reflects a failure to fulfil the highest standards of care. Poor practice is unacceptable in football and will be treated seriously with appropriate actions taken. Sometimes a child or young person may not be aware that practice is poor or abusive and they may tolerate behaviour without complaint. An example of this is a child with a disability who is used to being excluded from activities or a bullied young person who is used to being mocked. Children may also be used to their cultural needs being ignored or their race abused. This does not make it acceptable. Many children and young people will lack the skills or confidence to complain and it is therefore extremely important that adults in the club stand up for the children and young people. Standing up for children and young people who find it hard to speak out is part of creating a safer culture for them.
Distinguishing between child abuse and poor practice Concerns identified as child abuse will fall within the following five categories:
A child is physically hurt or injured by an adult or an adult gives alcohol or drugs to a child or young person.
A child’s basic physical needs are consistently not met or they are regularly left alone or unsupervised.
An adult or peer uses a child or young person to meet their own sexual needs.
Persistent criticism, denigrating or putting unrealistic expectations on a child or young person.
Persistent or repeated hostile and intimidating behaviour towards a child or young person. Incidents of poor practice occur when the needs of children and young people are not afforded the necessary priority, so as their welfare is compromised.
Some examples are:
• When insufficient care is taken to avoid injuries (e.g. by excessive training or
inappropriate training for the age, maturity, experience and ability of players).
• Giving continued and unnecessary preferential treatment to individuals and regularly or unfairly rejecting others (e.g. singling out and only focusing on the talented players and failing to involve the full squad).
• Placing children or young people in potentially compromising and uncomfortable situations with adults
(e.g. changing in a 1:1 situation with a young referee).
• Allowing abusive or concerning practices to go unreported
(e.g. a coach who ridicules and criticises players who make a mistake during a match).
• Ignoring health and safety guidelines (e.g. allowing young players set up goal posts unsupervised by adults).
• Failing to adhere to the club’s codes of practice (e.g. openly verbally abusing the referee).
• The judgement about whether an incident is one of child abuse or poor practice may not be able to be made at the point of referral, but only after the collation of relevant information.
• The majority of poor practice concerns can be dealt with by the club or alternatively with support and guidance from the County FA.
• All reports of child abuse will be dealt with by The FA (in conjunction with the statutory
agencies) and with the support of the County FA.
Signs and indicators
Children and young people are reluctant to tell someone when they are being abused, so it is essential that every adult is aware of the possible signals that a child and young person’s welfare or safety is being threatened. However, there is rarely a clear sign and you may often have to piece together various snippets of information and rely on your instinct that something does not seem quite right. You may have one piece of information that, when added to that of others, forms a clear picture of abuse. This is often compared to fitting pieces of a jigsaw together. Only when you have a few pieces can you start to see the true picture. Remember, it is not your job to decide whether or not a child or young person is being abused - however it is your responsibility to share your concerns.