Safeguarding Vulnerable Children and Adults in Counselling

Safeguarding Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults

This post investigates current legislation around safeguarding children, young people and vulnerable adults, and demonstrates the application of this legislation to my own counselling work.


I am currently being trained to work with children and young adults of 13-24 years of age. A huge part of this training has involved going through the agency’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy. This policy applies to clients up to the age of 18-years, who are classed as children in accordance with the Children Act 2004. The policy states that, “The welfare of children is paramount and overrides all other policies” and “All suspicions and allegations of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, neglect) will be taken seriously and responded to appropriately.” As part of my practice I am required to make a record of any suspicions or concerns, consult with my allocated mentor and then, if deemed necessary, report to the Clinical Supervisor. This has to be done within 24-hours. I am not expected to contact another service myself, but by alerting the Clinical Supervisor he can then adhere to the duties cited in ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (HM Government, 2006), including the duty to coordinate with other relevant agencies – be that the police or social services (Morley College, 2010).

While there is no legal requirement to report child abuse, ethically and morally there is an obligation to counsellors following the BACP Ethical Framework. I was surprised to learn that there isn’t a legal requirement and found it quite unsettling. Even if I was working independently rather than for an agency, I feel that any policies and procedures would need to be designed to support the reporting of child abuse or the abuse of vulnerable adults. My strong belief in this is based on personal experience of abuse and the fact no one picked up on my abuse despite a number of indicators that were ignored because they weren’t overt – weeks off school at a time, selective mutism, self-harm, etc. With this in mind, I wonder whether I might be over-sensitive to possible signs of abuse, whereas another counsellor might be more cautious about raising concerns. Both approaches could have a number of implications. 

Policies for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults present practitioners with a clear understanding of their role and how they should respond if safeguarding issues arise (Cosgrove and Kara, 2012). The value of complying with such policy is evident with the spate of abuse cases reported in the news, including the case against Fort Augustus Abbey monks where 30 years of both physical and sexual abuse were uncovered. Dom Richard Yeo (Abbot President of English Benedictine Congregation) even claimed that “the Church keeps falling back on the safeguarding policy. What we are dealing with is the utter failure of safeguarding” (BBC, 2013). Unfortunately, I feel the policy continues to fail, hence the dreadful cases of Daniel Pelka and Baby P. While counsellors can’t turn this failure around, as a profession we can ensure the relevant policies are taken seriously and implemented stringently within our field of work. Knowledge of laws like the Children Act 1989 and the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (UK Government, 2013a,b) are invaluable in this respect and I will endeavor to make myself familiar with these.




BACP (2013). Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counseling and Psychotherapy. [Online]  Available at: [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


BBC (2013). ‘Police probe Fort Augustus Abbey monk abuse claims’ BBC News Scotland.  [Online]  Available at: [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


Cosgrove, M. and Kara, A. (2012) Safeguarding Children, Young People & Vulnerable Adults Policy. [Online]  Available at: [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


HM Government (2013). Working together to safeguard children. [Online]  Available at: [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


Morley College (2010). Safeguarding Policy. [Online]  Available at: [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


UK Government (2013a). Children Act 1989.  [Online]  Available at: [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


UK Government (2013b). Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 [Online] Available at < [Last accessed 20/10/2013].


Categories: Counselling, Personal/Professional Development, Psychology

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