Safeguarding Young and Vulnerable Adult Members

The IMC has adopted the British Mountaineering Council’s child safeguarding policy and guidelines. This can be read in full here.

The following notes are intended as a few “Do’s and Don’ts” to highlight some of the main issues. The notes relate to protecting young members from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and keeping them safe when participating in club activities. They also relate to protecting adult members from the possibility of false allegations.

Although young members are the primary focus of the BMC policy, the policy also refers to “vulnerable adults”. In our rather special circumstances, this could refer to adult beginners or less experienced members who are relying on us for their safety when climbing or mountaineering.

Good up to date information on safely introducing novices to climbing or hillwalking can be found in the handbooks published by Mountain Leader Training UK: “Hill-Walking” by Steve Long and “Rock Climbing” by Libby Peter. Again, the notes below just highlight a few of the main points.

Child Protection – protecting ourselves from misunderstanding or false allegation

  • DON’T climb in a one to one partnership with a young member in situations that are isolated from other climbers – in general this is best avoided at any time, definitely avoid it on a regular basis with the same young member.
  • DO take care when helping young members in ways that involve physical contact that could be misunderstood: eg “spotting”, and assisting with putting on harnesses or tying in. It’s best if young beginners tie in themselves, following your demonstration. If you do need to physically assist, explain clearly what you are doing, preferably with another adult within earshot.
  • DO avoid taking young members alone on car journeys.
  • DON’T take young members to your home alone.
  • DON’T share a room with a young person or people.
  • DON’T allow young members to consume alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • DON’T take photographs of young members when they are semi-undressed or in any other situation that could be misinterpreted. Always ask permission before taking and publishing
  • DO be careful with your language – sexually explicit language or innuendo is not appropriate in the presence of young members and can easily be misinterpreted.
  • DO interpret the above sensibly. We are talking about potentially misunderstood behaviour between adults and young members where there is a significant age difference. We are not talking about normal relationships between 19 year olds and 17 year olds, nor between parents and their own children.

Child Protection – protecting young members from emotional harm

  • DO encourage young members to do well, but don’t pressure them into over-stretching themselves – “Challenge by Choice” is a good motto.
  • DO remember that young members, however able, are not usually as resilient as adults.
  • DO praise young members’ achievements, even where they have not succeeded fully at what they were attempting. Avoid any “one-upmanship” with young members, and discourage excessively competitive peer-pressure between young members.

Child Protection – reporting suspicions or concerns

  • DO be on the lookout for signs that a young member might be suffering abuse or neglect (eg unusual injuries they appear embarrassed to talk about, significant and unexplained changes in behaviour, or excessive distrust of adults).
  • DO be willing to listen to young member’s stories if they appear to want to divulge something that is troubling them. Reassure them that they are doing the right thing by telling you, but don’t get involved – listen, but don’t question, comment or commit yourself to any action.
  • DON’T ignore any concerns you have about the behaviour of an adult club member with one or more young members.
  • DO report any concerns of this nature to the club’s youth officer, but don’t attempt further investigation yourself. It is very unlikely that concerns of this nature will arise from IMC activities, but if they do, we have a duty to report it.

The IMC has a separate document covering introducing novice members to climbing and mountaineering

It is important that this is also considered alongside the safeguarding policy when climbing with young or vulnerable members.