Taking the lead: the role of a designated lead for safeguarding in the early years


Rachel Buckler, managing director at Safeguarding Training Ltd and co-founder at the Early Years Hub, explains the role of a designated lead for safeguarding in the early years. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Under 5. Find out more and subscribe to the magazine here.


Throughout my career within the early years, I have spent a significant amount of time undertaking designated lead responsibilities for safeguarding and child protection. My experience has included managing single site settings, groups of nurseries and multiple children’s centres on a citywide basis for a local authority.

Whatever the position, the duties of a lead officer or practitioner always come with challenges – and of course huge responsibility. As someone who currently works supporting others in the sector, I acknowledge that this role is even becoming more demanding. The current climate within children’s services, social care and society generally impacts this role significantly. There are new considerations that reflect the modern complexities that now exist in the areas of child protection in a way that we have not seen before.

Changing landscape

The latest figures from the government (Characteristics of children in need, 2017-18) show a year-on-year increase in the percentage of children on child protection plans. The term “toxic trio” is often used to describe the main parental risk factors – namely substance abuse, domestic abuse and poor mental health. These factors impact negatively on the lives of children substantially and the risk is said to be increasing.

Last year, the children’s commissioner produced the Vulnerability Report, which estimated that there are now 300,000 children aged five or under “living with an adult who experiences domestic violence and abuse” and 180,000 children under five “living with an adult who is dependent on drink or drugs”. The report also said that the number of children “living with an adult who experiences severe mental health” is rising, with 470,000 currently in this situation. These figures are of course likely to be even higher if we consider children and families not known to services and therefore not recognised statistically.

"The role of the designated lead for safeguarding and the extent to which this role is undertaken purposefully and effectively has never been more important."

We must acknowledge the current difficulties within social care and how they impact upon our work with vulnerable children and families. The role of the designated lead for safeguarding and the extent to which this role is undertaken purposefully and effectively has never been more important.

The role of safeguarding lead

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) makes it clear that a “practitioner must be designated to take lead responsibility for safeguarding children in every setting”. This includes childminders, who must take lead safeguarding responsibility themselves.

The lead safeguarding practitioner has clear and distinct responsibilities including: 

  • Liaising with statutory children’s services and the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB), soon to become Safeguarding Partners
  • Providing support, advice and guidance is they are responsible for staff. This should be on an on-going basis and cover specific safeguarding issues as required.
  • Attending a child protection course that enables them to identify, understand and respond appropriately to signs of abuse and neglect.

Those who are working in settings or schools must observe the government’s Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance. This was updated in September 2018 and refers to the designated safeguarding lead as being “an appropriate senior member of staff” and says that the role should be “explicit in the role holder’s job description”.

This captured an interesting development suggesting that the distinct expectations of this important function were clear and defined contractually. It describes further that these responsibilities include liaising with the local authority and working with other agencies in line with other government guidance – Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018.

Compliant and capable

While meeting the expectations set out in both government guidance and legislation, the role of a safeguarding lead also requires leads to develop the skills and competences that make them effective in their role and not just compliant.

A capable lead will have a good understanding and sound knowledge of what risks may present to children and how this may be manifested. They will underpin their implementation of policies and procedures with clarity and good communication systems so that everyone, including staff, parents and children, can engage in processes that safeguard and protect all children.

Those managing staff will need to make possible opportunities for them to learn to become competent practitioners by helping them to identify abuse and neglect by encouraging them to respond appropriately as soon as concerns arise. An efficient lead practitioner will always lead by example. Their practice should demonstrate a child-centred approach at all times. This should be reflected in their decision making, professional judgements an will ultimately be driven by their desire to achieve the best possible outcomes for the child through the actions they take.

Be the best: sharing early years excellence

Rachel will be appearing at the Alliance’s annual conference on 31 May 2019. She will cover recent changes to LSCBs, due to come into place in September, and other updates.

Find out more and book your place


Find out more

The Early Years Hub delivers safeguarding and child protection training. Their Safeguarding Hub offers on-going support, advice and tools design to help keep early years practitioners and leaders up-to-date on all things safeguarding and child protection.