Whistleblowing is where someone in an organisation passes on information about misconduct within the organisation that they believe has or will damage the public. Whistleblowing occurs in all types of organisations and across all sectors; childcare is no exception. Childcare services include childminders and nurseries. Children are especially vulnerable to harm, so we must endeavour to properly safeguard them. As whistleblowing protects children from misconduct, it can be considered a form of child protection. If you believe that a child is at an immediate risk of harm, you must refer your concern urgently to the local authorities or the police.
What Type of Things Require Whistleblowing in Childcare?
Whistleblowing complaints fall into the following categories:
- Criminal offences
- Threats to an individual's health and safety
- Real or potential damage to the environment
- Miscarriage of justice
- Breaking the law, including contractual obligations and health and safety regulations
- The belief that someone is covering up wrongdoing that falls into one of the previously listed categories
These complaints differ from personal grievances as they are centred on a public rather than a personal interest. There are many whistleblowing hotlines - including one run by the NSPCC (which is dedicated to children) - that can answer your whistleblowing questions. This may include deciding whether a complaint is classified as whistleblowing or not.
To explore whistleblowing in action, we will look at an example of its implementation in a childcare setting. Several staff at a nursery in South Lanarkshire raised concerns about the conduct of one worker in 2014. He was later found to be a child abuser. If the nursery's managers had listened to the whistleblowers, his crimes may have come to light earlier. In other cases, children have been saved from abuse by the actions of brave whistleblowers in their childcare setting.
This highlights the importance of acting as an advocate for children's rights and whistleblowing when they are at risk of harm.
The Whistleblowing Procedure
It is generally best to whistleblow internally, i.e. within your organisation. This allows the organisation to address your concerns quickly before possibly involving external bodies. However, it is appropriate to escalate your concerns externally if:
- Your organisation does not have a whistleblowing policy
- You are afraid that your concern will not be properly dealt with or will be covered up
- You have already raised your concern internally and it has not been acted on
- You are worried about being treated unfairly after blowing the whistle
Childcare service providers can report their concerns to Ofsted, the NSPCC and general whistleblowing hotlines like ACAS. These bodies are obliged to investigate your concerns and you should not be ignored or dismissed. The NSPCC has been a prescribed whistleblowing body for child welfare since 2014.
Additionally, some whistleblowers who fear victimisation after blowing the whistle choose to make their report anonymously. Reporting anonymously would mean that no one, not even the person you are reporting your concern to, knows your identity. However, reporting anonymously does not mean that co-workers will not speculate about your involvement. Furthermore, remaining anonymous might slow down or even stop the process as investigators cannot contact you for further information. Alternatively, if your wish your identity to be restricted but not to be anonymous, you can ask for your complaint to be handled confidentially. In this instance, your identity will be recorded but not disclosed unless strictly necessary. This allows you to be contacted for further information and aids the investigative process.
Why is Whistleblowing Important in Childcare?
Children are vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation as they cannot speak out about events in the way that adults can. For this reason, it is the responsibility of all who work with or around children to protect their welfare. Whistleblowing is a vital tool in safeguarding children. Whistleblowing can also protect your organisation by allowing malpractice to be addressed and rectified before scandals are brandished on newspaper headlines. A good reputation is an invaluable asset to an organisation and whistleblowing helps to protect this. Likewise, whistleblowing can protect staff by helping to ensure that working conditions comply with requirement, e.g. health and safety regulations. It is clear that whistleblowing can benefit not only the children in childcare settings, but also the staff and the organisation as a whole. In order to encourage whistleblowing, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 was passed to prevent detrimental treatment of workers by their employers after blowing the whistle. To learn more about whistleblowing and how to blow the whistle you should undertake regular whistleblowing training.