Nights away and safeguarding
Safeguarding FAQs for nights away with children and young people.
(FS120067) Published June 2023
Nights away offer great opportunities for new experiences for children and young people and our priority is keeping them safe. We know that concerns can sometimes arise, so here are some things to consider before you go.
The planning meeting is an important opportunity to share ideas and to prepare for dealing with the many different situations that might come up. Planning in advance will make the event safer and more rewarding for everyone involved.
Always remember to plan your nights away activity following the Safe Scouting Cards.
- Communication with parents and carers about your plans for the nights away activity
- Whether there are any previous or current welfare or safeguarding concerns that might affect a member or volunteer
- A code of conduct for young people to follow
- Members who have additional needs or need further support whilst away
It’s best practice to discuss your plans with parents and carers, including who they should contact with questions or concerns, and behaviour expectations of the young people whilst away. This might be a meeting held in-person or online, or information shared by email.
A meeting is a great opportunity to outline the boundaries of what good behaviour looks like, and what will happen if there is poor or inappropriate behaviour. You might ask young people and/or parents and carers to develop and agree to an age-appropriate code of conduct agreeing the boundaries and behaviours. Discussing sleeping arrangements and behaviour in tents is really important as it ensures everyone is comfortable with this.
Making parents, carers and young people aware of the Yellow Card before your nights away activity helps everyone to know what’s expected from members and volunteers in Scouts and how to report any concerns. Good practice is to have the Yellow Card poster on display in meeting places, and to have open conversations with parents/carers and young people about these expectations. Remember, the Yellow Card applies wherever in the world you take UK Scouts.
Disclosure checks are part of how we ensure a safe environment. All adults who stay overnight must have a disclosure check in place and have completed the national vetting process. Network members undertaking network events only do not need a disclosure.
All adult members who are present overnight at a nights away activity with children and young people must have completed mandatory safeguarding and safety training. This rule does not apply to Occasional Helpers and other non-members attending the event but it’s good practice to make sure that all adults are aware of our Yellow Card and Purple Card so they know what to do to keep young people safe and what is expected of them.
It’s really important that volunteers, young people, parents and carers are all aware of, and comfortable with, the sleeping arrangements for nights away before you go. Remember, the Yellow Card says “Do have separate sleeping accommodation for young people, adults and Young Leaders working with a younger section”.
When it comes to sleeping arrangements for young people, it’s important we recognise there are lots of reasons why young people will have different requirements on nights away activities. Sleeping arrangements are subject to the Risk Assessment of the Nights Away Permit holder. They have the ultimate responsibility for the event so it will be their decision where young people sleep.
However, this must take into consideration the views of the young people and the views of the parents and carers, and give them the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have. It’s vital to involve young people and parents and carers in discussions about arrangements to make sure they feel happy and comfortable with them.
See our advice on supporting trans young people for further information.
In shared accommodation, whether under canvas or indoor, in can be difficult to get much privacy, but as far as possible it’s something everyone should get. A key message for all young people is to respect each other and each other’s property, and this can be discussed before your nights away activity and included in your code of conduct. For younger sections, you may find it useful to use NSPCC resources for support in talking to young people about PANTS (the underwear rule). Make sure you get the consent of parents and carers. For older sections, the NSPCC have some great advice on talking to young people about healthy relationships.
In the morning, it's important for Leaders to check in on young people to ask how they slept and if everyone is happy with arrangements. This is a real opportunity to pick up on any problems which might be starting to arise and to nip them in the bud.
During nights away activities, young people will have increased freedom, gain a sense of independence and explore boundaries. But the excitement of being in new and unfamiliar environments can sometimes lead young people to exhibit behaviour which is inappropriate, unusual, concerning or out of character for them.
This can be prevented or minimised by discussing expectations and what is acceptable behaviour with young people, parents and volunteers before the event. Talking about what young people and adults expect from each other will really help all participants to take responsibility for their actions. This could range from keeping their tent tidy, keeping up with good hygiene, showing respect for others, behaviour when young people are in tents at night or how they should behave during free time.
Setting clear expectations about behaviour can reduce incidents and keep all our members safe and your nights away activity enjoyable for everyone. Revisit your group’s code of conduct with young people before your nights away activity. Involve them in discussions and what good behaviour looks like, and what could happen if they don’t meet the expected standard of behaviour. Talking about respect and care can provide the link to our Promise, Law and values and empowering young people to take ownership of their code of conduct will help to ensure your nights away activity is youth shaped.
Make sure the programme keeps young people busy and that any free time is planned, supervised and limited to small chunks.
This is for you to decide. Some groups choose to prevent young people from bringing mobile phones to nights away activities, others choose to allow them. There’s lots to consider:
- While mobile phones are the norm for many young people, they are expensive to replace if lost or damaged. Young people will be busy participating in activities and may not be able to responsibly look after their phone while doing so.
- You’ll have an InTouch system in place for your nights away activity for communication. Procedures are likely to vary at different events due to the differing circumstances and needs. Bear in mind that if young people have access to a mobile phone it can undermine the InTouch system put in place to communicate with home in the event of emergencies.
- In all the excitement of being away from home, there’s a risk that mobile phones are misused. Young people may access inappropriate internet content, receive or send abusive messages or take, receive or send inappropriate images. If you decide young people may bring mobile phones to the nights away activity, please provide guidelines to support them to use them safely and include these in your code of conduct for young people. Consider how and when pictures can be taken, only doing so with people’s knowledge and only putting pictures on social media with parents’ and young people’s consent. Discussions with young people and parents and carers before the nights away activity about the safe use of mobile phones can help minimise potential problems. Childline has some useful guidance for young people and parents about mobile phone safety and there’s great advice for volunteers, parents and young people about protecting children and young people from online child sexual abuse at Thinkuknow.
- Having mobile phones with them on nights away activities often reminds young people of home and parents/carers may contact their child directly to see if they’re ok. For some young people, contact from home makes it harder for them to immerse themselves in the programme, as they’ll be thinking about home.
- Volunteers must ensure they follow our guidelines around photography, audio and video of Scout activities and events.
Remember this could be the first time some of your young people have been away from home or stayed away without adult family members. Involve young people, parents and carers in your planning and give them the opportunity to ask any questions and raise concerns beforehand to allay any worries they may have.
People may miss home when they have time to reflect. Keeping young people active and involved is one of the best ways of preventing homesickness. It tends to arise at the end of the day and is often associated with tiredness. When dealing with young people with homesickness, try to understand their worries, reassure them and focus on the positive and other exciting things you’ll be doing as a group the next day. Inevitably, there will be occasions where you’ve tried everything and the young person is still upset. At this point, it may be necessary to call the parents and maybe let them talk directly with their child, if they and you think it will help settle the young person down. If that fails, discuss next steps with parents/carers, which could include asking them to come and take their child home that night or the next day. Often, the knowledge that a parent or carer is coming the next day will help settle the young person for the night, and the next morning, they may decide they want to stay for the rest of the event. Check in how they're doing the following morning.
Dealing with bedwetting, which can affect young people in all sections, is something to do in consultation with parents and carers and, where appropriate, the young person.
Not all young people who experience this issue will tell you before the event, though generally their parents and carers will make this known. Bedwetting needs to be dealt with sensitively and privately, without drawing attention. It’s often a good idea to have a spare sleeping bag with you in case of surprise emergencies. Common strategies include making sure they don’t have an excessive amount to drink late in the day, and having sleeping bags for all campers aired each morning.
Some young people will happily not wash for as long as you let them! As a result, they’ll need reminding morning and night to wash and brush their teeth, and shower daily. Remind everyone to wash hands before and after preparing or eating food and after particularly dirty activities.
Take a look at our guidance on hygiene at camp.
Make sure young people know what they can expect from the adults around them, what to do if they have any concerns and where to go if they need anything during the night. Remember: do not plan to be alone with a young person.
A ‘buddy’ system is good to adopt, especially with younger sections, so young people are in pairs when they leave their sleep area and support each other.
Whatever the event you're organising, some young people or volunteers may have additional needs to consider so the events and activities are inclusive to all. Discuss their requirements with them and their parents or carers. It’s important not to make any assumptions about the support a young person will or won’t need, and do this by having a conversation. The parent/carer conversation framework is a great tool to support you with this and you might want to consider documenting what’s agreed in a care plan so that you’re prepared.
Take a look at our guidance on supporting those with additional needs and neurodiversity.
If you’re concerned about any of your plans for your nights away, talk to your line manager or take advice from your Nights Away Adviser or Nights Away permit holder.
If there are safeguarding concerns during your nights away, report it to the Safeguarding Team and remember, there is an out of hours service if it’s urgent.
Always follow the Yellow Card and if a young person is at immediate risk of significant harm, call 999 and ask for Police. Then contact the Safeguarding Team to tell them you’ve done this.