This is the text from an article posted on LinkedIn February 2020
This morning I was listening to a recording of someone coaching, as part of their professional development. The person who was being coached made a disclosure of historic abuse.
This is the second time that I have seen this in my role as a mentor coach/supervisor. But as much as we speak about standards and ethics in the coaching community, I have never heard conversations about safeguarding. And yet ethical practice is about what we do in the room when the rubber hits the road.
Our profession depends on confidentiality. And you if you caveat everything at the beginning of your first conversation with someone it could be perceived as being legalistic in tone. I say ‘this conversation is confidential unless there is a risk to self or to others’. The field in which we operate is working with people in their lives, teams and organisations and in the world. I need to be clearer ‘this conversation is confidential unless there is a risk to self, to others or by others’. When we over focus on the individual, I think that we are blind to the needs of others in the wider system. It is possible that there are children at risk today from the person mentioned in passing in a coaching conversation about something else altogether.
Do we know what to do when someone discloses to us? Is the coaching community wilfully blind to safeguarding? Are we reluctant to look at safeguarding to protect the confidentiality of those with whom we work. Does thinking about it make us anxious? I may not be looking in the right place, but if we really aren’t talking about safeguarding, is what we are doing safe enough? Might the feeling “It’s not for me to do anything because that was confidential” actually be an action taken in service of our own anxiety?
As a volunteer in a church, I am trained in safeguarding. The Church of England is accused of being late to the party and of having been blind to many small pieces of information heard in conversations that could have protected vulnerable children and adults. I am learning that it is not for me to decide what to do – or indeed not do. If I hear a disclosure it is my responsibility to the wider system to report to someone who knows more about this than I do. In service of the wider world.
When this first came up, I consulted with other people I perceive to be leaders in the coaching community and was told that we work with adults who we believe have agency. Yes we do. And how I engage with someone believing they are robust enough to deal with their own stuff is critical. Focusing on that alone misses the point. We know something that we did not know before. And we need to decide what to do with that – in service of the individual and others in the wider system who may still be at risk.
What will you do when you hear a disclosure in a coaching conversation about abuse by a third party? Choosing to do nothing is a decision which you are making. Margaret Hefferman might describe that as wilful blindness. The first place to start is to ask the person what do we need to think about together in relation to the disclosure? Are they safe?
This is not only about their safety. It is also about the safety of vulnerable children or adults in the wider system. Do you know where you can get good advice? In the UK, you can get advice from the NSPCC hotline 0808 800 5000. The reality is that we don’t know what to do. And when that happens, we need to seek advice from someone with more experience than our own.
Claire Pedrick MCC