Advice for Safeguarding Co-ordinators, Trainers and Presbytery Safeguarding Contacts

Elderly person seated with hands folded in lap
Updated 6 August 2020

UPDATE: Information about responding to domestic abuse, and where to find help for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety.

The current outbreak of COVID-19/Coronavirus is causing general disruption to services both essential and non-essential. The volunteer community is also being significantly impacted by the spread of the virus.

The Church of Scotland has a Coronavirus Task Group which meets daily and issues regular briefings to your Presbytery Clerk.

In addition to the advice issued by this task group, the Safeguarding Service has sought to answer some of the queries we have received from you over the past few days.

It is a fast-moving situation and advice may change from day to day.

Please keep up to date with the advice issued by

Congregations wishing to set up services to help those who are self-isolating may want to make contact with their Local Authority Community Planning Partnerships or other Community links to assist with initiatives that are already in the process of being organised.

For information on how to offer support via social media or the telephone, please see our page on safe use of social media and telephone support.

Safeguarding reporting requirements

The Safeguarding Service hopes that everyone is keeping safe and managing in these difficult times.

Sadly anyone, especially those who are already marginalised or vulnerable, can find themselves at increased risk of harm or abuse during these unprecedented times in lockdown.

Please remember that the Safeguarding Service is still working for you and can be contacted through the usual way, i.e. by e-mail at or on telephone numbers 0131 225 5722 or mobile no. 07890954027.

If you suspect harm, witness harm, or harm is reported to you, please contact your line manager or safeguarding coordinator, who will contact the Safeguarding Service.

It might be helpful to recap that Harm is any conduct that you suspect or know is having an adverse effect on a person.

Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person

  • Includes non-recent incidents

During these times many people, including children, are using social media in all forms to connect with and keep in touch with one another. This may lead to increased incidents of bullying, sexualised behaviour or grooming or other forms of abusive and harmful behaviour.

These type of incidents must be reported to your line manager or safeguarding co-ordinator, who will contact the safeguarding service.

The following links provide information and assistance for anyone worried about interactions they have had online:

Responding to domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic

The importance of safeguarding adults and children experiencing domestic abuse has not diminished during the COVID 19 pandemic. Domestic abuse organisations observed increased household tension and domestic violence due to forced coexistence, economic stress, and fears about the virus. Emerging evidence from statutory and voluntary agencies across the UK emphasised the increased risks of domestic abuse, reporting increases in calls and online requests since the lockdown began in March 2020.

Domestic abuse is defined by the Scottish Government and the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 as controlling, coercive, threatening, abusive, degrading and/or violent behaviour (including sexual violence) perpetrated by a partner or an ex-partner. This includes spouses, civil partners, couples who live together or any other close intimate relationship such as boyfriend and girlfriend.

Domestic abuse can include but is not limited to:

  • Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control)
  • Physical, verbal and/or emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Harassment
  • Stalking

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 creates a specific offence of domestic abuse that covers not just physical abuse but also others forms of abuse, including psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. It redefines domestic abuse as a course of behaviour towards a partner that intended to cause them harm or which is reckless as to whether it causes harm. The offence is gender neutral meaning it can apply to relationships between any two people. The Act also takes into account whether a child has been involved in the offence.

We are committed to making the Church a safe place for everyone and prioritising those within our fellowship who are at risk of harm and abuse. Domestic abuse not only affects the person who is the subject of the abuse: the ripple effect impacts children and the wider circle of family and friends. Someone who is being abused in a domestic setting may have experienced this for many years before a disclosure is made and it is very important that we, as a Church, respond appropriately. The Church must therefore ensure that anyone who discloses this type of abuse is supported sensitively and not further diminished by the organisation responsible for their spiritual growth and pastoral care. If you have a concern that you or a member of your congregation is experiencing domestic abuse please seek advice from your Safeguarding Co-ordinator or the Safeguarding Service.

Further resources:

Support for those suffering from deperession, low mood or anxiety

We are all becoming more aware that an unfortunate side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing reports of individuals suffering, and living with, low mood, anxiety or depression. This may be due to concerns about financial problems, job security, social isolation, fears around the virus itself, or any number of other areas of stress.

Both NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government have identified these issues.

In addition to pastoral support available from your excellent Church teams, and that which can be accessed via local GP and local primary care services, there are many charities and organisations which are available to provide support and practical advice.

Perhaps the most well-known of these support networks are provided in the links below:

Where there are concerns about children and young people’s mental health, Hands on Scotland provides information on different organisations and charities that would like to help.

Please remember that the Safeguarding Service remains available for advice in any situation where you have concerns about an individual or family and we will provide practical advice as to how to assist in those situations.

Q. Can our congregation help those self–isolating in the community?

A. Yes. However, there are a number of issues you might want to consider before setting up initiatives in the name of your congregation. For example:-


The Safeguarding Service would advise congregations to use those in the following positions e.g. Minister, district visiting elders, Ministries Development Staff (MDS), those on your congregational register (SG7), or those you regard to be in a position of trust in your congregation. We would advise against using people unknown to the congregation.

Volunteers that might be considered as being in a ‘high risk’ group should not risk contracting the virus by offering their services or the congregation knowingly accept their services.

‘High Risk’ groups are currently:

  • Those individuals considered to have particular underlying health conditions
  • Over 70’s
  • Pregnant women

Direct physical contact with those who have coronavirus symptoms should be avoided.

Providing a service

Congregations should decide which services they can provide based on the availability of suitable volunteers and take steps to ensure that the person providing the service is known to the recipient. This is to prevent ‘scammers’ or other unsuitable people from acting on behalf of the Church. It would be helpful for the volunteer to carry some form of identification.

If your congregation intends to do shopping for someone the Service would advise that you have robust procedures in place for the transaction. Where possible, if the congregation has the means, it would be a safer option for the volunteer to:

  • Have a float (small sum of money) which is provided by the congregation to the volunteer and the congregation keeps a record
  • The congregation records which volunteer is providing the service to the individual
  • The volunteer provides the shopping to the individual and
  • Provides the receipt to the congregation to be photocopied, retained and
  • The original receipt is provided to the individual concerned and the congregation then seeks payment from the individual at a later date

Individuals should not provide money to those they do not know.

You should be aware that any service provision can be fraught with difficulty (especially where financial transactions are involved) and take steps to ensure that your volunteer knows the procedure to be followed. This is to protect the volunteer as well as the recipient of the service.

We are aware that these cards are being used to provide services to individuals who are self-isolating; we would advise congregations to discuss how the cards could be safely used, e.g. would it be preferable to have a small number of people being the main contact (s)/co-ordinator (s) for the services to be provided rather than having the details of a larger number of volunteers being distributed within the community?


For advice in relation to retention of individuals contact details, please refer to the GDPR section on the Law Department Circulars.

I am a Safeguarding Trainer. I have a number of training courses organised, should I be going ahead with them or cancelling them?

Answer: The safest option would be to consider in the first instance whether your training can be delivered by other means e.g. video conferencing etc. If this is not possible, please consider whether your training can be postponed until a later date. If you are unsure of the implications of delaying the training, please contact the Safeguarding Service for further advice.

Will the Safeguarding Service still take enquiries while 121 is closed and staff are working from home?

Answer: Yes. The Safeguarding Service expects to be able to continue to provide a limited safeguarding service. We will respond to enquiries and referrals e-mailed into the safeguarding mailbox: or please telephone 0131 225 5722 or mobile number 07890954027. A member of staff will be in touch with you to discuss your enquiry or safeguarding referral.

Will PVG applications still be processed while 121 is closed?

Answer: No, not at the present time. During the Coronavirus crisis Disclosure Scotland are prioritising checks for roles in the following sectors: Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Childcare, Social Work, Social Care, Prisons and Justice. Disclosure Scotland may prioritise other sectors during coronavirus when needed. We will keep you updated about this situation. Meanwhile, please do not send PVG applications into the Safeguarding Service as they might be out of date before we are able to process them.