Create a safe space

People should feel they are able to safely engage in expressing themselves and receive support in a safe manner with appropriate guidance and rules to ensure theirs and others’ safety and privacy is maintained.

Further description

Creating safe spaces covers a number of players. It spans across the individual, the groups of other people they may be interacting with, the staff who deliver services and the people who may be out to cause intentional harm.

Our understanding of ‘spaces’ is not limited to a physical building. Spaces can mean a one-to-one phone call, a peer group forum or a livestream with speakers, amongst many others. Creating safe spaces includes considering and implementing; 

Safeguarding practices 

Safeguarding is a well known practise and set of implemented provisions which are in place to keep people safe. Safeguarding practise is particularly important and widely implemented in childrens, young people and vulnerable adult services and sectors. 

In Barnardo’s online policy on safeguarding they outline it as; 

• Protecting from maltreatment;

• Preventing impairment of health and development;

• Ensuring people grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of

safe and effective care;

• Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

Safeguarding policies exist to outline procedures in ensuring they protect the welfare of children and young people using and receiving services provided. This includes responding to direct concerns of safeguarding raised by children and young people. Making sure these are implemented, widely understood and actionable will ensure you have the safety of your users front and centre. 

Create psychologically safe environments 

Psychological safety is the idea that someone feels safe to take interpersonal risks with the people around them. They're not afraid of being labelled or criticised for saying what they are thinking and feeling. 

To support young people you need to create an atmosphere of trust in which they are comfortable actively participating and engaging with your services.

Spaces, whether on or offline, personal or peer to peer, need to ensure people are respected and can engage on their own terms with their own means of communication, without judgement. Considering the psychological safety of users in service environments is important to ensure that harm is mitigated. Allowing people to set their own boundaries is an important step of engaging in delivery. 

Outlined by NPC and based on the Youth Programme Quality Intervention, a psychologically safe environment can include:

• Fostering a positive emotional climate that is mutually respectful, equitable and encouraging;

• Conveying warmth and respect, with staff using sincere positive and warm words, with a warm tone of voice and body language;

• Creating safe spaces in which young people share and support each other, such as being able to speak without being interrupted;

• Demonstrating positive group management styles, characterised by proactive or positive approaches such as calm redirection;

• Demonstrating mutual accountability, with staff holding themselves and young people accountable to agreed standards of behaviour; and

• Actively including young people, without bias, from all backgrounds including different genders, religions or sexual orientation.

Implementing ways to keep users from immediate harm 

People can find themselves in short or long term unsafe conditions that may require them to pause, stop or change their interaction with your service. This can be a direct result of your service functionality, for example, releasing information online that perpetrators could use to victimize them. Or it could be an external factor, like an abusive partner entering a room where you are engaged in an online therapy session.

Providing ways for users to communicate quickly that an interaction needs to pause momentarily or that they may be at risk is an important element of ensuring spaces are safe. This might mean ensuring your space is suitable and confidential for providing an intervention or that advice can’t be heard by others in the home. This may mean ensuring moderation is implemented in appropriate manner who has permission to remove or challenge comments.  

This could mean agreeing behavioural standards with young people, and reminding them of any you have set in the past, holding everyone (including staff) accountable to them.

Practically, it is important to have a neutral background with no personal items (such as family photos) or anything that identifies where you live. Be presentable and wear your uniform if you have one. 

Accessible and safe platforms 

Assess suitability for different people and adapt to their needs.

Ensure that platforms you utilise to deliver services are safe and legal for users to utilise. Consider age restrictions and guidance on social media platforms as different platforms are suitable for different age groups. For example, if you’re using Zoom, ensure that you invite using parents or guardians’ email address for those under 12. 

Reducing online harm and ensuring privacy 

Online harms (e.g bullying, extortion, targeted victimisation) are on the increase and it’s important that spaces are safe for users to interact and products and services are actively designed to reduce the risk of online harm.

Ensure to design your products and services to reduce online harm. Consider how anonymity, data storage and moderation can help your users in reducing harm. 

Some users will need support in identifying where they need to consider privacy and risks of service use as they may not be able to themselves. For example, what are the steps taken if they provide personally identifiable information.

Give users clear instructions on their data: how it will be used, how it will be shown, who will see it and what risks might exist in sharing this. Give them clear and understandable terms and conditions to consent to. 

Where possible, design all functionality by considering what risks users might face that put them in unsafe positions and ensure appropriate mitigation is implemented. 

Be clear on confidentiality, and its extent. Let users know when information needs to be disclosed, to whom and for what purpose. 

Safety for feedback and service improvement 

Provide ways for users to give feedback on your service that are safe. Giving feedback can feel daunting if a user feels they will be judged and their service might be altered due to their feedback. 

Safety of supporters 

Consider the support and care needs of families or carers of service users in crisis. Where needs are identified, ensure they are met when it is safe and practicable to do so.


Further reading

Creating Safe Online Spaces for Young People. Centre for Youth Impact NPC. Kelly Bradshaw-Walsh. (2020).

Creating a safe spaces online. Barnardo's. Jessica Kyriacou. (2020).

Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, NHS Digital, Franziska Marcheselli et al. (2017).

Keeping children safe online. NPC. Alex Green. (2019). 

Children's Mental Health. Safeguarding Network. (2021).

Safeguarding & Protecting Children Policy and Procedure. Barnardo’s. Kathryn Brown et al. (2019). 

Developing Safe Care in Mental Health for Children and Young People: Drawing on UK Experience for Solutions to an Under-Recognised Problem. Current Treatment Options in Pediatrics. Daniel Hayes BSc et al. (2015). 

Enabling Online Safe Spaces: A Case Study of Love Matters Kenya. IDS Bulletin. Maaike van Heijningen, Lindsay van Clief. (2017).