Safeguarding advice for hosts

WWOOF is created by hosts and WWOOFers together, but WWOOF hosts are in a special position of responsibility to provide WWOOFers with adequate food and accommodation, and the necessary support and guidance to carry out tasks safely and effectively.  

Even if you have made your best efforts to screen WWOOFers before they arrive, it’s possible that occasionally someone may arrive on your doorstep who is not in the best state of mental or physical health.  As a charity, WWOOF UK supports hosts to understand safeguarding and take it seriously in every WWOOF exchange.

What should I do if I have a concern about someone’s well being?

If you suspect that a WWOOFer of any age is vulnerable – whether because of naivety, drug or alcohol problems, physical or mental health problems, neglect or abuse – then you must act on it;

  1. Tell WWOOF UK straight away – contact us.   Although we are not available 24/7, we do regularly pick up messages and can give advice and support.  We take all reports of concern seriously, have a nominated safeguarding officer, and have a complaints procedure and safeguarding incident review process.
  2. Talk to the WWOOFer – have a private chat with the WWOOFer if you can, and ask them whether they need additional support either to continue WWOOFing with you, to move on to their next host, or go out into the wider world. If you feel that a WWOOFer needs more support than you can give, and/or if you are worried that a WWOOFer might be a threat to themselves, or to the safety of yourself or others;
  3. Tell the authorities – contact the police by dialling 111 for less urgent cases, or 999 in an emergency.  

Safeguarding is especially relevant for WWOOFers aged 16 and 17. In the UK, people aged 16 and 17 are legally considered adults in the workplace (which includes volunteering), but they are still deemed to be the responsibility of their guardians and the state, and WWOOF UK has particular responsibility as an ‘introducer organisation’ to protect them from harm.  Although hosts are not in any official position of guardianship over a young WWOOFer, you need to be especially aware of how to take action if you suspect a young person’s well being is at risk.  If you are planning on accepting 16 and 17 year old WWOOFers, read the guidance below with extra care.

As a host I am concerned for the wellbeing and safety of a young WWOOFer who is staying with me. What should I do?

If you are worried about a WWOOFer aged 16-18, it is particularly important that you talk to someone about it. Don’t ignore uneasiness or delay taking action.

It isn’t necessary to be absolutely certain of what has been seen or heard to call a local children’s social care team. Information is usually gathered from many sources, and your report could form one part of a bigger picture. That said, a small piece of information could be the missing piece needed, so it is very important.

The following agencies can be contacted for specialist advice or support, depending on the severity of the situation…

  • Call 999 if there is immediate risk of harm to the WWOOFer or host and his/her family
  • Call your County Council First Response Team/Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). They will listen and decide on the appropriate course of action.
  • Call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 (free service, lines open 24 hours a day). They will listen, offer advice and support and can take action if a young person is in danger. Concerns can be reported anonymously. For further information or to report a concern online visit: www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/report-abuse/

I have been approached by a WWOOFer who is 16/17 – shouldn’t they be in full-time education?

Since September 2015 it has been a requirement that individuals remain in education until they are 18. However, this doesn’t mean staying at school full-time; they might go to college or take up an apprenticeship or part-time training course. They will still have weekends and holiday times in which they can WWOOF. They may also be required to volunteer as part of their course.

Do I need a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check if I am hosting WWOOFers aged 16 or 17?

WWOOF UK has contacted the DBS (the body that prevents unsuitable people working with vulnerable groups including children) who have confirmed that for the purposes of WWOOFing anyone aged over 16 is considered to be an adult.

A host can provide education, training or support to someone in this age group without a standard or enhanced DBS check.

Of course we understand that hosts will have a priority to protect themselves and their families from harm – this is safeguarding too – you are under no obligation to continue hosting a WWOOFer who is making you feel uncomfortable in any way, and you can ask them to leave.  Please always contact WWOOF UK to explain the situation though.