Children’s Commissioner asks schools to take more action to safeguard children from child-sexual abuse

5 Jan

The governing body of a school has responsibility for framing, keeping under review and implementing the safeguarding policy.   The members also have the duty of monitoring how well it is working on the ground.

This is serious business given that the number of children known to have died as a result of abuse or neglect increased last year by 60%.  A report by Ofsted states that there were 56 confirmed deaths from child abuse or neglect in 2014/15 against 35 in 2013/14.

In late November 2015, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, published her first report of an inquiry into child sexual abuse within the family and its network. Her findings are unsurprising albeit worrying.

Having commissioned the University of Middlesex to carry out a review of the literature, Ms Longfield gathered evidence from the police, had her enquiry team carry out site visits in five areas of the country to meet with statutory and non-statutory agencies who were tackling child sexual abuse, took oral evidence from experts in the subject, carried out an adult survivor survey and logged information from focus groups.

I           Key Findings

Her key findings were as follows.

(a)        Most victims of child-sexual abuse do not come to the attention of the statutory authorities.

(b)        Child-sexual abuse in and around the family is likely to account for around two-thirds of all child sexual abuse.  The victims neither tell anyone nor come to the attention of the authorities until adulthood.   Many victims do not recognise that they have been sexually abused until much later in life.

(c)        Victims and survivors face considerable barriers to telling anyone and accessing help.

(d)        Criminal justice and child protection systems are largely disclose-led.

(e)        Most victims are female, though boys and young men are likely to be under-represented in the data.

(f)        Children from some Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups, and children with physical or learning disabilities or learning difficulties, are less likely to come to the attention of authorities as sexual abuse in the families.

(g)        Many victims are sexually abused by more than one person.

(h)        Child-sexual abuse linked to the family casts a long shadow over the life of victims and survivors.

II          Recommendations

Recommendations made by Ms Longfield, which affects schools are as follows.

(i)         Equip all children, through compulsory lessons for life, to understand healthy and safe relationships and to talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse.

(ii)        Take the necessary steps to implement a whole-school approach to child protection, where all school staff members can identify the signs and symptoms of abuse and are equipped with the knowledge and support to respond effectively to disclosures of abuse. This should be supported by the Department for Education. In addition, schools should consider creating a new position specifically for identifying and tackling child abuse or employ an embedded social worker in the school.

(iii)       All teachers must be trained and supported to understand the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. This should be part of initial teacher training and ongoing professional development, with the latter requirement reflected in the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education.

III        How can governors help?

Protecting children – especially from sexual abuse – is (if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors) walking through a minefield on eggshells.   Being the recipient of disclosures from young children and knowing what to do with the information are sensitive and daunting matters.

Governors must bear in mind that children find it very difficult to disclose and the very act of doing so to another adult is, in a sense, a form of child abuse, because the child lives through the first lot of nightmares when she/he was abused.   Having to disclose to a second person – be it in the police or a social worker – is another painful exercise for the child.   The case may eventually come up in court causing more distress to the child.  Finally, the outcome of all this could be that the child is removed from a family s/he loves and placed in another family of strangers – a final form of abuse – and for some, torture.

So apart from drafting a safeguarding policy and keeping it up to date, how should the governors monitor the implementation given the nature of protecting confidentiality?

It is essential for the governing body to appoint a member responsible for safeguarding.  There are essentially five areas of responsibility for the designated governor for Safeguarding.   These are as follows.

Review, in conjunction with the Designated Teacher, the School’s Child Protection Policy.

  1. Review, in conjunction with the Designated Teacher, the School’s Child Protection Policy.
  2. Either meet with or talk to the Designated Teacher once a term.
  3. Visit the school at least once annually to review child protection arrangements.
  4. Annually, provide governors with feedback on child protection issues.
  5. Attend appropriate training organised by the local authority or the seminars arranged by the umbrella bodies responsible for voluntary aided, voluntary controlled schools, academy trusts and other institutions such as the National Children’s Bureau and the NSPCC.

When visiting the school, the designated governor for Safeguarding could engage in the following activities.

  1. Check that the school’s procedures are up to date and in line with those established by the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board.
  2. Ask some or all the following questions.
  1. Do all staff know the procedures to be followed when a possible case arises?
  2. How many children are on the child protection register?
  3. How many cases have been referred to the Child Protection Team since the last term?
  4. When was the last inservice training session for all staff held?
  5. Do all staff members know who the designated Child Protection Teacher is?
  6. What lessons or advice is given to pupils to encourage them to talk to trusted adults about any problems?
  7. Are there sufficient funds to finance cover arrangements when the Designated Teacher is out of class either at training courses or attending case conferences on children who have been the victims of abuse?

IV         Sources of help and support

(a)        Children and young people affected by sexual abuse can call (free of cost) and seek help round the clock from ChildLine – at 0800 1111.

(b)        Adults concerned about children or young people being abused can call the National Society for the Protection of Children on 0808 800 5000 or in an emergency – the police.

(c)        Adults who have experienced sexual abuse as children can contact the National Associated for People Abused in Childhood on 0808 801 0331, which is open from Monday to Thursday 10.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. and on Friday from 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

(d)        The Rape Crisis Helpline – 0808 802 9999 – is open from 12.00 noon to 2.30 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. to offer victims information and support – for the purposes of face-to-face dialogue and counselling.

(e)        The Survivors Trust may also be contacted on 0808 801 0818 (website – to receive help, support and advice.

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