Measures to protect children at risk of abuse to be strengthened

13 Apr

How good a society is can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.  In schools and academies, the vulnerable categories are children

  • who are disabled;
  • from broken homes; and
  • who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused, neglected or are at risk of being abused in one of these four ways.

Each school/academy is required to have a designated safeguarding lead to ensure that children at risk of being abused “achieve and attend”.

I       The Consultation

Consultation (Keeping Children Safe in Education – KCSIE) on the proposed changes to safeguarding so the leads have a “greater focus” on improving the academic achievement of children on the edge of care was launched on 25 February 2020. The deadline to responses was set at 21 April 2020.

The Department for Education said the plans would specifically help children that experience challenges outside of their schools and academies. The proposals include sharing information about how children’s circumstances impact on their education and suggestions about how to support staff to find “effective ways of teaching … and maintaining a culture of high aspiration”.

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said: “We know that on average, three children in every classroom need social workers. We also know that far too many of those children fall behind, which is why I am determined to be ambitious for these children and ensure they are seen, safe and able to succeed.

“Teachers and social workers are some of the most dedicated professionals in society, delivering for children up and down the country. But I do not want any child to slip through the cracks, which is why we are consulting on having a dedicated senior leader in schools to make sure schools know who their vulnerable children are, set high aspirations for them and put in place the right support so they can achieve.”

Safeguarding leads must co-ordinate work on safeguarding children, make sure staff members understand signs of child abuse and neglect and refer concerns to children’s social care when appropriate. The government is consulting on what is needed to provide this help, in terms of resources, training and support. The changes will be introduced from September 2020.

The Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) at every school/academy plays a “vital role in promoting educational outcomes, improving visibility of children, and working in support of other school staff to help them find effective ways of engaging and teaching these children”.

The review promises “to understand the capacity needed to strengthen the role”, by consulting as part of changes to the statutory guidance ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’.

II     Inconsistencies

A research report published in February 2020 found that schools and academies were inconsistent in how they deal with adults who abused children.   The variation was in how and when they contacted the local authority designated officer and parents following allegations.  The researchers also found differences in how they deal with allegations against staff members not directly employed by their schools and academies.

The study, based on interviews with 32 schools, academies and colleges in 2019, discovered that the institutions would welcome a chart stating the steps to be taken if allegations were made.

III    Current Guidance by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Meanwhile, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has provided a fact sheet to guide schools and academies in protecting children at risk of abuse.  The advice explains the role of the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), her/his role and responsibilities and the training needs of the post-holder.  The detail is set out below.

(1)     What is a designated safeguarding lead?

The designated safeguarding lead is the person appointed to take lead responsibility for child protection issues in a school/academy. The person fulfilling this role must be a senior member of the school’s leadership team, and the DSL role must be set out in the postholder’s job description. It is good practice to nominate a deputy to cover the role of the designated safeguarding lead when s/he is unavailable. In large schools it is advisable to have other senior staff who can also take on this role and work as part of a ‘designated safeguarding team’. The lead responsibility for safeguarding and child protection remains with the DSL.

(2)     Must a school/academy have a designated safeguarding lead?

Every school/academy must have a designated safeguarding lead in place to deal with child protection concerns. The DSL or a deputy should always be available during working hours for staff to discuss any safeguarding concerns. Individual schools/academies should decide whether ‘available’ means the DSLs must be on the school/academy premises or whether they can be contacted via telephone or email.

Schools/Academies should decide what arrangements are made for the availability of the DSLs or deputies during out of school/academy activities.

(3)     What training does a designated safeguarding lead need?

The designated safeguarding lead (and deputy) should attend training to enable her/him/them to carry out her/his/their role. This should be updated every two years as a minimum.

(4)     What are the responsibilities of the designated safeguarding lead?

The responsibilities of the designated safeguarding lead include

  • working with others,
  • working with the Senior Leadership Team to ensure safeguarding is at the heart of the school ethos and that all staff are supported in knowing how to recognise and respond to potential concerns,
  • liaising with the headteacher or principal to keep her/him informed of any safeguarding issues especially ongoing enquiries and police investigations,
  • as required, liaising with the local authority case manager or the designated officer at the local authority if a concern has been raised regarding a member of staff,
  • liaising with staff on matters of safety and safeguarding and when deciding whether to make a referral by liaising with relevant agencies and
  • acting as a source of support, advice and expertise for staff.

(5)     Managing referrals

The DSL is responsible for the following areas.

  • Referring cases of suspected abuse to Children’s Social Care, and support staff who have raised concerns about a child or have made a referral to Children’s Social Care
  • Where there are concerns about radicalisation, make referrals to the Channel programme and offer support to other staff who have concerns about radicalisation (England and Wales only)
  • Refer cases to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), Disclosure Scotland, or Access Northern Ireland where a member of staff has been dismissed after concerns about the risk posed to a child.
  • Refer cases to the police where a crime has been or may have been committed.

(6)     Undertaking training and developing knowledge

In addition to formal training, the DSL should keep knowledge and skills up to date via online training, e-bulletins, opportunities to network with other DSLs, and attend locally arranged briefings. These opportunities should be taken up at least once a year but more regularly if possible so that the DSL

  • understands the referral and assessment process for early help and intervention;
  • knows about child protection case conferences and reviews and can contribute to these effectively when required;
  • ensures that all staff members have access to and understand the school’s/academy’s child protection policy;
  • is aware of the needs of any vulnerable children i.e. those with special educational needs, young carers and those receiving support from the local authority including a child in need, a child on a child protection plan or a looked after child;
  • keeps detailed, accurate and secure records of concerns and referrals;
  • understands the role of the school in terms of the Prevent duty where required;
  • attends refresher and other relevant training; and
  • encourages a culture of listening to children and takes account of their wishes and feelings in terms of what the school/academy does to protect them.

(7)     Raising awareness

The designated safeguarding lead’s role is to:

  • work with the governing board to ensure the school’s/academy’s child protection policy is updated and renewed annually and that all members of staff have access to it and understand it;
  • provide regular briefings and updates at staff, departmental and governor meetings to help ensure that everyone is kept up to date on latest policy developments and reminded of her/his responsibilities;
  • ensure the child protection policy is available publicly, that parents are aware of the policy and that schools/academies make referrals to children’s social care if there are concerns about abuse or neglect; and
  • link with the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) in England and Wales, Safeguarding Board in Northern Ireland (SBNI), and child protection committees (Scotland) to keep up to date with training opportunities and the latest local policies.

(8)     Record-keeping

It is also the designated safeguarding lead’s responsibility to keep detailed, accurate and secure written records of safeguarding concerns. These records are confidential and should be kept separately from pupil records. They should include a chronology of concerns, referrals, meetings, phone calls and emails.

Where children leave the school, academy or college, the DSL should ensure the child protection file is transferred to the new school, academy or college as soon as possible. This should be done separately from the main pupil file, ensuring secure delivery and confirmation of receipt should be obtained.

(9)     Training of other staff

It is the role of the designated safeguarding lead, working with the headteacher, to ensure all staff members

  • have induction training covering child protection, an understanding of safeguarding issues including the causes of abuse and neglect and
  • can identify the signs and indicators of abuse, respond to disclosures appropriately and respond effectively and in a timely fashion when staff members have concerns. It is good practice to invite all governors to this training (not just the nominated governor for child protection) so that they all have a basic awareness of child protection.

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