Helping schools protect children from abuse and neglect Advice and training for teachers and school staff
Schools play an essential role in protecting children from abuse. Staff have close, regular contact with children and young people. They're in a strong position to:
- identify child protection concerns early
- provide help and support
- help children understand how to stay safe from abuse
- refer a child to relevant agencies
Schools have a statutory duty to protect children in their care. They must have:
- a child protection policy
- child protection procedures
- a designated lead for child protection - both on the board of trustees and in the senior management team
- safe recruitment processes
The school environment must be a safe place for children. And schools must ensure that adults who work in the school, including volunteers, don't pose a risk to children.
Staff should receive training in how to identify and respond to child protection concerns.
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Child protection training for schools
All school staff need to attend child protection training so they are better placed to recognise potential signs of abuse or neglect. The designated safeguarding lead should attend more advanced training, as they will be responsible for taking appropriate action to safeguard children and making referrals to other agencies.
Child protection in schools online course
Safer recruitment in education course
Identifying abuse and responding to disclosures
Concerns about a child's safety, allegations of abuse and disclosures must be reported. The school's child protection policy and procedures should include details of how to report. The process should also form part of child protection induction and refresher training.
Any concern or disclosure should be recorded in the appropriate place described in the school's child protection procedures, with a date and signature of the member of staff, and given to the school's designated safeguarding lead.
Recognising and preventing abuse
Children get bumps and scrapes all the time but a pattern or frequency of injury and change in a child's behaviour may be a cause for concern.
For example, staff may notice that a child is reluctant to get changed for PE or swimming. This could be because they are trying to hide bruises or other injuries.
Sexual abuse can be a sensitive subject to approach but schools should be at the heart of helping children to understand what it is and how to protect themselves.
Most children know their abuser so messages on how to protect themselves from abuse shouldn't just focus on "stranger danger". Our Underwear Rule school resources can help you start these conversations.
Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of child sexual abuse
The Underwear Rule – resources for schools and teachers
Emotional abuse is the 2nd most common reason for children needing protection. So schools need to be prepared to help children understand what it is and respond if a pupil discloses that they're being emotionally abused.
Neglect can be hard to recognise and individual instances of neglect such as dirty clothing or a missed breakfast can be easy to make excuses for. School staff see children every day and so are in a position to build up a picture of what the child's home-life is like.
Schools should record even low level concerns about neglect as it can often form part of a larger picture of abuse over time. Referrals should provide as much detail as possible, as this will help children's services take action and provide the family with the support that they need.
Schools can teach pupils how to make positive choices and informed decisions in their relationships, so that they can protect themselves from sexual exploitation. Staff can also encourage young people to disclose any worries that they have about the safety of other pupils.
Promoting positive relationships is good practice that schools should already be embedding into the curriculum, and child sexual exploitation can be discussed in both PHSE and with SRE. This can also be linked to other topics such as e-safety, bullying and teenage relationship abuse.
Key messages about healthy relationships can be taught to all ages using age appropriate language. For younger children teachers can discuss topics such as friendships, appropriate touch, keeping safe and letting them know who to talk to if they need help.
Schools should have an e-safety policy that ensures staff and pupils use online technologies safely, responsibly and appropriately.
Staff and children also need to know what to do if they are worried about something they see online or something that has been sent to them.
Online abuse and bullying
Find out about the sign, symptoms and effects of online abuse.
Share Aware – resources for schools and teachers
Keeping children safe online course
Schools should create a culture that makes it clear that bullying of any kind won't be tolerated. There should be an agreed definition of bullying that all children and young people can understand.
All concerns and reports of bullying should be taken seriously and treated as a priority. The school's anti-bullying policy should cover all forms of bullying including online bullying and homophobic bullying.
Staff should support the child who's being bullied. But it is also important to work with children who display bullying behaviour, so that they understand the impact of bullying and are helped to change their behaviour.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is child abuse and is illegal in the UK. Girls aged between 5 and 8 years old are most at risk. You may hear girls talk about:
- being taken 'home' to visit family
- a special occasion to 'become a woman'
- an older female relative visiting the UK.
Schools may become concerned because a girl is being taken abroad during term-time or a girl is nervous or secretive about a trip abroad during the school holidays.
All school staff should familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of a child who is at risk of or has undergone FGM so they can respond quickly if there is an issue.
It is mandatory for teachers in England and Wales to report any known instance of FGM of pupils to the police. Find out more about keeping children safe from FGM.
Children trafficked into the UK may be registered at a school for a term or so, before being moved to another part of the UK - or abroad again. Schools need to be alert to this pattern of registration and de-registration.
Concerns may be most apparent when children first join the school or if they go missing from the register. So you should look out for:
- children who have no documents when registering with school (birth certificate or passport)
- where it is unclear who the child lives with or the relationship between the child and carer is unclear
- children disclosing exploitation, for example being made to do excessive gousehold work or being forced to commit crime
- poor school attendance with no or vague explanation/s given for absences
Signs, symptoms and effects
It's an offence for a teacher or member of school staff to enter into a sexual relationship with a pupil whether the young person has consented to the relationship or not.
All staff should be aware of, and know how to respond to, signs of inappropriate relationships between staff and pupils.
Effective recruitment and selection procedures for staff and volunteers can help to screen out and discourage unsuitable people from working with children.
Helping children understand abuse
Raising awareness of different types of abuse will help children to develop the tools to protect themselves.
Children need to know:
- what to do if anyone does something that they don't like
- that what happens is not their fault
- who they should tell if something does happen
Age appropriate ways to help children understand abuse
Lessons and assemblies can be used as a way to help children understand, in an age-appropriate way, what abuse is and encourage them to tell a trusted adult if someone is behaving in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
PSHE and sex and relationships education (SRE) lessons are a good opportunity for this.
Outside organisations and programmes like Speak out Stay safe (formerly NSPCC Schools Service) can go into primary schools to deliver assemblies and lessons on all forms of abuse.
Speak out. Stay safe.
Helping children speak out
All schools should create a whole school ethos that makes it clear to children that if they have a problem, however big or small they can talk to a member of staff. Ways to do this can include:
- displaying posters signposting children to services that might be able to help them if they are worried, such as Childline.
- using 'Worry boxes' - which are either placed inside the classroom or around the building. If a child is feeling unsure about approaching an adult this can be a good way for them to share their worries.
- encouraging children to post questions in at the end of PSHE or Sex and Relationships lessons can be a good way of identifying anything that may be worrying a child.
- class activities such as 'circle time' may be a time where concerns are shared, and staff need to be prepared for dealing with any disclosures that may arise as a result.
- peer mentoring - children may be more likely to disclose abuse to a friend or peer. If your school has a peer mentoring scheme in operation, mentors will need to be taught how to respond and be aware of the importance of passing concerns to an adult as soon as possible.
Supporting children who have been abused
Children who disclose abuse need:
- to be and feel believed
- time and patience – staff need to understand (and help the child to understand) that disclosure is a process rather than a one off event).
- honesty and clarity about the process and confidentiality.
- support and intervention to help them recover.
All staff must follow the school's child protection procedures if a child discloses that they, or another child, has been abused.
Children's services are responsible for taking appropriate action to protect the child. But schools should take part in the multi-agency meetings that discuss child protection plans so that they are able to support the child effectively in school.
Schools may be in a position to help an abused child access local support services. The designated safeguarding lead should be familiar with the services available locally which children can be referred to.
Hearing disclosure can be a distressing experience. Staff need to know where they can get the right support.
Support in school should come from the designated safeguarding lead. There are also local and national services – such as the NSPCC helpline, teacher support networks and professional associations.
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