Schools have a vital role to play in keeping our children safe from harm, especially from the long-term impact of neglect and emotional abuse. Teachers see children day-in, day-out, they spot early signs of problems and concerns, but is everyone clear what should be done when worries emerge ,or who is responsible for providing advice and help? In a more diversified school system, this challenge may be more apparent.
The Council for Disabled Children and the Anti-Bullying Alliance have raised concerns about these issues and as a result we hosted a roundtable for school leaders, local authority welfare staff, academics and Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) chairs. Our aim was to explore how local and national systems can co-ordinate and improve safeguarding. We talked about schools’ role in safeguarding and how they link up with local authority processes and LSCBs.
The most effective schools consider a wide range of issues about children’s wellbeing. Often worries can be about low, but sustained levels of neglect as much as about major incidents of abuse. They can be about bullying both inside and outside school, or sudden changes in attitude or behaviour. They can be about what lies behind incidents that lead to exclusions or repeated school transfers.
For example, some children with poor attendance records experience significant levels of parental mental health issues, parental substance misuse and domestic violence; they may be carers too. These low-level concerns can have a cumulative, negative impact but do not meet thresholds for statutory intervention by social care.
We are developing proposals to improve provision for vulnerable young people by helping schools to work with local authorities to better align LSCB thresholds and indicators with interventions on teen neglect and attendance, and developing better practice in relation to Education Supervision Orders.
We want to ensure the needs of children are met by improving partnerships in local areas between children’s centres, schools, academies, colleges, the local authority and the voluntary sector with clear leadership from the LSCB.
More autonomous schools should consider how they support children at risk of neglect when they move between schools; when issues arise on the way to or from school; when there are concerns about other siblings; and how parents or professionals can get independent advice and help if they find themselves at odds with the views of the school.
At our event, there was strong support for better governance and accountability within local areas for safeguarding. One head said it is frustrating that they undertake substantial work to ensure their children are safe and therefore ready to learn yet this is given little recognition by Ofsted. As more schools transfer to academy status the worry was raised that local authorities will have less money and the support and provision to schools on safeguarding will be adversely affected.
Training for teachers and other professionals, including health practitioners, needs to be more effective at tackling issues not traditionally seen as safeguarding concerns, particularly relating to the emotional and behavioural development of children into adolescence.
The revised Working Together guidance issued by the Department for Education offers advice which schools and other partners need to be familiar with, and can help them understand how they should be working with other professionals to define what they think is needed.
Our aim should be to ensure whenever problems arise children are kept safe and schools and families can get the help they need and where statutory intervention is necessary, it is timely and effective.
Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk