Safeguarding and mental health: Reintegrating your pupils

Written by: Bethany Eadie | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As school leaders welcome more pupils back into school, safeguarding will be at the forefront of planning. Bethany Eadie looks at what to cover in your staff safeguarding update so that your team feels prepared and confident to support pupils as they reintegrate


First, encourage staff to look after their own wellbeing

Staff may need additional support to help them with their own reintegration and personal circumstances as well as the likely emotional strain from increased safeguarding concerns and disclosures.

Acknowledge that safeguarding is a difficult topic and some of the content may be upsetting to hear, especially at the moment.

You should explain that anyone can take time out at any time, or talk to you after the session if they need to. Let staff know that they can access free, confidential support from trained counsellors by calling the Education Support helpline (see further information).

Highlight the range of issues that staff should be alert to now

There is a spectrum of issues that children will be dealing with when returning to school. Some will have had a difficult time at home and see school as a safe place to come back to. Others will feel the opposite: they may have felt safe at home, and feel anxious about being back at school. While most children will adapt and settle back into school, others will need more support.

Make sure that staff are aware of and understand the issues that children in your school might be dealing with. Talk through potential scenarios and include examples that are specific to your school context. For example, pupils may have experienced a parent being made redundant or furloughed, not having enough food to eat, caring for younger siblings at home, a family member becoming seriously ill, or bereavement.

In particular, it has been predicted that we are likely to see an increase in children suffering from anxiety (including separation anxiety in younger children and social anxiety in teenagers), traumatic stress, grief and the effects of having witnessed domestic abuse, as a result of the pandemic.

Emphasise that children who were vulnerable before the pandemic are likely to be more vulnerable now and many who were not vulnerable before will be vulnerable now because of changes in circumstances, so it is crucial that everyone continues to support them.

Explain how to spot the signs

A key challenge as pupils return will be spotting the signs of mental health and wellbeing problems – things like anxiety, traumatic stress, grief, having witnessed domestic abuse, and so on.

Make sure that staff are familiar with the signs to look out for, so they can spot children who need support. The NHS, NSPCC and Cruse Bereavement Care all provide information on this (see further information).

Reassure your staff that they are not expected to be experts – it is not their job to diagnose these issues – but it is important to be aware of them so they can support pupils and refer them to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL).

Also make sure staff understand that they are likely to hear more disclosures from children, and are likely to need to make more referrals to the DSL, linked to the increased prevalence of these issues.



For further support, SecEd has recently published an eight-page Best Practice Focus written by Dr Pooky Knightsmith on spotting the signs of mental health problems in your students. This is available to download for free: www.sec-ed.co.uk/knowledge-bank/student-wellbeing-and-issues-of-mental-health/



The importance of talking

Next, explain what staff can do to support pupils. Top of the list is making time to talk. Encourage staff to provide opportunities for children to talk about their experiences of the past couple of months, to ask questions and to talk about how they are feeling and any worries they may have.

Staff may wish to provide opportunities for one-to-one conversations. Teachers may also build in some refocused lessons on relevant topics (e.g. mental wellbeing or staying safe), and pastoral activities such as positive opportunities to renew and develop friendships and peer groups.

Reporting

Remind staff that, as always, it is important to report all safeguarding concerns. Make it clear what steps staff should take if they suspect or become aware of any issues through disclosures.

Make sure they are aware of any interim arrangements your school has in place for reporting concerns during the current situation – e.g. if staff should notify different members of staff on site, any different phone numbers or contact arrangements for staff who are self-isolating or working remotely.

  • Bethany Eadie is senior content producer at The Key, a provider of intelligence and resources for education leaders. The advice in this article is taken from The Key’s staff training course Safeguarding and Child Protection: Reintegrating pupils following closure, part of the Key’s Safeguarding Training Centre. Visit https://safeguarding.thekeysupport.com/


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