With the coronavirus pandemic giving rise to new or intensified safeguarding challenges, making sure your staff are aware of the latest issues will be a crucial part of planning for September’s return.
Encourage staff to look after their own wellbeing, first
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. 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.
Update staff on their statutory safeguarding responsibilities
As usual, you’ll need to train staff on everything they need to know from Keeping Children Safe in Education, part 1. The DfE has now updated this guidance for 2020 (in draft, at the time of writing), so make sure your staff read the new part 1 and understand the changes. The main changes that they need to know about this year are new information on mental health (more on this below), child criminal exploitation and child sexual exploitation.
Highlight the range of issues that staff should be alert to now
There’s a spectrum of issues that children may 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, experts advise that we’re likely to see an increase in children suffering from anxiety (including separation anxiety), stress, grief and the effects of having witnessed domestic abuse, as a result of the pandemic. Separation anxiety is usually common during the first term of nursery, reception and Year 1, but staff should also be prepared for older children to regress, and for children who didn’t struggle with separation anxiety before school closure to show signs of it now. Emphasise that children who were vulnerable before the pandemic are likely to be more vulnerable now (and many who weren’t vulnerable before will be vulnerable now because of changes in circumstances), so it’s crucial that everyone continues to support them.
All of this is reflected, too, in the fact that Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 explicitly includes mental health in the definition of safeguarding. The guidance also states that mental health problems can, in some cases, be an indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Explain how to spot the signs of anxiety, traumatic stress, grief and having witnessed domestic abuse
Make sure that staff are familiar with the signs to look out for for each of these. The NHS, NSPCC and Cruse Bereavement Care all provide information on this. Reassure your staff that they aren’t expected to be experts – it isn’t their job to diagnose these issues – but it’s important for them to be aware of the signs a child may be struggling, so they can support pupils day to day and refer them to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL).
Also make sure staff understand that they’re likely to hear more disclosures, and are likely to need to make more referrals to the DSL, linked to the increased prevalence of these issues.
Explain what staff can do to support pupils
The importance of talking: encourage staff to provide opportunities for children to talk about their experiences of the past few months, ask questions and talk about how they’re 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.
Remind staff that, as always, they must report all safeguarding concerns. Make it clear what steps staff should take if they suspect or become aware of any issues through disclosures, and make sure they are aware of any interim arrangements for reporting concerns during the current situation.
Bethany Eadie, Senior Content Producer at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act. The advice in this article is taken from The Key’s staff training course “Safeguarding and child protection INSET pack 2020/21” part of Safeguarding Training Centre.