Robust school policies, parental engagement and a culture of reporting can pave the way for better protection of children against abusers
The most shocking item of all of the reports about Jimmy Savile’s abuses, for me, was the story of the nurses at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. When Savile came visiting, the nurses protected the children by telling them to stay in bed and pretend to be asleep.
Why did the management at the hospital seem to ignore what appeared to be common knowledge amongst the nurses? And why didn’t the nurses report it to the police themselves?
Unfortunately, whilst this story was deeply shocking, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by it. I have heard far too many similar stories of abuse not being reported and of management not passing on warnings. People fear to whistle blow because the common fate of whistleblowers is to be sacked for the sin of being right.
For instance, last year Nigel Leat, a teacher at Hillside First School in North Somerset, was convicted of a horrifying series of abuses against pupils at the school during his 14 years there. When North Somerset Safeguarding Children Board conducted a Serious Case Review to find out why he had been able to abuse for so long, they found that members of staff had witnessed questionable behaviour by Leat on more than 30 occasions. A dozen reports about this had been made to the headmaster, but none had been passed on to the police or social services. Nigel Leat was caught when a child told her mother, who then contacted the police directly. He was jailed indefinitely.
The headmaster had committed no crime because, unbelievably, there is no legal obligation in Britain to pass on allegations of abuse to the authorities, even if you are a professional caring for children. After a disciplinary hearing, he was merely sacked.
There is nothing in the law preventing this sort of thing happening in any school. Even school inspections by OFSTED will not necessarily pick up the existence of problems. OFSTED visited Hillside three times while Nigel Leat was abusing there, and found no fault with the school’s safeguarding arrangements.
There are many reasons for management not to report allegations of abuse. There is concern for the institution’s reputation, worry about the possibility that somebody’s career will be wrecked by an allegation and there can be flat disbelief that the person concerned could do such a thing.
But it’s necessary to get past this. Abusers of children come from all walks of life, all races and social classes. The clever ones work their way into positions of trust where they have access to a large number of victims, and they assiduously polish their outward appearance of respectability. They are indistinguishable from the very many honest and hard-working teachers, youth workers, football coaches, scout masters or religious leaders they deliberately resemble, in every way but one. The one difference is that it is the abusers alone that actually abuse.
The only way to fight this is to accept that nobody can be treated as being above suspicion. This doesn’t mean that you go round forever wondering who is an abuser. What it means is that if you witness something that looks wrong, or if a child tells you that they have been abused, it needs to be taken seriously and the report should be passed to social services who are trained to investigate.
Far too many schools are very unclear about whether they will report allegations of abuse. But if you are a parent, you can have an influence on this. You can demand to see your school’s Child Protection Policy, you can read it for yourself and, if you think it is not adequately clear, you can contact the school governors and demand improvements. Don’t be put off if the wording of the policy looks complicated; that’s a sign of a bad policy. It has to be operated by people who are primarily teachers, not child protection experts. These are the elements you should see in a well-written policy:
1. There should be a statement concerning the types of abuse covered by the policy, i.e. physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, with a brief description of each.
2. There should be a brief description of signs of abuse that staff should be on the lookout for.
3. There should be a description of what a member of staff should do if a child says he or she has been abused or hurt by an adult, i.e. listen carefully, don’t ask leading questions, don’t promise confidentiality, ensure the child’s immediate safety, take immediate notes and report the matter as soon as possible to the ‘designated teacher’.
4. Every school should have a designated teacher for child protection. He or she has the responsibility for handling child protection issues within the school. The policy should say who he or she is, and should also name a deputy to act if the designated teacher is not available.
5. There should be a description of what the designated teacher should do when he or she receives a report from a member of staff. If it is an allegation of abuse, the Local Authority Designated Officer for child protection (LADO) should be informed without delay, and any telephone call followed up as soon as possible in writing. The school must not attempt to investigate the issue itself. It needs to be left to trained and independent professionals.
6. If the designated teacher receives reports of more vague suspicions and concerns, a record should be kept of them, and if there is any doubt as to whether the LADO should be informed then the LADO should be phoned and asked for advice.
7. The policy should state that the designated teacher and deputy should undergo periodic training in child protection, and lower level child protection training should be given to all staff.
8. The policy should also commit to Safer Recruitment policies. This includes ensuring that all staff will be properly checked before being taken on, including CRB checks with enhanced disclosure, references being followed up and other background checks as the law requires. This is actually the school’s first line of defence, and keeps known abusers from getting into the school in the first place.
If your school’s Child Protection Policy doesn’t state all of this in plain English, then it is possible that abuse is going on at the school and going unreported. Too many schools try to protect the reputation of the school and the welfare of the children at the same time by investigating allegations in-house. It is almost always a disaster and the only people they end up protecting are the abusers themselves. So make a nuisance of yourself and demand improvements.
Image from: http://www.civiltonguesaustralia.com/2009/09/11/which-is-more-important-child-protection-or-civil-liberties/
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