Emerging safeguarding risks in schools

  • Safeguarding risks are constantly evolving – schools must be able to adapt their policies and procedures accordingly
  • Many emerging safeguarding risks are linked to the rise of digital technology and social media in particular
  • We discuss some of these emerging risks and how schools can best manage them

Identifying and dealing with emerging safeguarding risks is likely to be one of the biggest challenges any school will face.

Safeguarding risks are continually evolving, but in recent years the pace of this change seems to have increased, driven in part by our society’s growing reliance on digital technology, or digitech.

It is vital that schools are able to adapt to these changes, in order to ensure their safeguarding policies and procedures remain credible, contemporary and relevant.

Which emerging safeguarding risks do schools need to be aware of?

Our whitepaper, Understanding Safeguarding, outlines some of the safeguarding risks that have emerged over the past decade.

Many of these can be broadly categorised as relating to technology, such as:

  • Sexting and sextortion – both of which involve the taking of and/or digital sharing of sexually explicit images
  • Upskirting – the practice of taking unauthorised photographs under the skirt of a woman or girl
  • Cyber bullying
  • Doxing – connecting someone’s online anonymous identity, e.g. in a cyber gaming environment, to their real-life identity, with malicious intent
  • Anxiety/mental health issues linked to use of social media – e.g. fear of missing out (FOMO), body image issues etc

Other emerging safeguarding risks may be associated with cultural or spiritual practices or belief systems, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, or spiritual abuse, where religious texts or customs are misused to coerce a person into behaving or thinking in a certain way.

There are also some risks that overlap between these two areas. Radicalisation, for example, may have its roots in extreme political, social or religious ideals, but the internet and social media are the facilitators that enable it to spread more easily.

Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) is another risk that technology can indirectly impact upon. The NSPCC guidance on HSB explains that “children using mobile phones and social networking sites may come across sexually explicit or pornographic images and video”, and this can foster or reinforce unrealistic or harmful ideas about sex and sexuality.

How can schools adapt to emerging safeguarding risks?

Firstly, it is important to ensure emerging and evolving risks are reflected in your safeguarding policies and procedures, including the training you provide to staff.

Whatever training staff are given, it is important to put in place a mechanism to measure its effectiveness, e.g. a post-training quiz or questionnaire to test whether staff have taken on board its key messages.

In addition, as many of the emerging risks identified above may be most likely to arise when children and young people are not at school – for example when they are using their mobile phones or tablets at home – it is important to work closely with parents or carers.

In a previous News and Views article, we discussed how schools can create a culture of openness where parents and carers feel their child’s school is there to support them if they have a concern. One way of doing this is to create an easily accessible forum for parents to raise concerns and for school staff to share safeguarding guidance.

We have also recently partnered with the UK’s largest specialist independent safeguarding company, INEQE Group, to create a Safer Schools Package – a collection of safeguarding resources and apps for the whole school community, including teachers, students, families and carers.

Understanding the reputational risks linked to safeguarding

Schools will also understand that serious safeguarding incidents can generate significant online ‘noise’ on social media, which may in turn lead to negative press coverage.

If a safeguarding incident does become the subject of online discussion on social media, there is also the risk that vulnerable individuals might be identified and exposed to further abuse. It is therefore imperative that schools consider and plan for how they would manage these added elements of risk.

It is not just actions or incidents relating to students that schools need to consider, either. Inappropriate use of social media by members of staff could result in significant reputational damage. In a previous News and Views article, we discussed the link between safeguarding and reputation and the importance of managing social media.

How Zurich Municipal can help

In addition to our Safer Schools Package (which you can access through your Zurich contact), we are the only UK insurer to have a dedicated Safeguarding Risk Consultant. Marie Williams supports our customers to understand their safeguarding exposures and better manage their risks.

We have also produced a Safeguarding Risk Resource – a central hub containing a wealth of content on a variety of safeguarding topics.