Helping independent schools speak up about safeguardingIncidents of child abuse and neglect involving children will inevitably focus attention on any individual or organisation involved in their safeguarding.
I really encourage and support schools to become more vocal in seeing what’s in front of them and empowering them.”
Ann Marie Christian, Safeguarding Associate, Zurich Risk Engineering
When news of such incidents spreads however, there is a risk that other organisations will adopt a mind-set that ‘this couldn’t happen to us’ and ignore the reality that abuse can occur anywhere.
Here, Zurich Risk Engineering’s Safeguarding Associate, Ann Marie Christian, discusses why she encourages independent schools to foster a vocal safeguarding communications culture to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect.
Building an open safeguarding communications culture
A key strength of Britain’s independent schools is the way they have been able to build incredibly close-knit relationships with their students and their families, often across several generations.
Christian says: “With independent schools, there can be a history of families, who all know each other, all attending the same school.
“Families and staff have known each other for decades, and are very trusting of one another.”
Because such close-knit relationships exist, independent schools can sometimes face a challenge of ensuring that everybody within the school community feels able to raise concerns when they arise.
Making it easy to offer challenges and raise concerns is the hallmark of a truly open safeguarding communications culture.
Speaking the language of safeguarding
The emotive term ‘safeguarding’, can itself, create a block to schools talking openly about the topic – internally with staff, and externally with families. Discussing safeguarding as an integral part of promoting ‘wellbeing’, or initiatives to support it, can liberate the conversation.
Christian says: “Some schools have introduced a ‘nagging form’ to encourage young people to confidentially submit any doubts they have about their school. Children might use it to report a behaviour change in one of their peers or a teacher, who’s been tearful or shouting a lot. This encourages a listening school that is open and transparent and the Head would then process the forms and seek appropriate advise from key agencies i.e. local authority, human resources, NSPCC etc.
Instilling the safeguarding-wellbeing ethos in the relationship between school, staff and families, can help open up the conversation around safeguarding throughout the school.
“The school application process for families also presents an opportunity for schools to get an insight into their dynamic,” says Christian. “It’s a chance to communicate that they will work in partnership with families to promote their child’s wellbeing, establishing a positive narrative of cooperation.”
Speaking to Children’s Services
Knowing how to speak to professionals in the social care system is also important. Christian explains: “I see a lot of schools struggling to understand what is required when giving information to Children’s Services when making child protection referrals or enquiries.
“A prime example of this was where a school had made a referral to Children’s Social Care that was rejected. On reading it, it was clear to me there was a child protection issue, but the school hadn’t known how to present it correctly. I rewrote the referral focusing on the needs of the child and highlighted the absence of the parenting capacity and the decision was overturned and the case was allocated for an assessment.”
Engaging with your Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) – or a safeguarding consultant – can help schools understand how to present their concerns.
More about Ann Marie Christian
Ann Marie Christian works closely with Zurich’s Safeguarding Risk Consultant, Marie Williams, who is part of our dedicated Risk Engineering Casualty practice. We provide support to independent schools wanting to instil an open, vocal safeguarding culture in their settings.
Christian says: “In my role with Zurich, I speak to independent schools about how they can ensure they are compliant and have appropriate policies in place. I really encourage and support schools to become more vocal in seeing what’s in front of them and empowering them will keep children safe.”
Our Independent Schools Safeguarding Risk Insight offers practical steps to help independent schools implement robust safer recruitment practices, underpinning their rigorous commitment to school safeguarding.