- Your school culture must prioritise the needs of the child.
- Child protection is everyone’s responsibility and anyone can make a referral if necessary.
- It is useful to consider what Ofsted will look for when checking your child protection policy.
- Staff should never hold the view that it couldn’t happen here.
In hindsight we can all be wiser. The schools where abused or neglected children have gone unnoticed or action has not been taken would seem, when the full facts are available, to have missed chances. It’s everyone’s worst scenario: your school in the spotlight. The first step to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is your child protection policy.
Safeguarding policy or child protection policy? Some schools have one or the other and some will have both. A safeguarding policy implies a wider scope and takes in aspects of health and safety, safer recruitment, vetting and barring and even behaviour. Child protection will generally focus on your inter-agency work with social care and the referral process. You will need to decide how far you wish it to extend.
The child always comes first
This is your motif. Your school, your teachers, your policies, must always prioritise the needs of the child. The first step in ensuring you protect your pupils is establishing this fact as a core part of your school culture.
With mental health needs increasing and the pressures of poverty on families’ lives, more and more pupils are at risk in one form or another. However strong the need to demonstrate progress might be, don’t let the child slip off the agenda. In your meetings, in your curriculum, in your policies, keep child welfare as a focus for what you do.
Against this backdrop, you have the foundations of your child protection policy. Although you will want to include individual responsibilities in the policy, the main message that you must get across from the outset is that child protection is everyone’s responsibility and everyone has a duty to act on any concerns they might have.
Who makes the referrals?
A key point that you need to include in your policy is the duty to see a change in conditions for a child. Whatever level of responsibility a member of staff might have, if, after making a referral, they do not notice an improvement in conditions for that child, then they can take it further. The senior leadership and the designated person are not above being challenged and this should be made clear to staff no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
Although the designated person is the usual route to social care, this isn’t an exclusive responsibility. Any member of staff can make a referral if they feel that insufficient action is being taken. This might seem to undermine the structure of your school and your child protection policy itself. However, it must also be written into it.
A clear structure for referrals must also be hammered home. What your procedure is, who must be contacted and the urgency with which this must take place are the focus of your policy. Detailed records must be kept. Ofsted now want to see at the start of the inspection:
- a list of referrals made to the designated person and those made to the LA
- a list of all pupils who are open cases to children’s services and for whom there is a multi-agency plan.
During the inspection inspectors will look for signs of successful practice, including that:
- adults respond to reduce the risk of harm or actual harm and take appropriate action
- adults know the indicators of abuse, neglect or harm
- there are effective policies in place and these are regularly reviewed
- staff are clear about the procedures they should follow if they are concerned
- there is a named and designated lead who is able to play an effective role and who has been trained to an appropriate level and receives training every two years
- pupils can identify a trusted adult who they can communicate their concerns to
- pupils are confident that this adult will take their concerns seriously
- written records are made in a timely way and are held securely
- records are shared appropriately and with consent where necessary
- pupils who are at risk are identified
- child protection/safeguarding concerns are shared immediately with the LA and a record of the referral is kept
- there is evidence that any agreed action following a referral has been taken promptly
- parents are made aware of concerns and consent is sought unless doing so would increase the risk of or actual harm to a child
- staff know their responsibilities there is a written plan in place about how a child might be protected; this might be:
- a child in need plan
- a child protection plan
- a plan for looked-after child
- pupils are updated about actions taken as appropriate
- comprehensive records are held and shared between the relevant agencies to help and protect children.
Child protection is not about satisfying inspectors. However, this list of Ofsted expectations is a good one to check your child protection policy and practice against.
The scope of your policy
You are likely to need to make some additions to your child protection policy if you haven’t already done so. In recent months concerns about female genital mutilation, child sexual exploitation, self-harm and radicalisation have been raised.
Some schools will prefer to make reference to these in an overall safeguarding policy. What is important is that they are mentioned somewhere and that staff have been made aware of what the signs might be and what they should do if they have concerns.
Your designated person should now have ‘Prevent’ awareness training and you should contact your LA if he/she has not yet had opportunity to do this. Ideally, there should already have been an opportunity for staff to explore some of the issues surrounding radicalisation and how extremist views can lead to pupils being drawn into terrorism.
No person is exempt
What you must make clear to your staff throughout is that no person is exempt and no one can afford to be complacent. A school where the culture suggests that this just doesn’t happen here is the one that is most at risk. This isn’t to shroud your school in a cloak of suspicion but to keep it alert to the signs and the child in sharp focus.
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