Saturday, 8 February 2014

Safeguarding Our Children

Children’s safety must never be compromised; children have a right to be safe; it’s a human right to be safe. Recently we have heard about some tragic cases of child abuse and heart rending deaths of children, some of which have been in early year’s settings and schools. There have been many serious case reviews, Victoria Climbie, Vanessa George and Daniel Pelka, to name just a few and of course we obviously learn something from these but there still remains some very grave lessons to be learnt and there are also very grey areas for practitioners and professionals working with children to be empowered and confident to share and report concerns.

Safeguarding and child protection in the UK is a complex and challenging process and there are many problems linked to this very serious area of childcare practice. There are many intricate channels of reporting to follow, many acronyms to decipher and every local authority has their own procedures to follow not to mention the setting and school policies which are generally lengthy and complex themselves. I am always astounded by the length of policies and often wonder if they really get read and understood.
Staff training is also a very grey area. Not all staff will have any form of training or insight to safeguarding and child protection. Many employees rely of the small window of learning within a member of staffs level 2 or 3 childcare qualifications which only touches on the subject. Basic safeguarding training is what it says…..basic. Employees only have to update their training every three years and this is only a recommendation. And safeguarding covers all aspects of safety in a setting or organisation not just child protection but college courses are not teaching this, they just touch on child protection and abuse.

We also have to remember owners and head teachers have to keep a balanced view of their business but a child’s safety must never be compromised in the name of profit, budgets or reputation. Professionals have a “duty of care” to be mindful, observe and report any form of child abuse or safeguarding issue but when and who determines when a child is neglected or abused. Making this important decision can be subjective and this is where the airy fairy greyness steps in. What I feel requires reporting you or someone else may not.
When we refer to child protection we are not just talking about sexual abuse, there are many forms of abuse that professionals have to be aware of and report on. There are four types of child abuse. They are defined in the UK Government guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010 (1.33 – 1.36) as follows:
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional
  • Neglect
As well as:
  • Institutional
  • Discriminatory
Recognising child abuse is not easy. It is not your responsibility to decide whether or not child abuse has taken place or if a child is at significant risk of harm from someone. You do however, have both a responsibility and duty, as set out in your organisation’s child protection procedures, to act in order that the appropriate agencies can investigate and take any necessary action to protect a child. It is everyone’s duty to report any concern that may mean a child is at risk and then let the agencies deal with the case and decide on a way forward and outcome.

Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child either directly by inflicting harm, or indirectly, by failing to act to prevent harm. So here is another grey area…..are we responsible for abuse or neglect if we do not report a concern? Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting, by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children. Abuse does not discriminate and can be happening in any family with any social background.

Guidance today for all educational establishments is statutory and not mandatory including the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Statutory Framework & Welfare Statements and campaigners are fighting for reporting for all professionals working with children and young people in any establishment to become mandatory. The campaign is backed by five leading abuse charities as well as several MPs and shadow MPs. “Although child abuse is of course a crime, reporting it is – unbelievably - entirely discretionary. Along with many others, I find it incomprehensible that teachers, teaching assistants and other staff in Daniel’s school did not do more to help him," said Paula Barrow, Manchester based mother, in the introduction to her petition on where around 50,000 individuals have signed the petition for Daniel Pelka’s Law. If reporting had been mandatory it is very possible Daniel would be alive today. We must all feel confident to recognise behaviours, symptoms and attitudes that give cause for concern in the families we work with.
  • Statutory – required, permitted or enacted by statute
  • Mandatory – required by law or mandate, compulsory
Case Study

Child A (12), Child B (10) & Child C (4), sisters with the same biological father, lived with their mother. Their father lived out of the area. It had been disclosed he abused alcohol. Child A and B went to the local primary school and the Child C attended the local day nursery referred on the 2 year old funded government free education scheme. It was noted in both settings that the children were unkempt, unclean and smelly. The mother had a young partner. They were asked not to smoke or drink in front of the children. Mother and her sister were raised by their biological mother and her partner, their step father, who sexually abused them for most of their lives. As adults they both continued to have a sexual relationship with the stepfather until Child A disclosed at school that her step grandfather had sexually interfered with her. The school made a referral to social care and the assessment and intervention team were called in and after many play therapy sessions, interviews and meetings a case conference was held and the three children were placed on a Child Protection Plan. The step grandfather was arrested, questioned and released on bail. He was given conditions not to contact the family or attend the local area. At a later date Child B also disclosed. Many agencies were involved in the case – social worker, head teacher, school nurse, health visitor, children’s center, nursery manager, police, GP, play therapist, counselor, pediatrician, educational psychologist, translator, advocate. The referral was made by the head teacher of the school.
Less experienced staff (and even experienced) still struggle to recognise abuse and certainly feel uncomfortable challenging parents and reporting. A question they will always have in their minds is “What if I am wrong.” But far better to report and be wrong than not to report at all and a child dies. There are specific reporting lines as follows:
  • Disclose to your designated safeguarding officer in confidence
  • Who in turn will inform the head teacher, manager and/or owner
  • Telephone the First Response phone line
  • Contact the Local Area Designated Officer
  • Contact the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board
  • Local Social Services Intervention & Assessment Team
  • Ofsted
  • Your local authority
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), as part of the Tickell & Nutbrown reviews stipulates all staff must be monitored and have regular one to one supervision. This is imperative for all those professionals working with children “period” but even more imperative for those working on child abuse cases especially those involved with sexual abuse and paedophilia. Working on such cases is onerous, emotionally challenging and can be extremely disturbing. Employees need a safe space to “off load” and “share” with a senior supervisor. Working on such cases can also bring up issues in the member of staffs past that can be difficult to manage and even become a conflict of interest on the case they are working on. A member of staff may need counselling support themselves and in some cases retirement from the case.

Staff also need to be ready and confident to whistleblow any concerns about anyone who may be abusing or causing harm to a child on or off the premises. All setting and schools must have comprehensive safeguarding, child protection and whistleblowing policies in place. Whistleblowing is also a scary procedure and staff need to know they are safe to whistleblow in order to keep children safe without reprisals or fear of losing their jobs. There are several organisations that can support with whistleblowing:

Some of the Indicators to look out for:
  • Destruction of physical environment
  • Turning night into day/sleep disturbance
  • Sleeping in the fetal position
  • Chronic incontinence/persistent urine infections
  • Extreme physical and/or emotional dependence
  • Verbal abuse and aggression towards carer
  • Introverted/mutism/low self esteem
  • Changes in personality caused by illness and/or medication
  • Non-compliance with carers wishes
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Wandering/absconding
  • Self-harm
This list is not exhaustive.

The two year funded scheme for the most deprived two year olds brings with it many areas for concern for practitioners.
Case Study

Child A was seen by a nursery nurse to be “lapping” like a dog from the toilet. When asked what he was doing he replied “having a drink”. When asked why he drunk from the toilet he replied “this is what we do at home”. This child was 3 years old. As time went on it materialized that his mother, a single parent, was a cocaine user and alcoholic and strapped Child A and his brother Child B into high chairs all day in order that she could sleep off her frivolities of the night before. She also refused them drinks in order that she did not have to change their nappies. Child A was so thirsty when he attended his day nursery, and was afraid to ask for a drink for fear of being reprimanded, that he drunk from the toilet secretly in order to quench his thirst. The setting ensured he never had to ask for a drink. A written referral was made to social care and the assessment and intervention team was informed and the above procedure began. The children were put on a multiagency Child Protection Plan. Sadly these two children were taken into long term foster care and eventually adopted. Their mother was offered long term mental health and parenting support.

Remember there may be family and institutional contributing factors also damaging a child’s life, home and well-being, e.g. substance abuse, domestic violence, financial difficulties, mental illness, stress, unemployment, loss of a parent and/or disability. These can be contributing factors to an unhappy or emotionally abused child; we are not necessarily looking for bruises. So, safeguarding and child protection is complex and not just about sexual abuse. Carers who withhold food and fluids, lock children in bedrooms, omit to keep children washed and clean, use illegal substances around their children or subject them to episodes of domestic violence can all be construed as forms of child abuse.

The NSPCC states that existing whistleblowing legislation has a number of weaknesses, such as the number of obstacles to clear before employment protection is available. These weaknesses cause child protection and safeguarding professionals to be reticent about reporting legitimate concerns they may have about child safety. The NSPCC wants there to be an atmosphere where people involved in child protection and safeguarding feel able to raise concerns about issues that could affect children’s safety without having to fear an adverse impact on their employment situation.

The NSPCC advises that there needs to be:
  • Changes to the groups of people for whom protection is available
  • The level of knowledge or concern about child protection and safeguarding at which employment protection starts
  • A reduction in the number of legal obstacles to employment protection
  • An increase in activity to raise awareness of the protection available for those who want to blow the whistle about legitimately held concerns about child protection and safeguarding
The NSPCC would like to see the “reasonable belief” threshold for protection of employees who whistle blow lowered to “reasonable suspicion or concern” in cases where a child is suspected of being abused or harmed. This is to encourage whistleblowers that might have some doubts about the information they have received but are sufficiently concerned about a child that they feel the matter should be investigated properly.

So…..I leave you to consider if reporting should be mandatory?

If reporting had been mandatory and the threshold for protection of employees who whistleblow was lowered to “reasonable suspicion or concern” would Victoria Climbie, Baby P and especially Daniel Pelka be alive today? Plus, would many children’s abuse have stopped much earlier.

Everyone working with children and young people need to feel confident and empowered to make a referral in the name of our children, their safety and their human rights. Remember, the long term damage from any type of abuse lasts a lifetime. So, I ask you to support and help keep children and professionals safe.

Additional Information
NSPCC 0808 800 5000
Early Years Information

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