Sunday, 29 June 2014

Safeguarding & Protecting Children in Regulated Activities

As an education consultant, qualified teacher, child protection and safeguarding officer, safeguarding children in my care over the years has been one of the hardest jobs I have ever had to do. Over my 30 years in education I have worked on some extremely challenging child protection and safeguarding cases covering serious neglect, paedophilia, grooming, substance abuse and serious domestic violence . Even as an experienced practitioner managing large day nurseries and working in schools all over the world, making a child protection referral is not only hard to do, but also unpleasant and scary.

Within my many years of training, it is stressed, I have a duty of care to the children I work with and should comply with the early years foundation stage statutory framework. As a professional I work by these policies at all times and would never practice any other way. The welfare of every child is always my main, immediate and first concern. I am an experienced, confident practitioner who doesn't have issue with standing out, coming forward and speaking up; many less experienced may not be so bold.

Some signs of child abuse are difficult to spot and assess. Some signs can resemble other issues. Covert child abuse is not simple. Young children cannot and sometimes will not disclose. It's impossible for very young children to verbalize. Some are groomed to keep it secret. Less experienced practitioners may find it hard to assess and also be scared to report in case they get it wrong. There is still a taboo and silence around child sex abuse; it's hard to believe it's happening right under your nose. It's hard to discuss it and hard to discuss with parents and carers. Paedophilia is a very uncomfortable subject and for less experienced practitioners, hard to assess, recognise and report.

Safeguarding Children does not just cover child abuse any more, it encompasses every aspect of keeping children and young people safe. Safeguarding covers every aspect of a practitioners day from door safety, stranger danger and managed risk to sun safety, safe equipment and health, and this just outlines a very small proportion of the role of leadership and management in early years settings and schools. Safeguarding today is an onerous and complex issue and one is required to be vigilant, aware, confident and buckets full of common sense.

Whistleblowing is another difficult and unsafe area within safeguarding and child protection. The whistleblower has no safe place and is not protected in law and cannot currently remain anonymous. As an experienced leader I have blown the whistle when practice has not been safe for children but soon after I have been thrown to the wolves with no protection from anyone and had to resign from my employment. Lesser experienced bold ethical leaders would chose not to come forward and whistleblow. Many could not afford to lose the job or stand the stress. I was extremely ill after whistleblowing an extremely unsafe environment for children in my care.

Referring is a complex process also. It requires keeping your wits about you, remaining calm and level headed and being confident in your practice. Telephoning First Response and reporting to the Local Area Designated Officer (LADO) the concerns you have is daunting and the process that follows is daunting and scary. The note taking and accurate confidential recording of conversations with all parties concerned in draining and exhausting in itself. Advising the parents, attending Team around the Child Meetings with all the professionals working with the child and completing referral forms and issuing comprehensive reports is hugely challenging for an experienced practitioner let alone an inexperienced one.

There is a major argument and requirement for mandatory reporting of known abuse in all regulated activities. This would require all practitioners in regulated activities to report abuse by law; currently it is discretionary. Yes, unbelievably, it is discretionary, so why would anyone report when they are scared in the first place, have no idea of the process once they have reported and if they are wrong could lose their job, business, reputation or all three.

All establishments working with vulnerable children and adults must have safeguarding policies and procedures in place but these are only as good as the individuals implementing them. A piece of paper in a file in an office that is not adhered to does not, and will never, safeguard children. Staff training is another big issue as the current training is very limited and does not cover the processes and procedures once a referral has been implemented.

Children and adults involved in the historic cases in the press currently would not have had to wait 30 or 40 years before someone listened and believed their pleas for help. Someone must have had suspicions; that someone would have been obliged by law and legislation, and with protection and support, to report their suspicion of abuse if it had been mandatory to report. Mandatory reporting of known child abuse would safeguard everyone involved once drawn up in legislation and I would have been protected as a whistleblower and possibly kept my job.

Follow: @mandatenow @jonathanwest _ @ed2inspire @paulabarrow

Thursday, 12 June 2014

No, I didn’t want attention - Domestic Abuse

Why don’t you just leave?
Why did you put up with him?
You must be stupid
You wanted attention
Why did you stay?

Just some of the comments laid bare at my door by so called friends when I finally plucked up the courage to break my silence, share my utter despair and flee my beautiful family home because I was being abused in every sick and sordid way possible.

Do you find them abhorrent?
I hope you now do? So, don’t judge me till you have walked my journey. Don’t judge me till you suffered at least as much as I did. Don’t make assumptions, stereotype or think for one minute you know the trauma I suffered or what I went through. Don’t ever tell me you understand or know how I must have felt because I can tell you, you don’t. You can attempt to show me compassion and empathy for the death of my spirit and soul. And I am sure it will come as a shock for you to be told that that’s all very nice. But, "so called" friends, during my darkest hours no amount of compassion or empathy helped me and you were not there anyway. You are no friend, cause you walked away. You deserted me in my darkest days. And friends shouldn’t walk away. Real friends stand by you. But can you believe, some of you "so called" friends even believed my abusers propaganda.

Don’t tell me I am paranoid; that I imagined it all.
I was not paranoid, neither did I imagine any of it. I felt every blow, every vile word, every silence treatment, every rape, every tear. So, let me enlighten you as to why I stayed. I am old fashioned and strangely I married for life. I did not sign up to be homeless, have no money and bring a child up alone. None of that was in my life plan or part of my dreams. Call me na├»ve, stupid or a dreamer but I always envisaged “for better for worse, till death us do part.” That's what I had been brought up to believe. You worked at a marriage and I had worked hard at being a good wife and mother, friend and lover, soul mate and confidante, why would I walk away from that and put my daughter through hell. So I tried to stay and to keep trying. Trying to make a home; trying to keep us all together; trying to make it work. Trying to keep a roof over my daughters head and keep food on the table.

So don’t ever judge me or my decisions.
Because you see, leaving everything you know and own is scary, no, no, it’s more than scary, it’s off the planet and there are no words to express the feeling. To have no job, money or a home is beyond what the brain can regulate. I fled, ran away, left everything. I forfeited my hopes and dreams to make a safe place for my daughter. When you have been made to feel useless, worthless and just generally non-existent for many years; you have no money and have no idea where you will go or end up with a small child, I have to tell you it is the scariest feeling on earth. I had been told for over 20 years that I was ugly, fat and no one would ever want me, so where on earth was I going to find help and hope. Who on earth was going to want me.

So don’t pretend to understand.
Because you see being subjected to mental, verbal, emotional, sexual and finally physical abuse, my daughter and I had no choice but to flee in what we stood up in. We couldn't live like that anymore. We had to hide for fear of him finding us. We had no money and I had to borrow money from anyone who could help in order to feed my child. I ended up with years of bad debt. The stress and discomfort was almost too much to bear. Depressed and suicidal at times, I suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and lived in a fog. Depression engulfed every minute of every move of every day. My world was always grey, overcast and dull; cold, scary and unknown. Lonely, misunderstood and ashamed I retreated from society and became reclusive. There was nothing familiar and I was paranoid I was being followed and spied on. I couldn’t take more than two or three steps without looking behind me and if strangers got too close to me I freaked out. I was scared for years after fleeing that he would come and get me. You see he threatened to kill me and kidnap my daughter.

So please don’t tell me it was my choice.
Because you see it wasn’t. I had no choice. My abuser made the decision for me. In the end his behaviour forced me to leave. I tried to stay because I thought I could make it better. I thought he would change. I thought he loved me. I hoped he loved me. I believed no one else would ever want me. I was groomed; brainwashed. I had no idea how I would survive. I had a beautiful family home; I didn’t want to leave it. How would I tell my daughter? How would I explain to my family? Where would my daughter go to school; did I have the right to upset her schooling. I felt guilty breaking up the family unit. Would there ever be a time I could forgive myself. Was I to blame. How was I going to earn money? What would we live on? Where would we live? How would I pay the rent. Would my daughter ever forgive me? Maybe if I tried harder I could make this terrible life work till my daughter left home? Or would he kill me or would I kill myself before then?

How dare you tell me I wanted the attention?
Fourteen years later I have only just had my personal possessions returned. I didn’t see or have access to my belongings for all that time. He would not let me in the house, changed the locks and the alarm system. I literally had to start over again. From a wooden spoon to a duvet, from a washing machine to cheese grater, we had nothing. We only had what we stood up in. Do rational people put themselves in this position for attention? Due to my abusers behaviour we have suffered immensely. I worked my arse off and made a new home and life for us both with the support of my amazing family. It has been heart wrenching, traumatic and painful for many years on many levels. Finally, we have contentment and peace, but it’s been a long time coming. I can forgive but never forget. Domestic abuse is a life sentence; it damages your heart, soul and spirit. You can never trust fully ever again. Would anyone in their right mind put themselves through this for attention?

So please don’t tell me you get it.
Cause you don’t. I lost several “so called” friends; people I thought would stand by me and help. Friends that I thought would support me and give me a sanctuary; a bed for a while or even a few pounds for food. Friends I thought that would cook me a meal or just call to check on me. These “so called” friends didn’t believe I was abused. Apparently I wanted the attention. Apparently I was so fickle that I needed to flee my home and marriage and break up my family because I needed the attention. I didn’t have bruises or black eyes; he was careful and clever where he hit me. Because I was abused mentally, verbally, emotionally and sexually the public are ignorant and reluctant to believe. You see they cant see those scars. And, yes, my husband raped me on numerous occasions. And, yes, there is rape within marriage. No means no, even when it is your husband. We were estranged under the same roof but he forced me to have sex under duress, held me down, threatened me through my tears and cries for help. And he made kinky obscene requests and raped me again when I said no and protested.

So now please tell me why you didn’t listen or believe me.
How could you not believe me? When a person tells you they are unhappy, scared, controlled, criticised and even subjected to a form of slavery…listen and hear their cry for help. Abuse is abuse whether it is domestic, child abuse, bullying, slavery, FGM…abuse is abuse. Abusers and psychopaths have no conscience or remorse, are arrogant and controlling; they display grandiose, self indulgent and narcissistic behaviours. They can be liars and have double lives…Jekyll and Hyde or Mr Charming. They have secrets, criticise, groom and brainwash you into believing you are not who you thought you were. They isolate you from family and friends and you become their possession; you are extremely vulnerable, scared and have no confidence or self-esteem. This is what they want because this gives them more and more power over you. By fleeing my ex-husband lost control and became violent and even more abusive, texting me abusive messages every night in the middle of the night to frighten the crap out of me and to continue to try to keep his control and power over me. He thought this behaviour would make me return home.

So do you now get it; do you now believe; are you now listening?
I hope so, I really do. I hope you feel sorry and ashamed. I hope you are embarrassed about your behaviour and additional pain and trauma you placed in my heart. I hope you never disbelieve a victim again. I hope through reading this you are now wiser. I am now strong and I have my confidence and self-esteem back and my heart, soul and spirit have very nearly healed. So to those of you that hang people like me out to dry, I say this…I hope you now see there was no intention of needing attention. I never needed any form of attention. I hope you listen, hear and believe in the future. And you know what, I really hope your conscience pricks. I hope you begin to have some understanding of why we stay and why we leave. You see anyone who stays has morals and a conscience and respects their wedding vows. And anyone who flees their family home must be desperate and unhappy; no sane woman (or man) does this on a whim…and certainly not for attention.

I didn't need this kind of attention.

Now I really do hope you finally get it? Just a little bit!