This blog was written by Safeguarding & Child Protection Consultant, Trainer, Author and Troubleshooter, Anne-Marie Christian. Since 2010, Ann Marie has independently supported hundreds of organisations in strengthening their safeguarding agenda. She has written all about safeguarding throughout the pandemic.
Schools have done a fantastic job over the last 12 months, going above and beyond to keep in contact with children and their families. DSLs, however, have had a tough time working with a lack of engagement from some families, and managing rising thresholds for referrals to children’s social care which is making it more difficult for cases to be investigated. We know referrals to social care have declined by 20 percent since March 2020. We are expecting an increase in referrals over the next few weeks and months – so what does this mean for us in schools?
What is the recent government data telling us?
The statutory guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ states that where an LA in England knows or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, the LA must notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel if:
- The child dies or is seriously harmed in the LA’s area; or
- While normally resident in the LA’s area, the child dies or is seriously harmed outside England.
The DfE’s recent serious incident data, published in January 2021, shows that:
- The total number of serious incident notifications during the first half of 2020/2021 increased by 27 percent on the same period in 2019/2020. This follows a decrease between 2018/2019 and 2019/2020.
- The largest increases were seen amongst young children, although those 16 years and over increased by a third.
- The majority (54 percent) of incidents related to boys but girls saw the largest increases compared to 2019/2020.
- Almost two thirds of serious incident notifications in the first half of 2020/2021 related to white children. This is similar to 2019/2020 but down from 2018/2019.
- The proportion of incidents relating to children with a disability remained stable.
This is telling us that there has been an increase in harm and abuse of children over the last year. Surprised about the information relating to children with disabilities; does this mean the children were not taken to get medical help? Or were they unable to communicate their abuse and harm to people outside the family home?
The majority of incidents happened in the home with the second highest number of incidents relating to children living with a relative. Children spent longer periods of time in the home with their families; for some this meant spending more time around the people causing the harm or abuse to them. We learnt about the ‘pressure cooker’ environments in households where the pandemic caused more stress on top of existing stress.
The proportion of incidents reported as relating to children with child protection plans was 8 percent. 86 percent of children were known to other agencies.
One day at a time:
- Upskill staff on understanding the impact of lockdown on children’s behaviour, friendship groups, wellbeing, mental health, concentration and more.
- Support staff with their own wellbeing.
- Appreciate the fact that some children were at home for longer periods of time, therefore, exposed to more physical, emotional, neglectful or sexual harm online or in real time.
- Create a culture where staff are approachable, non-judgemental and understanding,
- Encourage children and parents to be open about their experiences and ensure confidentiality.
- Create more opportunities for discussions in class and offer more pastoral care support for students, including after-school clubs.
- Pastoral staff can create a surgery style drop-in or offer appointments. Have an email address that children and young people can opt for a time and permission slips given.
- Report all concerns to the DSL.
Black and Asian Minority Ethnic children
Following George Floyd’s death in May 2020 and subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaigning, we have a better awareness of inequality to BAME groups. Experiences from the Shifting the Dial project in Birmingham, which was held in partnership with the Centre for Mental Health and explored young Black men’s mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, evidenced the unequal effects of coronavirus on young Black men. It found that:
- Disruption to education is widening inequalities experienced by young Black men, who are more likely to be excluded and have their grades underpredicted.
- Young Black men aged 16-25 are amongst the hardest hit by job losses and are more likely to report a fall in income because of lockdown.
- Coronavirus enforcement and policing are disproportionately affecting young Black men, who are much more likely to be stopped and searched and issued fines for breaching lockdown measures.
- As a result of some of these challenges, young Black men are at risk of higher levels of mental distress during the coronavirus pandemic compared to other groups.
This briefing calls for urgent cross-government action to address the inequalities faced by young Black men, and to offer tailored support to protect their mental health and future prospects. Have we considered this in our settings? We must recognise the importance of inclusion and diversity and acknowledging that BAME children have different experiences from their non-BAME peers.
We have to remember young people have been viewing clips from across the world of children of colour who have suffered brutal attacks due to the colour of their skin. They have experienced trauma and eventually this may affect wellbeing.
As with all children, children with SEND were online more during periods of lockdown, with restricted access to usual play and education. Some pupils with SEND may be particularly vulnerable online; schools should pay extra care to their pupils that may find norms and social cues more difficult to understand, particularly online, or who may have increased eagerness to form friendships, whilst having needs that limit their awareness of the risks of online harm. We know children were online more and, therefore, the likelihood of experiencing online harm was greatly increased.
Gentle reminder that every child matters.
Centre for Mental Health (2021) ‘Young Black men’s mental health during Covid-19’ <https://www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/publications/young-black-mens-mental-health-during-covid-19?utm_source=Centre+for+Mental+Health+E-bulletin&utm_campaign=9be55c4096-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2021_MARCH&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b1a504c55-9be55c4096-212062157&ct=t(March_e_bulletin_2021)> [Accessed: 22 March 2021]