Parents and safeguarding

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

In the second of three articles on parental engagement issues, Dorothy Lepkowska looks at safeguarding and child protection and how schools can and should work with families

Schools remain one of the front-line organisations for protecting children and young people, with safeguarding and child protection forming a crucial part of their role.

Yet this is potentially one of the most fraught and difficult areas of discussion between the school and parents and can be a subject of conflict and disagreement – especially when it comes to deciding what is best for the child.

There are occasions when families will refuse or avoid cooperating with schools, resulting in serious problems for heads and teachers, who may need to seek help from external agencies. In some cases, it may even be desirable to do this rather than try to resolve a complex issue. Either way, senior leaders need to consider carefully the best course of action depending on each set of circumstances.

According to the government statutory guidance Working together to safeguard children (DfE, 2019), safeguarding means protecting children from maltreatment, preventing impairment of children’s health or development, ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe, and effective care and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes. Every aspect of this document applies to schools.

This can mean bullying, abuse in all its forms, neglect, involvement in gangs, exposure to extremism and radicalisation, trafficking, female genital mutilation or child marriage. Sometimes the actions of others can inadvertently put a child a risk. For example, a child who is expelled from school and drops out of the system without any follow-up support can become vulnerable to crime or mental health problems.

Parents may appear ambivalent to the problems by failing to attend meetings set up by the school or other agencies on safeguarding, or they avoid this contact by being constantly unavailable. In extreme cases, for example, they may appear outwardly cooperative, but are planning to subvert the school’s attempts to help the child, for example, in cases of forced marriage. However, many parents also believe that they are not listened to or excluded from decisions taken about their child.

Children’s charities, including the NSPCC, work closely with schools and other organisations around improving their safeguarding policies, practices and procedures.

Kay Joel, senior consultant for education with the NSPCC’s consultancy services, says that schools must know how to recognise, respond, report and refer concerns about child abuse and neglect. One of the challenges, she says, is being aware of the issues in the community and being able to react to them, and not to be distracted by generalisations.

The risk of radicalisation of young people in one part of the country, for example, will not apply in another area. Similarly, not every housing estate has gangs, while rural and coastal towns are as prone to drug problems as urban areas.

She said: “As an organisation we try to provide teachers with advice on what they must do and examples of good practice, which might mean signposting them to different organisations depending on the issue. Local problems aren’t always about gangs and crime, so schools need to be careful not to be diverted into everything being about that.

“When it comes to advising schools on relationships with parents we always recommend they are frank and honest about what the safeguarding policy is, and to have it readily available on the school website and as a hard copy.

“This should be as transparent as possible, so everyone is aware who the designated staff member is. Good practice is informing parents and working with them, unless to do so would put the child at greater risk.” Examples of this might include honour-based traditions, such as forced marriage, which need to be handled with extreme care and by trained professionals.

“Schools are still seen as a hub for community cohesion, and a safe place for children. But while the role of schools in safeguarding children has grown in recent years, the resources to do this effectively has not kept up with the pace.”

Tips for schools

  • Ensure there is a designated senior staff member to lead on child protection and safeguarding.
  • The school’s individual policy on child protection should be prominently displayed on the school’s website and in written form.
  • Make sure there is a culture among staff of seeking help and support.
  • Be open and honest with parents about why, what, how and with whom information could be shared and seek their agreement, unless it is unsafe or inappropriate to do so.
  • Ensure that staff are updated on any changes to policy and practice and that some information is shared on a need to know basis.
  • Training and resources are provided to reinforce individual safeguarding roles and responsibilities.

A specific area that can trigger safeguarding alerts includes dealing with honour-based abuse and other cultural behaviours.

  • Listen to the child and believe what they are telling you. You might be the only adult they feel they can trust
  • Check out historical behaviour within the family, such as the forced marriage of a sibling, as this increases the chance of it being repeated.
  • Be careful about using interpreters. Sometimes the victim, or a close family member, is used to interpret and may not give honest responses.
  • Do not try to mediate on behalf of the child, as you need specific training in this. Usually it is the family carrying out the abuse and there might be a wider network involved as well.
  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist and co-author of Meet the Parents.

Further information & resources

  • Meet the Parents: How schools can work effectively with families to support children’s learning, Lepkowska & Nightingale, Routledge, 2019: http://bit.ly/2Zcw2vu
  • Working together to safeguard children, DfE, March 2015 (last updated February 2019): http://bit.ly/2hZOeVM


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