Safeguarding: Managing disclosures following lockdown

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As schools re-open to all pupils, staff will be on the look-out for a range of safeguarding issues. Elizabeth Rose looks at how we must handle disclosures in the weeks ahead

Almost all children are now expected to be in school every day and with that comes a host of safeguarding challenges.

Thinking about ways to proactively safeguard children means that we can source help for them more quickly and building this into our safeguarding approach using our past experiences will mean that children are well-supported during these first transition weeks and beyond.

What can we expect?

Drawing on experiences from last year, we can expect that a significant number of children will come into school and seek help for issues that have happened during the national lockdown, including abuse and neglect.

This is corroborated by statistics released both by national helplines (such as the NSPCC – see further information) and data from the Department for Education (DfE).

The DfE’s recent “serious incident” statistics (where a local authority notifies the DfE about incidents where a child has suffered serious harm or died) back-up concerns about the additional harm faced by children during the coronavirus crisis. The data (DfE, 2021) shows that:

  • The total number of serious incident notifications between April and September 2020 increased by 27 per cent on the same period in 2019/20.
  • The largest increases were seen among young children although those for 16 years and over increased by a third.
  • The majority (54 per cent) of incidents related to boys but girls saw the largest increase compared to 2019/20.
  • Incidents relating to child deaths increased from 89 to 119 and serious harm 132 to 153.
  • The majority of incidents (two-thirds) occurred while living at home.

As safeguarding professionals, it is important to be very vigilant to signs that a child has been harmed or abused during the latest lockdown and of course, to take action accordingly.

Setting the scene for support

Disclosing abuse or neglect is a very difficult thing for a child to do. We can do lots of things in school to remove the barriers to disclosing that children face, or identify abuse and neglect earlier than the point at which a child decides to tell us what is happening to them.

Now children have returned, it may be a good idea to:

  • Be a visible presence around school and remind children of who the pastoral and safeguarding staff are.
  • Ask tutors or class teachers to reinforce that children can seek help from any adult that they trust in school.
  • Brief your staff on how to ask children about their experiences during lockdown. It can be very overwhelming to be asked “what was lockdown like for you?” but much easier to answer “what did you do last week?”. Making a question more specific gives the child more opportunity to talk about details, rather than just generally answering and telling you that things have been fine when they haven’t.
  • Write some prompts for speaking to children individually. Think about how you will open the conversation with children who you are worried about. Start with concrete, shared experiences, such as “how have you found coming back to school so far?” and then slowly move into questions about their experiences at home – what went well, what was difficult about being at home?
  • Have office hours where children can pop in and speak to you, or other pastoral staff, of their own volition. You could advertise it in school as a “drop in and chat” session so young people are specifically directed to where to get help (alongside your usual approaches). Children should be able to seek help at any time, but sometimes feeling like they have permission to come at a certain time makes it easier for them to come forward.
  • Think about the range of ways that children can contact you for support if they are shielding or self-isolating. Continue to monitor your safeguarding email address (if you use one) and signpost children to this as another means to contact you.


Children with SEND might face additional barriers when trying to seek help. Review your children with SEND, think about who the best person is to check in with them and ensure that the person who does speak to them has the skills to differentiate their approach and support that child. For example, children with communication issues or hearing impaired children may need additional resources to help them to disclose.

Alternative sources of support

Some children will take a long time to tell anyone about safeguarding issues or abuse that they are experiencing. It is a good idea to have a range of sources of information that are regularly publicised in school so that children have other avenues to help them in understanding what is happening to them. This could include a special section in the school library of books covering pastoral topics, or having an “information station” somewhere in the school with leaflets or helplines for children to use.

Safeguarding teams are not the only people that can help children to disclose abuse. Make sure you have a plan for utilising your local partners or third sector organisations. Have regular meetings with your Early Help co-ordinator, your school nurse, your local police officer and your school counsellor.

Other issues to think about

Mental health: The NHS Mental Health of Young People in England survey (2020) found that one in six children have a probable mental disorder, which has increased from one in nine in 2017. We have seen many reports that highlight the impact that lockdown has had on mental health and we should be prepared to support children who are displaying mental health issues and those who ask for help. It is also important to keep in mind that mental health issues can be an indicator of abuse.

Bereavement: This is an issue that has impacted both staff and children. Knowing your staff and children well and considering staff needs when working with bereaved children will be really helpful. Ask bereaved staff if they need additional support. Consider if it will be more difficult for them to work with bereaved pupils and make adaptations accordingly.

Responding and following up

Once a child has disclosed, or if you feel a child is suffering or at risk of suffering harm then you should always operate within your policy and your Local Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures.

You will make referrals as usual, but do not forget to follow up if you do not receive a notification or any feedback following your referral. If you do not hear back, it is your responsibility to chase this up – in line with the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2020).

A final point

This is a very challenging time for safeguarding staff. We should not underestimate how difficult it is to hear about the lives of children when things are not going well for them, or to take disclosures of abuse.

If you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, speak to your line manager, build in some time for self-care and reflection or even just take a five-minute breather within the school day. You are so important to children and families and you deserve to be looked after too.

  • Elizabeth Rose is an independent safeguarding consultant and the director of So Safeguarding. She has worked in education for more than 15 years and is a former secondary designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding in education advisor. Visit or follow her @sosafeguarding

Further information & resources

  • DfE: Part 1 (April to September) 2020-21: Serious incident notifications, January 2021:
  • DfE: Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020, last updated January 2021:
  • NHS: Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020: Wave 1 follow up to the 2017 survey, October 2020:
  • NSPCC: Christmas warning as child abuse contacts to NSPCC helpline rises 43%, December 2020:

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