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Protecting Children - A Shared Responsibility



Chapter 7: Guidance on Special Issues

Boarding Schools or Hostels

132. Children living away from home for significant periods of time are often more vulnerable in a variety of ways:

  • lack of strong family contacts may result in a readiness to form close emotional attachments to peers or adults;
  • emotional or academic stress can result in young people developing self harming behaviours including substance misuse and eating disorders;
  • close and sustained contact with peers may result in their succumbing to peer pressure, becoming the victim of bullying or themselves indulging in bullying;
  • the balance between supervising free time and promoting young people's independence may result in young people becoming involved in potentially risky activities in their leisure time, without the risks having been fully assessed;

133. Such vulnerability can result in children becoming the victims of abuse by themselves, by their peers or by adults, known and unknown.

134. As part of their induction packs, all boarding schools and hostels should provide clear information on sources of support for pupils who are unhappy or feel threatened. As well as including school or hostel based contacts, these should include reference to ChildLine, to the local authority's children's rights officer and, in the case of independent or grant aided schools, to an independent visitor and / or visiting governor. A copy of the school complaints procedure should also be included.

135. Boarding schools and hostels should ensure that pupils are enabled effectively to sustain family contacts through a range of methods including telephone, fax and e-mail, thus reducing feelings of isolation.

136. Accommodation arrangements, including toilets, showers, and sleeping facilities should have regard for pupils' rights to dignity, privacy and personal space.

137. Staff should have in place good formal and informal methods of monitoring the welfare of the pupils in their care. These should include an adequate supervision ratio (the nature of which will vary depending on the age of the young people and the lay-out of the premises), regular individual and group meetings and informal observation at meal times and in free time. The residence should have in place good monitoring procedures for pupil eating and sleep patterns to assist early identification of such difficulties as anorexia or substance abuse.

138. Where pupils leave the site in their free time, there should be good procedures in place to know the whereabouts of the pupils, the activities involved and the expected time of return. Particular care should be exercised over potentially risky activities such as attendance at parties, details of which are vague, or baby sitting where there are issues in relation to how the young person will get back to the residence.

139. In circumstances where inappropriate relationships have developed, there is a need to address these matters openly, seeking help for both parties from other relevant agencies. Particularly where a young person can be seen as potentially abusive, it is important that appropriate support is sought for that young person, drawing on the specialist skills of social work services and psychiatry.

140. Care is needed to promote an inclusive ethos where all members of the school community, whatever their gender, race or religion, are valued equally. Boarding schools in particular often encourage the development of group activities ranging from cadet forces, through sports teams to pipe bands. Understandably considerable emphasis is placed on belonging to such groups and developing a strong group ethos. Care is needed however that features of such group ethos do not include inappropriate initiation ceremonies or the disparagement of the non-members, both of which can result in group bullying.

Residential Visits

141. Generally school residential visits fall into 3 categories:

  • exchange visits or other organised trips, for example of a school orchestra or sports team where accommodation is provided in the homes of families not directly known to the school;
  • outdoor education courses run by external centres where the children stay in accommodation provided by the centre, and are mainly under the direction of centre staff; or
  • field visits or trips where the school itself organises the accommodation and supervises the children throughout the visit.

142. Each type of visit has the potential for child protection issues to arise, albeit the issues themselves may differ.

143. In the exchange situation, there is a risk that a child may be placed in a family where abuse exists, or where the level of supervision is so low that he or she is exposed to significant risk. In planning a trip involving home stays , the school should agree a set of standards for home stays and for supervision with the local organiser. Guidance on such standards is included in The Protection of Young People in the Context of International Visits Revised Edition 2002. There should also be an expectation that, provided such procedures exist, host families are appropriately checked under Disclosure or other appropriate systems such as seeking references. Group leaders should make daily contact with all members of the group to satisfy themselves that all is well. Children involved and their parents should be given emergency numbers for contact should problems arise.

144. In outdoor education situations, the authority or the school in the case of independent or grant aided schools, has a duty to satisfy itself that the selected centre has clear child protection, security and health and safety policies and procedures, a child protection co-ordinator and that staff offering agreed activities are appropriately qualified to teach them and have had appropriate disclosure checks. Such issues should have been fully explored prior to the beginning of the visit. However organisers should also be alert to last minute alterations, possibly in response to changes in weather conditions, and should be prepared to refuse to allow children to participate, if they are not satisfied that staff are appropriately qualified. Where the Centre is being shared with one or more other party, organisers should also satisfy themselves that the arrangements in place allow them to provide adequate supervision for their own pupils.

145. Where the school fully organises its own trip, there is a significant burden of responsibility on the authority to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to secure participants safety and welfare. The following are features of good practice.

  • a code of conduct should be agreed with both parents and pupils prior to departure, and decisions taken on the response should it be broken;
  • organisers should be satisfied that the accommodation is appropriate, and in particular that the bedroom arrangements enable suitable room sharing arrangements in terms of age and gender and appropriately located staff bedrooms for both supervision and ease of access in case of emergency;
  • both daytime activities and evening leisure should be adequately supervised.

146. Particularly on trips taking place during holidays, it is understandable that both staff and children should feel that greater informality is appropriate. However there is a significant difference between a more informal approach, and a failure to exercise due care. In particular:

  • young people should not be permitted to wander alone in unfamiliar places;
  • staff should not fraternise or be over-familiar with pupils;
  • even in countries where the legislation with regard to alcohol or drugs is more lenient than in Scotland, staff should not condone young people drinking alcohol or taking drugs when they could not legally do so in Scotland;
  • free time for pupils does not equate with free time for staff.

147. Even when all aspects have been well considered, it is still possible that an abuse incident may occur - for example a young person being molested in the street by a stranger. Should such an incident occur, teachers should follow the guidance in Appendix 9 on listening and recording. Where it is believed a crime has / may have been committed a referral should be made to the relevant police service immediately. (Although it should be noted that particularly in relation to sexual activity, different countries have markedly different ages of consent). The school's own Headteacher or in his/ her absence the Child Protection Co-ordinator should be contacted as should the authority's Child Protection Officer. Contact with the parents of those directly involved should be made as soon as what has happened is relatively clear. Generally, it will be more appropriate for the Headteacher or authority representative to contact other parents or carers within the group to explain as clearly as possible what the situation is and what is being done, leaving the staff on the trip free to support the pupils there. (Given the general availability of mobile phones, any significant delay in contacting parents should be avoided to prevent the spread of rumours).

Community service and volunteering

148. Increasingly children and young people are being encouraged to contribute to the welfare of the community including:

  • as part of a curriculum initiative, for example through Social and Vocational Studies (SVS);
  • as part of the school's planning for citizenship education; or
  • through extra-curricular activities such as The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme.

149. Where placements are being arranged for pupils, or where pupils themselves have arranged the placements, schools should satisfy themselves, that the child protection policy of the organisation concerned, affords adequate protection for the pupil. If they have any concerns in relation to this, they should seek advice from Volunteer Development Scotland -Stirling Enterprise Park, Stirling FK7 7RP Telephone 01786 479593. If concerns remain, these should be raised with the education authority's child protection officer. The Scottish Executive is currently preparing further guidance on volunteering by schoolchildren which will be issued in due course.

Children whose parents are in the armed forces

150. Each service has its own welfare organisation, offering support to service families. Details of these are given at Appendix 5. Where a school has welfare or child protection issues in relation the child of a service family, these concerns should be shared with the relevant welfare organisation, to maximise support for the child and family. However, where there is a definite child abuse concern requiring further investigation, a formal referral must be made to the local authority social work services department, with the referral intimated to the relevant service welfare organisation.

Children and young people from minority ethnic communities

151. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 puts a statutory general duty on a wide range of public bodies, including education authorities schools, to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination, and to promote race equality and good race relations. Specific duties to help meet the general duty have also been placed on some public authorities, including education authorities / schools, arrangements for which had to be in place by 30 November 2002. Guidance on meeting the requirements of the Act, including guidance for education authorities and schools in Scotland, has been produced by the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland (the CRE Scotland). The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 requires that, when providing services and making significant decisions to safeguard and promote children's welfare, a local authority shall have regard so far as is practical to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background. These considerations should inform the assessment of and planning to meet children's needs. Authorities and school staff need to understand and respond to the effects of racial harassment, racial discrimination and institutional racism, as well as cultural misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

152. All children have the right to be safe from abuse, whatever their race. School staff should ensure that they are not deterred from recognising or challenging the abuse of children from minority ethnic communities through fear of 'getting it wrong'. If in doubt, advice should be sought from specialist agencies through the authority's child protection officer.

153. Adequate translation and interpreting services should be made available so that children and families from minority ethnic communities can understand what is happening at all stages and participate fully. Interpreters should, wherever possible, be independent of the local ethnic community, have skills in interpreting for child protection purposes and be aware of the need to maintain confidentiality. Children should not be expected to interpret for their parents or carers (and vice versa) during child protection enquiries. Further advice is contained in the Scottish Translation, Interpreting and Communication Forum's Good Practice Guidelines.

Refugees and asylum seekers

154. Children, or their families, who come to this country seeking asylum or remain as refugees may have undergone a series of traumatic experiences:

  • the circumstances which gave rise to their leaving home;
  • the loss of friends and in some instances close family members;
  • long, complex journeys; and
  • uncertainty about the present and the future.

155. In addition, on arrival in Britain, families are faced with an unfamiliar and often hostile environment. The operation of our education, health, and social work systems are not well understood, and most families experience racial harassment in the community. Financial support for families is very limited. Increasingly some young people are arriving unaccompanied, or having been rejected by the extended family intended to look after them. This range of experiences leaves both families and children very vulnerable. Education authorities and schools should be alert to a range of possible child protection issues - self harm, racial harassment, emotional vulnerability. They should make it clear to the children and their families that they will support all children involved, and that such incidents will be taken seriously.

156. Schools should also use their best endeavours to provide structures of support which children of refugee and asylum seeking families feel able to access for help if necessary. Particular vigilance should be kept for absence as a result of bullying. Lack of fluency in English and a possibly prolonged period of missed or disturbed education may place additional stresses on such children. In bringing together children and young people from the same country or area, education authorities and schools should also be alert to the possibility that they may come from opposing factions or sects in that country. When a school admits a child with a refugee or asylum seeking background, it should prepare a plan for that child, identifying any additional support needs of the child (linguistic, academic, social and developmental) and the actions to be undertaken by the school. Where the need for further support from other agencies is identified the school should seek to access these on behalf of the child. Transition points, from nursery to primary or from primary to secondary are known to be particularly stressful and planning should pay attention to supporting the children and young people at that time.

Gypsy and Traveller Children

157. It is important that any policies and practices developed for Child Protection are sensitive to the diversity between and within the different Gypsy and Traveller groups.

158. Gypsies and Travellers generally lack confidence and trust in dealing with authorities and many are reluctant to involve public services in the resolution of their problems. Gypsy and Traveller families travel to maintain family and kinship links. Moreover, some families move as work opportunities arise, so children enrolled at school can be withdrawn suddenly, often with no indication of where they have gone or for how long. It is easy to lose track of mobile children, particularly when families lack literacy and cannot provide a forwarding address. Schools should develop positive partnership approaches with families to ensure that they do alert the schools to any absences and give some indication of when they are likely to return. They should be encouraged to communicate by telephone if necessary, so an answering machine would be useful for when the school is closed. Schools who wish to maintain contact with travelling pupils can sometimes keep in touch with them through the network of contacts within the Traveller Education Services. (An electronic version of the contacts booklet is now available on the Scottish Traveller Education Programme web http://www.education.ed.ac.uk/step /. There is also the Traveller Education email facility where schools can log on to request information or pass on messages.)

159. Showground families have predictable patterns of travel so winter-base schools can and should keep regularly in touch with these families while travelling, generally by mobile telephone. The children usually return to the same school each winter. If, however, a child has not returned by the expected date of return, or by November at the latest, the base-school should contact other schools in the authority area to see if the child has been enrolled elsewhere. If a child's whereabouts cannot be traced, the base school should inform the education authority's designated person who can make formal arrangements for finding the whereabouts of the family. This can be done with the help of the office of the Showmen's Guild.

160. The children of travelling families are often the subject of bullying or racial harassment. In addition, some Gypsies and Travellers lack confidence in the school's pastoral system or in other adults who may be able to offer support. Schools should be alert to incidents of bullying and harassment. They should make it clear to Gypsies and Travellers that they will support all children involved, within a no-blame approach, and that such incidents will be taken seriously. They should also use their best endeavours to provide structures of support which children of travelling families do feel able to access to seek help if necessary. Particular vigilance should be kept for absence as a result of bullying.

161. Many Gypsy and Traveller children drop out at the upper stages of primary and few enrol at secondary school. This can be despite the wishes of the child to continue at school. In such cases, the school should seek to ascertain the views of the child(ren) and, if they have any concerns, take appropriate action. Schools and education authorities must find positive and supportive ways to work with families, to build trust, and to help them understand the pastoral care role of education.

162. Gypsy and Traveller children are perhaps more vulnerable when things go wrong, because they do not know their rights, nor have they acquired trust in 'outsiders' to act sensitively on their behalf. Where there are suspicions of abuse, it is important that schools work with the relevant trained professionals. It is at the same time, important to consider the needs of the families who have low or no levels of literacy, little understanding of the law and how it affects children, and whose culture is based on the integrity of the family.

163. Schools and education authorities may find it useful to refer to guidance produced by the Scottish Executive, STEP, and Learning and Teaching Scotland, called, 'Inclusive Educational Approaches for Gypsies and Travellers within the context of interrupted learning'

Very Young Children

164. All very young children are at risk of harm, if allowed to leave nursery or primary school unaccompanied. This risk may be significantly increased for those whose journeys home may mean the crossing of busy main roads. Good practice by pre-school establishments and those in charge of the early stages in primary schools minimising these risks includes:

  • ensuring that each child is dropped off and collected by a safe, known adult, and checking that that is the person who collects them at the end of the day.(From primary 1 onwards, a growing number of parents will not consider it necessary to meet their children. However, schools should maintain a clear record of which early stages pupils will be collected at the end of the day, and by whom.)
  • parents / carers being asked to give advance notice of any necessary change in these arrangements, and such changes being clearly recorded within the nursery or school.
  • being satisfied that the adult collecting the child is in a fit state to care for the child (If there are any doubts on this matter the parental emergency contact number should be used to identify another appropriate adult who can collect the child, or, if no alternative is available, staff should contact social work and ask them for support.)
  • children not being released to other adults or older children without prior notification.
  • where a child who is due to be collected is not collected, s/he being retained in school until an adult can be contacted to find out the problem and agree a solution.
  • supervising pupils who may require to remain in school for the school bus until the end of the longer afternoon session for older pupils.
  • maintaining clear records of named individuals who are not permitted to collect particular children (for example an estranged parent).

Bullying and Young Abusers

165. Bullying is a form of abuse , where deliberately hurtful behaviour is repeated over a period of time, and where the victim may find difficulty in defending him/herself. Under no circumstances should staff ignore such behaviour, although in most instances well designed anti-bullying procedures should be able to address the issues without resort to formal child protection procedures. However, sustained bullying can be profoundly damaging to the victim, and has been known to result in attempted suicide. Where a pupil's bullying behaviour is persistent and does not respond to the school's normal strategies then child protection procedures should be invoked.

166. In some instances, the harm caused by one pupil to another extends beyond bullying. Most commonly this occurs when one child seriously physically or sexually assaults others. Where this is alleged, child protection referrals should be made for both the victims and the alleged abuser. Abusers often have themselves been abused. Also, work with adult abusers has shown that many began abusing in childhood and adolescence and that abuse is likely to become progressively more serious - it is therefore most important that help is provided for the abuser as well as the victim. Children who are abusive towards other children require comprehensive assessment and therapeutic intervention by skilled child care professionals. This treatment is more likely to be effective if begun early in the child's life. The Cosgrove Report stressed that where young people are beginning to demonstrate sexually inappropriate behaviour, early intervention is required to prevent offending. Where young people have already offended in some way, the focus should be on specialist interventions and personal change programmes to tackle the problems of young sex offenders. The Cosgrove Report also highlighted evidence that many young sex offenders or children demonstrating sexually inappropriate behaviour have a degree of learning difficulty. Since they usually have extensive personal needs, programmes should address their welfare needs as well as criminal and sexually aggressive behaviour.

167. The headteacher and the Child Protection Officer also need to consider whether other procedures need to be put in place to protect other children from the abuser, and take steps immediately to implement any believed to be necessary.

Looked After Children

168. The Who Cares? Scotland report called, ' Feeling Safe?', highlighted that children and young people who are looked after / accommodated do not always feel safe. They have revealed to Who Cares? Scotland workers that they are at risk of physical, sexual or racial abuse, or at risk of misusing alcohol or drugs, self-harming behaviour or prostitution. Education authorities and schools should be alert to this range of possible child protection issues relating to looked after / accommodated children and young people.

Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs

169. Studies have shown that for a variety of reasons, children with special needs, and particularly those with multiple disabilities may be more vulnerable to being abused. They may:

  • have fewer outside contacts than other children;
  • lack an awareness of what constitutes abuse;
  • have communication difficulties which make it difficult to tell others what is happening;
  • receive intimate personal care which can increase the risk of exposure to abusive behaviour;
  • be inhibited from complaining about adult or peer behaviour for fear of the consequences;
  • place themselves at risk through their own socially inappropriate behaviour.

170. Staff therefore have a particular need to be alert to possible indicators of abuse in relation to children with special educational needs. At all stages, the provision of a good, appropriate, and if necessary individualised programme of personal and social education (including sex education) is very important and should be a key feature of pupils' individualised educational programmes (IEP). These children, in common with all others, need to be clear about how, and with whom, they can raise concerns if they are worried or angry about something. Where children have a communication difficulty it is particularly important that, at all times, they have access to a means of being heard.

171. When schools provide intimate care to children and young people, they should ensure that staff are fully aware of and implement the guidance provided in the Scottish Office publication Helping Hands - Guidelines for Staff who provide Intimate Care for Children and Young People with Disabilities.

172. In the case of a Child Protection investigation becoming necessary, schools have a key role in providing support for children with special educational needs, and in some instances providing advice to or acting as interpreters for the investigating officers; (or where necessary, securing the services of an independent interpreter.) Where an allegation of abuse involves a member of staff, then it is essential that an independent interpreter is used.

Computer Safety

173. The increased use of information and communications technology in our schools is bringing significant benefits to both teachers and pupils. However it can also expose users to risks, including exposure to obscene and/ or violent material, bullying or intimidation through e-mail, identification through access to a school website, and contact in chat rooms with adults who wish to exploit them. A range of specialised guidance is available to schools, including Click Thinking published by the Scottish Executive, and a Superhighway Safety information pack obtainable from the BECTA website.

174. Education authorities and others responsible for schools, should have in place an appropriate filtering system to protect users from accidental exposure to unsuitable materials during internet searches. They should also have in place an 'Acceptable use policy' for staff and students and share this with parents. This should include guidance on aspects relating to pupil safety:

  • the content of school websites, and in particular the risks of enabling individual children to be identified;
  • the use of internal and external e-mail;
  • school responses to inappropriate messaging through e-mail or by texting/digital imaging on a mobile phone;
  • access(if any) to chat rooms;
  • protocols in relation to internet searches;
  • monitoring arrangements and means of identifying any pupils or staff accessing inappropriate materials.

175. However the greatest protection for children lies in their development of safe and discriminating behaviours in relation to computer use. These are skills which can and should be taught progressively as part of the curriculum. Pupils should be enabled to:

  • evaluate web sites;
  • respond appropriately to e-mails and chat conversations, including telling staff/ parents of inappropriate approaches; and
  • know when, where and how it is appropriate to share personal information.

Under-age sexual activity

176. Individual cases can vary widely from the possibility of rape or inappropriate adult pressure to willing participation in intercourse or exploratory childish activity. Although these different situations will ultimately result in different responses to children's needs, the initial actions of staff and child protection co-ordinators should be the same as in any other case of suspected child abuse. A careful assessment of the situation is important. Where the co-ordinator suspects that abuse has taken place, the matter must be referred to social work services and/ or the police. Intercourse with a person under 16 years of age involves a criminal offence even when both parties appear willing. There is also the possibility that the young person may be at risk of substantially greater harm:

  • overt sexual behaviour by younger children is a possible sign of their own sexual abuse which should be investigated;
  • older children, without realising it, may in fact be being groomed for involvement in prostitution.

177. Where girls or boys are at risk of sexual exploitation through prostitution, this may not accord with the traditional stereotypes of standing on street corners, sex with strangers, cash in hand. It may include the provision of sexual services in exchange for other forms of payment - drink, drugs, consumer goods or even shelter for the night. In some cases there may be no exchange of material goods and the child or young person may not recognise that they are being sexually exploited. The relationship, however, will be characterised generally by co-ercion and intimidation. Guidance on potential indicators of involvement in sexual exploitation and abuse was published in December 2002 by the Working Group on Young Runaways and Children Abused through Prostitution, and is contained in Appendix 6 of this child protection guidance.

Forced Marriages

178. In some cultures, arranged marriages are a traditional way in which parents take a leading role in the future of their children. However there is a clear distinction between arranged marriages, which have the consent of both parties, and forced marriages where one or other party does not consent. Where pupils, particularly girls are taken on extended visits to the parental country of origin, schools should be aware of the possibility of forced marriage. They should seek to establish where the pupil is going and for how long. If the pupil does not return as expected and no good explanation is forthcoming, the school should alert the authority Child Protection Officer, who in turn should contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with all known details. Secondary schools should ensure that pupils from minority ethnic communities have knowledge of specialist help organisations, have an awareness of the risk of forced marriage and, if going on extended visits to their country of origin, are aware of Foreign and Commonwealth guidance - see Appendix 7.