By Katie Rigg, International Advisor for Student Well-Being
As another series of CIS child protection workshops draws to an end, I have been reflecting on what we have learned, what the impact of the workshops has been, and what some of the key challenges and questions are for schools going forwards.
We noticed that as our workshops moved from place to place around the world, delivering training to educators from different schools and regions, the discussions often revolved around common challenges, with participants asking similar questions. Some of these questions were easy to answer. Others were less clear-cut, including:
1. How exactly can a school best balance competing demands when faced with a child protection allegation?
Responding to an allegation of abuse against a member of staff is challenging – it requires schools to balance competing duties and know which duties to prioritise and when. For example, a school’s duty to the staff member who has been accused may at times conflict with its duty to safeguard a child who has disclosed concerns. Equally, a school’s duty to keep confidential the identity of the accused and victim may conflict with its duty to identify and safeguard other victims. Achieving a good balance requires leaders to explore at the outset each of the options available. It also requires leaders to fight the temptation to hide concerns or mistakes, or to deal with them internally or informally, without involving external experts. In addition to considering reporting duties and involving external agencies where necessary, it is also critical that schools receive advice and support from the right professionals with appropriate expertise.
As one head of school said after having managed a lengthy and serious allegation: “I alone am not capable or qualified to determine whether someone is safe to work with children […] Our assumption that all teachers have the right intentions has been proven false. So I am now out of the business of evaluating whether someone is safe to work with children. I will leave that up to the experts.” (see Paul Richards' blog post about child protection)
2. How can schools empower their staff to identify and challenge harmful behaviour between students?
As part of the development of new workshop content on peer-on-peer abuse, we reviewed a number of cases of abuse within international schools. One case involved a young woman who was emotionally, physically and sexually abused by her peers at an international school. A key factor that led to the abuse in that case was that the staff in her school did not have the training or knowledge to recognise harmful behaviour, nor did they have the confidence to respond to abuse when they did spot it. Key learning from this young woman’s case includes that schools should:
- record pastoral and behavioural concerns in a consistent way and review these records to spot trends.
- build trust between teachers and leaders and build confidence amongst your staff body to take action to protect children.
- put in place clear and centralised reporting lines and appoint a designated safeguarding lead (or ‘child protection officer’) to receive concerns centrally.
- implement clear policies addressing all forms of harm between children, and not just bullying (see, for example, this peer-on-peer abuse toolkit from Farrer & Co.).
- deliver training to staff on how to identify and respond to harm between children.
- educate students and parents about positive and healthy relationships so that unsafe and unhealthy relationships become easier to spot.
3. What does a strong safeguarding culture look like and how can a school build it?
The way in which that school responded to the young woman’s harm was determined by the culture that already existed in the school, but it also reinforced that culture, which takes me onto the third question, which is how can international schools build strong safeguarding cultures? In addition to the examples provided above, we have learnt of highly innovative and effective practices from our international school members, including schools that have:
- drawn on the Blink Think Choice Voice approach outline by Ira Chaleff to implement a programme that teaches children how to recognise when an adult in a position of authority asks them to do something which is unsafe, and how to say no to that adult in those circumstances (see Ira Chaleff's and Stephanie Howdle-Lang's work).
- drawn on protective factors that exist in the school’s local culture and applied expert knowledge and good practice from health and safety to safeguarding, including in the use of risk assessments and identification of concerns;
- reviewed the way in which the school supports student well-being, working with external specialists to remove the stigma around mental health and encourage students to seek help at an early stage;
- created space for staff to talk about concerns about children, how they are handling them, what their worries and questions are, and how they can be open about and learn from past mistakes;
- built very valuable partnerships with local government agencies and NGOs in the face of significant challenges and drew on the UNCRC and other guidance to build internal standards that go beyond those set by the local culture.
- engaged students and promoted student voice by carrying out discussion sessions, surveys, consulting with the students on internal policies, inviting them to sit on the online safety committee (see for example this Online Safety Audit), and training students to be ambassadors and peer mentors (see, for example, this Digital Leadership Programme).
The impact of 11 workshops in 7 global locations
We welcomed 823 people to our child protection workshops from 200 schools, representing 52 countries. The impact that these workshops are already having includes:
- Cultural change—A head of school reported that after her leadership team attended a CIS Foundation Workshop in January, she noticed a significant shift in the team’s attitude towards safeguarding, enabling her to implement child protection changes that had not previously been possible.
- Safeguarding governance—A number of school boards are revising the way in which they govern and oversee safeguarding within their schools. This includes reviewing the way in which they discuss safeguarding in board meetings, what data they receive and how they analyse it to spot trends, how they scrutinise the work of school management, and what their role should be when the school is faced with a child protection allegation.
- Identifying harm between students—Many school leaders that attended the CIS Deep Dive Workshop on peer-on-peer abuse are applying what they learned to identify and address harm between students. Some schools, for example, are carrying out student focus groups, others are asking their students to map out where in school, and online, they feel safe and unsafe, and are taking action to address unsafe locations (see the Beyond Referrals toolkit in the Contextual Safeguarding Network for more information about safety mapping).
- Policies and procedures—A lot of schools have implemented new or revised existing, safeguarding policies, including their policies related to child protection, e-safety, peer-on-peer abuse and their staff code of conduct.
- Networks and agreements—A group of schools in one country came together at one of our workshops to explore how they can create networks and agreements to share good practice, such as establishing a network of regional Child Protection Officers and entering into an agreement around recruitment checks.
What’s new? Evolving our workshops for 2019/2020
Six child protection workshops between January 2020 and April 2020 in The Hague, Bogota and Ho Chi Minh
Newly developed content including safeguarding governance for board members; peer-on-peer abuse, online safety and the curriculum; how to prevent and address abuse across cultures in a culturally competent way; applying safer recruitment principles in practice in your schools, including case studies; and how to engage parents in child protection.
As part of a local mapping exercise that we are carrying out at CIS (see this protocol for further information about local mapping exercises), we will be hosting an event for schools and local child protection agencies in The Hague in January 2020, alongside the CIS child protection workshop at the International School of the Hague. This event will focus on the state of child protection in the Netherlands, and how we can learn from research and practice here, for the benefit of members internationally.
For universities and schools
- Our first ever workshop on student well-being within schools and universities will take place in November 2019. Watch out for registration information here. This will build on our work to support our higher education members to strengthen resilience and well-being amongst their students, and to meet those students’ social and emotional needs. See Jane Larsson’s blog post about our well-being agenda for further background.
I hope this information is useful to you as we continue to evolve our workshops and resources to support schools in this complex and sensitive area.
For more information:
- About all our child protection workshops.
- Learn about CIS and our commitment to child protection and student well-being
- You can also email us with queries and information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credits: © ASIJ or © The American School in Japan.