Ten legal questions to help leaders address safeguarding in their schools 
Ten legal questions to help leaders address safeguarding in their schools 
Ten legal questions to help leaders address safeguarding in their schools 
 CIS staff photo of Katie Rigg


By Katie Rigg, Director of Student Well-being and Leila Holmyard, International Advisor



Safeguarding in international schools is often complex. Child protection concerns must be handled sensitively and in accordance with local laws as well as international standards. When school leaders proactively identify legal mechanisms and requirements that impact safeguarding, they can better respond to concerns when they arise.

This is important for practical and ethical reasons. It is also a part of the international safeguarding expectations of the International Task Force on Child Protection, a cornerstone of several international school accrediting bodies, including the Council of International Schools (CIS).

The school complies with legal and ethical requirements for the treatment of children within the country where it is based while adhering to international expectations for the rights of children as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

In our work with international schools, we often find schools asking complex legal questions in the midst of a crisis. Navigating language barriers and contextual nuances when managing a high-stakes case can add considerable pressure to a challenging situation, especially as some school lawyers may need to gain the experience or expertise to advise on safeguarding cases.

In this blog, we offer ten legal questions that schools can explore proactively and advice on how to find the answers to these questions in your context. 

It is important to note that having the answers to these questions is not a substitute for formal legal advice, which is often necessary to seek when managing a safeguarding concern. However, the answers will help leaders to feel more prepared to manage a safeguarding concern. They will also be helpful when considering training for staff and education for parents and students. 

1. What are the mandatory reporting requirements related to allegations or concerns of abuse? Of the mandatory reporting requirements, which are related to schools as institutions, and which relate to school personnel as individuals? This should include concerns/allegations related to family members, school employees, other students, and strangers.

2. What are the criminal laws related to children? This should include the age of criminal responsibility.

3. What laws and regulations are there regarding interfamilial harm? 

4. What legal considerations are there around the transfer of documents, particularly the transfer of safeguarding concerns to another school? This should include transfers within and outside of the country and should consider the legal risk of not sharing information.

5. What are the legal considerations and obligations around filtering and monitoring access to potentially harmful and inappropriate online material by students and staff? This should include procurement of monitoring systems, what is blocked or allowed, and how data is used and by whom.

6. What does the law say about the viewing, exchanging and/or sharing of nude and semi-nude images? This should cover ‘sexting’ scenarios where images are taken of themselves and then shared and scenarios when adults or children view and/or share (a) adult pornography or (b) images of child sexual abuse.

7. Are sexual relationships between students, teachers, and other school employees criminalized? I.e., does the ‘abuse of position of trust’ crime exist in the country? This should include whether ‘grooming’ is defined in law and is criminal, even if no physical abuse has occurred.

8. Do the country's privacy laws allow the school to seek and obtain (a) criminal background checks; (b) written and/or verbal references; (c) social media checks on prospective candidates, and if so, what limits (if any) does the law place on a school’s ability to conduct these checks?

9. What are the legal requirements around parental involvement and informing parents of issues related to child protection and well-being concerns? This should include any age limits around information sharing, at what age the child can request information to be kept confidential from parents, and any limits on the type of information shared/not shared.

10. Are there legal requirements around bathroom access in schools in relation to safeguarding? This may include accessibility requirements, privacy requirements, gendered bathroom requirements, requirements to separate child and adult bathrooms, and any age limits around these requirements.

The International and National Law Database, overseen by The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, is a good place to start for answering some of these questions. It provides an overview of key child protection laws in over 70 countries.

world map of flags

Carrying out a local mapping exercise where you seek to identify child protection lawyers, agencies, and organizations who are knowledgeable about your country’s legal and cultural contexts can also be helpful. 

You might also find opportunities to leverage legal expertise within your school community. A Board member in one CIS member school, who was also a lawyer, volunteered to create a reference document, which provided the school with the answers to all the legal questions above. 

Other international schools in your country or region can also be a vital source of connections and knowledge, especially as they are likely to ask the same questions and face similar challenges to your school.

Some regions have active safeguarding networks that facilitate sharing of information and contacts, building capacity over time.

It is important to remember that managing safeguarding allegations often involves carrying some legal risk. Schools often need to avoid situations where taking one action would expose them to legal risk in one area, and not taking that action would expose the school to liability in other areas. 

In addition, although leaders should be aware of the legal risks when managing safeguarding concerns, they should not be exclusively led by them. There are other lenses that leaders must consider, with the best interests of the children affected and the wider student body being paramount among these. Other considerations include the school’s duty to any employees alleged to have harmed a child and the school’s duty to its wider community to be open and transparent where possible. 

CIS Affiliated Consultant and communications expert Jim Hulbert from The Jane Group has this advice for school leaders: 

It is vital that school leaders and trustees have the school’s attorney review any communication sent to the community regarding any child protection case. However, the legal lens—while important—is not the only lens a school should use in assessing the potential reputational impact of its communication. The moral lens is just as important, if not more so. Is the communication aligned with the school’s mission and values in placing “students first?” Consider a third-party opinion from a communication expert. The court of public opinion can be just as significant as the court of law, especially given how parents and students, now more than ever, expect a school to reflect its mission and values in both its decision-making and communication. In addition, how will the school’s communication play in the media? When taking this more balanced approach, and not overweighting the legal lens, better communication outcomes will be achieved, and a school’s reputation will be preserved, if not enhanced.

Jim Hulbert, The Jane Group

Further Resources

Farrer & Co. A British-based law firm with a unit specialising in child protection and safeguarding, including in the international context.

International Protocol for Managing Allegations Developed by the International Task Force on Child Protection, this protocol is designed to guide international school leaders in responding to an allegation of child abuse against an educator or other adult.

Expectations for School Communities Child protection expectations for international school communities, developed by the International Task Force on Child Protection and updated in December 2021.



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Ten legal questions to help leaders address safeguarding in their schools 
  • Child protection
Ten legal questions to help leaders address safeguarding in their schools