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By Dr Hannah Mortimereducational psychologist.

If you suspect a child in your school may be suffering abuse, our guide will help you to support them

Sad child

Child protection

What you need to know

  • Everyone who comes into contact with children on a regular basis has a duty to safeguard and promote their welfare.
  • Each school should have a copy of the local procedures set jointly by the LEA, health service and social services department. They are statutory and must be adhered to.
  • Each school should have arranged staff training in child protection.
  • It is up to each individual to make sure that they are aware of the child protection procedures in that school and the local education authority.
  • Social services involvement has increased since the Children Act 1989 and you might have to work with a social worker, providing information about a child during a child protection enquiry or taking part in a multi-agency assessment.
  • Social services can also provide you with general advice.
  • If you are concerned that a child is being abused, you must refer these concerns to social services or police, usually through the head teacher, SENCO or the designated contact for child protection.
  • Child abuse can take different forms: physical (as in marks, bruises and injuries), sexual (the child may have disclosed some information to you), emotional or neglect (perhaps the child is noticeably failing to thrive.
  • Initial concerns might be what the child has said, unexplained bruises or marks which you notice during PE, inappropriate sexualised behaviour, or sexually- or violently-graphic artwork.

How you can help

  • Always keep records of incidents, what was said, what you did.
  • Always be ready to listen to the child. Repeat back what the child has said to check you have understood correctly.
  • Do not promise confidentiality – you cannot keep information confidential if a child is at risk or if there are criminal implications. Instead, explain that you have a duty to make sure that the child is safe, though you will not do anything without first telling the child and explaining what will happen next.
  • Do not use leading questions, which might later distort evidence.
  • Make sure that you are not putting yourself in a vulnerable position, which might lead to allegations against your own behaviour.
  • The protection of the child is absolutely paramount. If you are not sure whether you should be taking action, contact your school’s education social worker for advice.
  • If you make a telephone referral, confirm it in writing within 48 hours.