Gender-based violence (GBV) is a child protection issue which is partly why staff training on these issues is so important. GBV should be given due consideration as part of any safeguarding policy.
Keeping Children Safe in Education
In 2022 the Department for Education produced guidance aimed at keeping children safe in education, including sections on sexual harrassment, sexual violence and harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). The guidance includes detailed information on how schools and colleges should respond to sexual violence and harassment between children. The NSPCC has produced a summary of changes introduced by this new guidance.
What is contextual safeguarding?
Contextual safeguarding, developed by Dr. Carlene Firmin, recognises that children and young people are influenced by a range of environments outside of the home, and by a range of people other than family. This includes schools and college, friends and peers, online and in their local community. They might encounter risks within one or more of these contexts. Contextual safeguarding seeks to understand these different, potentially overlapping risks, and the challenges young people face.
A Whole School Approach (WSA) is aligned with this approach to keeping children and young people safe – engaging and involving the wider community in preventing violence and abuse. Making space to listen to young people about their lived experience means you can better understand their perspective and the spaces they inhabit. This gives you a better chance of identifying the support they need, and the change they need to see.
The Contextual Safeguarding Network has produced this ‘Signs of Safety and Contextual Safeguarding Assessment Tool’
You can learn more about social theory and contextual safeguarding, and how it relates to peer-on-peer abuse, by watching this short film.
The term ‘adultification bias’ originated in the US in about 2008 but is increasingly recognised across the UK as a form of racism that disproportionately impacts Black children who are seen as, ‘more responsible and more resilient and therefore sometimes able to safeguard themselves.’ These racialised stereotypes have resulted in the sexual abuse of Black girls being missed – hugely relevant in the context of a WSA to preventing GBV.
Jahnine Davis is the UK’s foremost researcher in the field and describes adultification as:
‘A persistent and ongoing act of dehumanisation, which explicitly impacts Black children and influences how they are safeguarded and protected.’
Case study – Child Q
In 2020 a Black child (referred to as Child Q to maintain her anonymity) was strip-searched by police officers. The search, which involved the exposure of the child’s intimate body parts, took place on school premises and with the knowledge that she was menstruating. The reason given for the search was that teachers had told police she ‘smelled strongly of cannabis and suspected she might be carrying drugs.’ No Appropriate Adult was present during the search and the child’s mother was not contacted. No drugs were found. Child Q was so distressed on returning home that she was taken to see the GP and referred for psychological support. A rapid review found that Child Q ‘had been exposed to a traumatic incident and had undoubtedly suffered harm’. A later review made clear from its outset that ‘the strip search of Child Q should never have happened and there was no reasonable justification for it’. They also found, ‘racism was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search.’
Child Q brought adultification bias to the fore and provided a stark example of this form of racism in practice, in education. We know that Black children are more likely to be disciplined, excluded from school, perceived as loud and angry, and less likely to receive adequate pastoral support. It should also be acknowledged that Black young women are understandably fearful of criminalising Black young men. School leaders need to be asking themselves what they are doing to address adultification bias.
- Black girls are routinely perceived as less innocent and more adult than their white peers.
- Black and Black mixed heritage children are at heightened risk of their safeguarding needs being unmet.
- Black children are afforded less protection and nurturing compared to their white counterparts.
- Racism is the core issue influencing the adultification of Black children.
For more information around adultification bias you can read Jahnine Davis’ report from 2022, ‘Adultification bias within child protection and safeguarding.’
Students with SEND
Special educational needs and disabilities or ‘SEND’ refer to a range of learning difficulties or disabilities that can affect a child or young person’s ability to learn, compared to children of the same age. Students with SEND can be more vulnerable to exploitation and bullying due to the nature of their SEND. For example, they might not understand that what is happening to them is abuse, or they might be less able to speak out or access support. Like all young people, students with SEND have diverse needs and identities.
All children are entitled to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and content must be accessible to students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Prevention delivery should always be adapted to meet the needs of the individual and/or group you are working with. It is important not to assume one size fits all and there are steps you can take to make sessions more inclusive and accessible. These can include:
- Holding smaller group sessions or individual work, allowing more time for questions and discussion.
- Additional stage-planning that considers maturity above chronological age.
- Seeking advice and guidance from SEND specialists; ensuring teaching assistants are trained to support students with SEND around RSE.
- Ensuring resources include reference to and visual representation of students with additional needs.
There are additional steps you can take likely to benefit all young people:
- Use simple and straightforward language and explanations.
- Take things slowly and provide adequate breaks.
- Regularly check-in around understanding and provide examples.
- Build layers of understanding that are reinforced through repetition.
Please note that for students with more significant needs their RSE needs may be assessed as part of an Education Health Care (EHC) needs assessment, with provision to meet those needs set out in their EHC plan. For pupils who already have an EHC plan, specific consideration of their RSE needs may be provided at annual review.
The guidance above has been adapted from another guide produced by the Sex Education Forum in partnership with Mencap and Image in Action, ‘RSE for disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs.’
You can find more information about delivering RSE in SEND schools here.