New term, new challenges?

01 September 2019, Matt Cooper, Thirtyone:eight

As the long lazy days of summer become a distant memory and we begin gearing up for the new academic term, now is the time to refresh your knowledge of your organisations safeguarding policy and to prepare for some of the particular challenges that this time of year brings.

Back to school

As children and young people return to schools and youth groups after the summer break, many will come into contact with teachers and church workers for the first time since July.  Some children will be new to your groups and others will be moving into settings which expose them to children and young people of an older age.  It’s good to be aware that you may see changes in the behaviour of some children and young people depending on what their summer has been like, and that you may have to deal with abuse and difficult issues that have become apparent during the holidays.

The new term can bring new anxieties and stresses for young people.  For some children the age groups they are a part of will change, as they change key stage within the school.  Often churches and other youth work settings reflect these age groupings within their own activities so being aware and observant of the impact of these changes have on the children is important as their influences and environment change.

Under pressure

Some pupils will be facing the prospect of exams and coursework in the year ahead and will see an increase in work load.  As a result you may see an increase in levels of issues such as self-harming.  Self-injury is often kept secret but there may be clues, such as being easily upset, withdrawn or irritable, refusing to wear short sleeves, or to take off clothing for sports.  Encourage them to talk about their worries and take them seriously.  Show them you care by listening, offer sympathy and understanding, and help them to solve any problems.  Remember not to tackle these issues on your own but to share any concerns you may have with your group leader or safeguarding co-ordinator.

Someone becoming quiet and withdrawn does not automatically mean there is an issue.  By sharing your concern about them with your safeguarding coordinator, it will enable you to discuss ways of asking ‘open questions’ which may clarify their worries. Questions such as ‘you seem a bit quiet today. Can you tell me about it?’ will enable them to talk to you (if they wish) and let them know you are caring for them.

If you are working with young people, it is important to encourage them to let you know if one of their friends is in trouble, upset, or shows signs of harming themselves. Friends often worry about betraying a confidence and you may need to explain that self-harm is very serious and can be life threatening. For this reason, it should never be kept secret.  This time of year may be a good opportunity to spend some time discussing issues like this with your young people.  Would they know who to speak to if they had any concerns? For more help and resources visit SelfharmUK.

Staying safe online

Over the summer children and young people will often spend a much higher proportion of their time online, especially if they have parents who work. The problems facing young people online are consistently reported on in the media. However it is worth remembering that they may have aggravated problems over the summer because of the length of time they spend online and the lack of parental supervision.  Some issues to be mindful of are sexting, online grooming or exposure to radicalisation.

It may be a good idea to encourage parents to review their children’s online activity with them. Finding ways to effectively respond to e-safety concerns is really important so make sure you speak to your organisation’s safeguarding co-ordinator. They will act on your information in accordance with their safeguarding policy.  There are also lots of online resources such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre. Here you can report any abusive or suspicious online activity that may have been discussed with you.  Again, it can be good to consider holding a session on e-safety with your young people to help them understand the potential dangers and where they can go to for help and advice.

Be aware of the risks

The summer, as well as being a time of fun and relaxation for young people, can for some leave them especially vulnerable to specific forms of abuse.  Government figures show the Home Office's forced marriage unit gave advice and support in relation to 1,195 possible forced marriages in 2017. Forced marriage has strong links to honour based violence and other safeguarding risks such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  The summer break can leave children particularly vulnerable to these risks as families tend to be travelling abroad and they won’t have contact with other adults such as teachers and youth workers.

According to the NHS there were 5,391 newly reported cases of FGM reported in England during 2016-17.  The 5 to 9 year old age group was the most common age range at which FGM was undertaken. FGM has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985 and the law was strengthened in 2003 to prevent girls travelling from the UK and undergoing FGM abroad.

Being aware of the signs and indicators of a potential forced marriage and FGM and understanding your church or faith group’s safeguarding policy procedures are the first steps to responding well to this type of abuse.  It is also important to respond with care. Individuals who are facing or dealing with a forced marriage or FGM may be concerned that if confidentiality is breached, and their family finds out that they have sought help, they will be in serious danger.  However, those dealing with these two issues are often already facing serious danger because of domestic abuse and ‘honour-based’ violence. Consequently, confidentiality and information sharing are extremely important for anyone threatened with, or already in, a forced marriage. It is important to discuss this with the safeguarding coordinator for your church or faith group. The other key step is to report your concerns if you remain worried. A trained professional will give you free advice on what to do next. They can also help someone find a safe place to stay or stop a UK visa if you have been forced to sponsor someone. For more help and guidance visit The National FGM Centre

Get prepared

Our advice to teachers and youth and children’s workers is to ensure you are properly prepared to meet the potential challenges the new school term brings.  Have the relevant contact numbers easily to hand.  Know who to speak to.  Keep informed about the indicators of abuse and stay aware.  Consider spending time with your children and young people talking about some of the issues relevant to their age group and ensure they know how they can get help and advice should they need to.


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