Back to school: a welcome return?

01 September 2020, Matt Cooper, Thirtyone:eight

'Welcome back' is a phrase many of us are becoming increasingly used to seeing outside shops, cafes and entertainment venues. As the new academic year begins and schools begin to welcome back students, what can those working with children, young people and their families expect, and how can they prepare for the issues that are likely to arise?

As children and young people return to schools and youth groups after the Coronavirus shutdown and the summer holidays, many will be coming into contact with their friends and teachers for the first time since March. They may also be coming into contact with church workers for the first time since the Spring as churches and youth groups begin to cautiously reopen and start activities again. The behaviour of some children and young people may be different depending on what their lockdown experience has been like and, as we've highlighted in previous blogs, Children’s and youth workers need to be aware that they may have to deal with a rise in cases of abuse and difficult issues that have become apparent during this time.

What are the issues likely to be?

  • Many children and young people will have spent increased amounts of time online, especially if they have parents who work, with all the levels of risk that brings. It is worth remembering that they may have aggravated problems as the risk of exposure to inappropriate content, bullying, grooming, sexting or radicalisation will have increased. See our help guide to online safety.
  • The new term can also bring new anxieties and stresses for children and young people, especially after the quiet of the extended break. Some pupils will be facing difficult exams and coursework in the year ahead, with the prospect of needing to catch-up on missed learning. They will see an increase in work load, especially since they may have had less work to do during the lockdown. Added to this is the possible disruption caused by postponed examinations and the potential of local lockdowns. Check out Headstrong, a new website for young people supporting their mental and emotional wellbeing.
  • The age groups children are part of will also change, with many younger children who were recently at primary school coming in to contact with older children at secondary school and in the church youth group.
  • Forms of self-harm can often be a consequence of these new challenges and increased by the extended period of little or no contact with workers outside the family or home context.

What can workers and volunteers do?

  • The most significant thing workers can do is to maintain contact or reconnect with the children and young people who they work with and their families. This is especially important where workers may already be aware of ongoing concerns or potential risks. Download our Guidance for communicating and working safely with young people online produced in partnership with Youthscape.
  • Communicating with families about what your plans are for restarting activities is really important and who your internal contacts are, especially if these have changed.
  • Make sure you are aware of the process for making referrals and getting in touch with relevant agencies as this may be different and the ways to contact them may have changed.
  • It may be a good idea to encourage parents to review their children’s online activity. There are some great resources from ThinkUknow for parents and the ‘Child Exploitation and Online Protection’ centre which can be found at www.ceop.police.uk is the best place to report any abusive or suspicious online activity.

Be aware when any of your young people seem upset, quiet or withdrawn and be ready to ask questions. Encourage other young people in your group 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.

Remember, someone becoming quiet and withdrawn does not automatically mean they are being harmed. 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.

Whatever the new term may hold and whether the activities you would usually be running at this time of year are able to go ahead or not, you can always call our Safeguarding Helpline to get help and advice. Call us on 0303 003 1111.

 

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