We must listen to young people (and listen right now!)
We have an urgent matter in hand. It's the truly 'tuning into' Young People and letting them know we've heard them, matter. It's Young Women, it's girls, it's trans girls and it's much older women, it's some less privileged boys too . It's black and brown and white and minority ethnic, girls from all ethnicities, cultures, faiths and backgrounds.
Whilst we have been preoccupied with the catch-up curriculum, the possibility of booster learning opportunities during the Summer, they have been busy leaving very detailed disclosures on the Everyone's Invited platform. They have been leaving detailed descriptions of what happened in school, in the community, in boarding provision and halls of residence, at parties, on the way to and way home from our services.
They've told us very clearly about a rape culture, an environment of coersion, of control, of misogyny.
They have been 'biting down' the shame and the guilt, the feelings often associated with both sexual abuse and exploitation... that it's their fault, that they asked for it in some way.
We have been seeing a number of over-achieving girls, out-spoken girls, absent girls, under-achieving girls, self-harming girls, girls with eating disorders. Have we been inquiring what's underneath these behaviours... The 'Questioning Behaviour' part of our safeguarding duty?
Thousands of very detailed disclosures left on the Everyone's Invited platform alerted our new Children's Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, that there was an urgent need for action. She heard. She spoke as she is supposed to speak, on behalf of all children and young people that she represents.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Minister expressed his view that the disclosures were abhorrent, that young people should be safe. He has instructed Ofsted to conduct a review on the effectiveness of Safeguarding Policy .
Safeguarding Policy is however only ever as good as the committed, emotionally attuned and young person-aware professionals who enact it.
There is an urgency to see, hear and feel what these young women, much younger girls, grown women and marginalised, vulnerable boys have told us.
And isn't it interesting that they have told us now, when the country is in its first tentative steps from lockdown ; a time when there has been a brief period of stillness. A time when these girls, young women, much older women and marginalised, vulnerable boys have been locked down with their trauma.
Designated Lead Persons for Safeguarding, both on Induction and Refresher Courses, over the last six weeks have talked about the girls who are having miscarriages at school, or being picked up from school by much older 'boyfriends' in very smart cars. They have reflected on what 'perhaps' is being communicated by the over-achieving girls, out-spoken girls, absent girls, under-achieving girls, self-harming girls, girls with eating disorders.
It IS both our responsibility to gently yet assertively question and to act.
It seems, perhaps, that the true meaning of Dr Carlene Firmin's work on 'Contextual Safeguarding' has not been fully grasped .... that conduct and behaviour in the community, in halls of residence, school corridors and at parties IS peer on peer abuse. It IS our safeguarding responsibility, as Dr Carlene Firmin refers to it in her fabulous TEDtalk 'Re-writing the Rules of Child Protection'
Part 5 of the Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 Guidance on Child on Child Sexual Violence and Harassment, and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 Guidance, outlines the framework clearly. So where are we failing to join the dots ?
There are some responsive, sensitive and nuanced actions being taken by 'attuned' Designated Persons for Safeguarding up and down our country. A couple of examples include :
- A Designated Lead for Safeguarding in a very large college is intending to run Workshops for students shortly, focused on describing what constitutes harassment, abuse, helping to define consent ; what it means to consent to X and not to Y
- A large Secondary Academy is assessing their partnerships with both parents and students. They are opening communications with parents, about the community, including the evident risks between home and school, between 3pm - 7pm, in the afternoon. They are refreshing their active listening skills towards young women and empowering and supporting the conversations that matter. They are 'live in the evolution' of their safeguarding practice right now ; listening to these accounts and ensuring that their response to young people is attuned to their lived experience.
If you would like to look afresh at 'Joining these dots' in a comprehensive way, incorporating what the KCSIE Guidance says about response to Sexual Harassment and Violence in Part 5, duties in relation to Contextual Safeguarding within your setting, outside of your setting and online, then please check out our up and coming Designated Lead Person training.
We're also running a monthly forum for Designated Lead Persons.
We are, as always, happy to talk with you, about any more bespoke responses to your needs.