Safeguarding e-Bulletin – 28th March 2019

National Education Union Secretary suspended

A teaching union representative has said that it is better that one child is stabbed than to have schools erect knife detector arches. In response to an announcement re plans to introduce knife arches and detecting wands in schools made by an East London council borough, Redbridge National Education Union joint divisional secretary Kash Malik stated (in an interview with the Ilford Recorder and confirmed to the Tes) “Knife arches are not the answer. I have never been in favour of them and schools shouldn’t have to worry about it, it should be an environment where you should be focusing on studying.” Malik went on to say “It is better to have one child stabbed at school than to have an environment where no one is stabbed at school and everyone carries knives outside of school.”

Malik’s argument that knife arches would “normalise carrying knives except at school” and comments have been met with much criticism on social media. Sean Harford, HMI and National Director, Education of Ofsted tweeted:

Our Safeguarding Director, Sam Preston, also contributed questioning “Where is the evidence base that introducing arches & wands in schools would increase the number of incidents elsewhere or that more knives would be carried? Let’s look at why children are carrying knives – sometimes it’s because they don’t feel safe – and work to change the culture.

Following his much-publicised comments, the National Education Union (NEU) has suspended Malik. Fewer than half of London’s secondary schools and FE colleges have taken up the Mayor of London’s offer of free knife-detecting wands, indicating that the strategy of such equipment as part of safeguarding strategies is still a subject for debate.

Lessons from London

Following on from the blog by our Safeguarding Director (We know what works, we need capacity now, 13/03/19) Mike Sheridan, Ofsted’s regional director for London, has said that too few schools are brought around the table to deal with knife crime. Sheridan’s statement follows the publication of Ofsted research, which looked at how children are protected from knife violence in school and taught to be safe outside school settings.

The research findings, based on survey responses from over 100 secondary schools, colleges and pupil referral units across London, found that stronger multi-agency partnerships are needed to support schools to deal with knife crime and to iron out inconsistencies in the approach to counter the complex societal problems which lie behind the rise in knife crime.

The report also identified that no single body has a clear grasp of “managed moves”, a process which involves moving pupils who carry knives to other mainstream schools or pupil referral units. In order to help monitor this process, the report calls for the DfE to collect and publish data to evaluate what happens to these children, if the process keeps them safe and to measure their educational outcomes.

Whilst identifying that the valuable role schools, academies and colleges can play in local partnerships is not being realised, the report falls short from identifying how capacity issues to enable this participation by staff from educational settings may be achieved.

Serious Violence Summit

Yesterday in the House of Commons Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a Serious Violence Summit will convene next Monday to gather evidence, which will then be examined in a series of round table discussions, to develop the Serious Crime Strategy. We will be following and reporting on the outcomes from the summit and subsequent discussions.

Contextual Safeguarding – is our Child Protection system fit for purpose?

As promised in last week’s bulletin, we are keeping you up-to-date with evidence presented to the Home Affairs Committee on subject of serious violence. This month, Dr Carlene Firmin (MBE Principal Research Fellow at University of Bedfordshire), Dr Simon Harding (Professor in Criminology University of West London) and Junior Smart (Business Development Manager at St Giles Trust) gave evidence outlining their thoughts on the increase in serious violence in the last few years.

The panel heard evidence highlighting the intersecting factors thought to be responsible for the escalation in serious violence and gang membership which included the lack of resource to respond, the loss of youth services as community guardians (which also impacts on safe spaces for young people) and contextual safeguarding which places young people at risk of exposure to violence. The evidence presented identified the different forms of serious violence now experienced clearly as child protection issues however, it highlighted the failings of using the current child protection system which is designed to deal with abuse within families not outside family situations. The current child protection system has not been resourced or equipped to cope with contextual safeguarding and manage or protect children.

In 2007-09, following an increase in knife crimes and shootings, children were moved out of urban spaces into care placements in rural counties. Many of these rural areas were, and still aren’t, equipped to manage and support the relocated children who have been groomed into violence. It is also pertinent to question if this relocation model has contributed to the phenomena known as “County lines”, as many are relocated within easy travelling distance to their original areas and, with access to mobile and social media networks, remain in contact with those putting them at risk.

It is clear that the current safeguarding framework is ill equipped to adequately support teenage children and that the “referring in” system simply isn’t working. Current assessment processes do not adequately access or reflect the child’s lifestyle and way of thinking e.g. evolution into gang culture, and referrals are compromised by secure family assessments. The result is that vulnerable children who have such secure family assessments do not meet thresholds for intervention and, because of this, there is no process to resolve the contextual risks of exposure to abuse and involvement in serious / violent crime.

We are featuring a blog on gang evolution in next week’s bulletin and will continue to keep you up-to-date with the further evidence presented to the committee in future bulletins.

Cuckooing

Cuckooing, closely linked to the phenomenon of County Lines (where gang members, or vulnerable people under their control, cross the border of their county into another county with the intention of selling drugs). It is a relatively new term used to describe how criminal gangs target the most isolated, vulnerable members of a community, befriending them with the intention of taking over their homes to create bases to deal drugs and carry out other criminal activities. There is no age limit to those being targeted however, older adults that are socially isolated can become easy targets with tactics of befriending, moving in and then taking over.

Cuckooing can take on many forms. Common used tactics are:

  • To befriend a socially isolated older person who lives alone with no family or friend support network. The older person is made to believe they have gained a friend who they then allow to stay at their home. They don’t realise that drug dealing activity is taking place or that they are being taken advantage of;
  • Where a female befriends a vulnerable male to become their “girlfriend” and then introduces “friends” into the vulnerable adult’s home, where drug dealing activity then takes place. The so called “girlfriend” may be a victim of exploitation used by the drug dealing gang;
  • Targeting a vulnerable person and supplying them with drugs to build up a debt they cannot repay enabling exploitation, threatening behaviour and violence. The vulnerable person becomes too frightened to seek help whilst their home is used by the gang.

Cuckooing is an exploitative practice directed at the most vulnerable in society which can also include current and ex drug users, socially isolated individuals, those with mental health difficulties, physical or learning disabilities. 

Local Authority rated “inadequate” due to Child Protection concerns

A damning Ofsted report has downgraded Stoke-on-Trent Local Authority Children’s Services to “inadequate” citing that “poor leadership” is failing to protect children.

Downgraded for overall effectiveness due to a raft of child protection failures during an inspection in February, the report specified that leadership, support for children in need of help and protection and support for care leavers and children in care were all inadequate with ineffective management of risk and thresholds not being consistently applied. Inspectors warned that “vulnerable children are not safeguarded in Stoke-on-Trent”.

The lack of foster placements was a particular area of concern with 56 children at the time of the inspection being placed in unregulated placements, some of which had not been fully assessed or approved by the authority and were known to be “unsafe”. Inspectors found that the rationale and management decisions of such placements were “missing from all children’s case records.” 

Previously rated “requires improvement” in 2015, and despite a focused visit in 2018 which highlighted concerns about high social worker caseloads and the quality of record keeping, this latest Ofsted inspection found that most of its recommendations had not been acted upon stating “Children are not being protected, and they experience serious and widespread delays in having their needs met across children’s services.”

In a Local Authority response to the report findings, leader Ann James said they ” take the ruling by Ofsted extremely seriously and are very concerned by the findings. It means that our practices are not robust enough to provide the best protection to meet the needs of our city’s vulnerable young people. This is unacceptable and we are committed to improving our service at pace for our children.”

#selfharm

Despite the widespread criticism of Instagram following the sad case of Molly Russell, the 14-year-old who took her own life after viewing self-harm images, a BBC investigation has found further evidence of children swapping graphic images of weight loss and advice on how to make their illnesses more extreme.

The BBC investigation found posts, hashtags, images and search terms promoting and glamorising eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia to be common on Instagram despite the platform, which is owned by Facebook, stating they were committed to removing all graphic self-harm images. In a statement Instagram said it does not allow content encouraging or promoting eating disorders and removes it when aware.

NHS Digital data shows a rise of more than 130% in those aged 19 and under suffering from eating disorders being admitted to hospital in England since 2011. In 2018 there were more than 2,000 admissions for children aged 15 or under – an increase of 163% on 2011 admissions.

In addition, on this subject, Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield recently tweeted: “In February, we searched Instagram using #selfharm and it brought up 640,000 results. Today the same search brings up 700,000 results.

It is clear that despite concerns and commitment to action, this issue is spiralling with vulnerable young people finding peer groups supporting their behaviour online. Together with warning young people and reinforcing the message that this is a form of online abuse, we can also safeguard children by recognising some of the signs of an eating disorder. The charity Beat recommends being mindful of behaviours which can include:

  • becoming obsessive about food
  • changes in behaviour
  • distorted belief about their body size
  • being often tired or struggling to concentrate
  • disappearing to the toilet after meals/ eating
  • starting / maintaining an excessive exercise regime

Safeguarding – holiday / ‘after hours’ provision

In the run up to Easter holidays when children may be accessing sports and other activities clubs, it’s very tempting to assume they meet safeguarding standards. But much publicised cases e.g. football coach Barry Bennell, tennis coach Daniel Sanders have shown that even clubs governed by national organisations can fail to meet statutory and best practice standards.

So, if your school / academy is contracting holiday activity provision, or looking to extend your after-school club provision, robust service level agreement checks are essential. Click here to see the 6 key things to consider before entering into contractual arrangements.

Welsh Government plans to ban smacking

The Welsh government plans to introduce a new ban on smacking children by ending the legal defence of “reasonable punishment” which may be currently used to counter common assault charges.

Currently it is illegal to hit a child in England and Wales however, parents or persons acting as parents have a legal defence that allows them to cite reasonable force unless the physical punishment leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with an implement. The introduction of the ban follows research published by the Welsh government in 2018 which found that 81% of parents disagreed it was sometimes necessary to smack a “naughty” child.

The Bill is due to be presented to the National Assembly and, following scrutiny by the Children and Young People’s Committee, findings will be debated by the full Assembly. If passed by the Assembly, the Bill could be still be halted though by referral to the Supreme Court or if the Secretary of State for Wales bans it being sent for Royal Assent.

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