There are some topics that no one likes talking about but which are so important that need to be brought into the public eye whether we like it or not. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are two such topics that not only need discussing, but also need us to take action to help. Awareness weeks such as the one running from the 1 – 7th February as Sexual Abuse and Violence Awareness Week is one way of focusing our attention on the issues, and getting more people involved in the solution. The week aims to generate discussion and empower victims to send out a clear message the UK says about sexual abuse and violence: “It’s not OK”.

With the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s minds, it’s easy for other social issues to get lost in the daily news round, but the statistics about sexual abuse and violence make very sobering reading, especially the ones that refer to abuses perpetrated against children.

What is the extent of the problem?

According to the Office for National Statistics, in the year ending March 2019:

  • There was an increase of 11% in sexual abuse-related contacts to the NSPCC’s helpline (9,232) in line with an overall increase of 12% in helpline contacts over the same period
  • Around half of sexual abuse started before secondary school age
  • The majority of sexual abuse before the age of 16 years lasted for less than one year
  • Women were around three times as likely as men to have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 years (11.5% compared with 3.5%)
  • Over one-third of victims experienced more than one type of sexual abuse
  • Sexual abuse was the most common abuse-related concern counselled by Childline
  • Less than one in five victims reported their experience to the police
  • Around one-quarter of adults told someone about their sexual abuse at the time
  • Some adults who experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 years have never told anyone

Source: Office for National Statistics – Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2019.

What can you do in your setting?

There is obviously a limit to what you can do in an early years setting with regards to violence and sexual abuse which is perpetrated away from your setting in people’s homes or other venues. You will be unlikely to be able to affect people’s choice of partners and associates for example, you cannot be with the children 24/7 and you cannot step into the role of a law enforcement officer or social worker either. That said, there is a lot you and your team can do to look out for people, be aware of potentially abusive situations and to offer guidance, understanding and support to victims. And everyone has a statutory duty to safeguard the children in their care, so as nursery professionals, you MUST ensure that you have robust protection and recruitment policies in place which report on safeguarding issues and protect the children and staff in your setting.

Raising awareness and offering support and understanding

Raising awareness of the issue of sexual abuse and showing your local community that you stand up against abuse is one way to reach out to victims with the hand of support and friendship. It’s impossible to run in-person events during current lockdown restrictions, however, you can add banners to your social media sites to raise awareness, and/or hold a virtual information session for parents, staff and other interested members of your community.

Other ideas include:

  • Raising money for associated local or national charities
  • Donating food or other supplies to a local refuge centre
  • Running education sessions with your children about what is appropriate or non-appropriate touch. You can use the NSPCC PANTS information page where you’ll find advice on how to talk to children about sexual abuse, resources and a catchy “Pantosaurus” song. There’s also a useful guide here for slightly older children, which gives some tips on how to teach your children to reduce risk and keep themselves safe
  • Supporting individual families and offering advice and information on a general level or putting them in touch with more specialist organisations
  • Run training sessions or an online CPD course. You can find a selection of Parenta-run CPD courses here, including ones on safeguarding children, safeguarding adults, bullying and harassment to name but a few

Your responsibilities

It is a requirement by law that you, as an early years manager, undertake adequate checks to ensure that the staff you recruit are suitable and not barred from working with children. You should have robust recruitment and staffing policies in place that ensure:

  • There are appropriate identity, criminal record and barring (DBS) checks at the recruitment stage, which are then updated regularly
  • References are followed up
  • Interviews are well conducted and ask appropriate questions
  • Staff are well supervised and working patterns protect staff from potential allegations – e.g. staff are not left alone with children
  • Professional qualifications are checked
  • All staff are trained in safeguarding and child protection
  • All staff are competent and trained to carry out the duties requested of them
  • Volunteers are suitably screened and supervised
  • There is regular CPD on safeguarding and child protection
  • You keep accurate and up-to-date records
  • There is a dedicated safeguarding lead
  • All staff understand your safeguarding protocols and procedures and how to respond to abuse disclosures
  • You have an appropriate whistleblowing policy and culture for reporting potential abuses from within your own ranks

You can join the conversation on social media using #ItsNotOK and even add a Facebook cover and/or Twitter banner to your profile to show your support. Or how about organising your own virtual event such as those listed above? Visit the main website to get more suggestions for events or read about past events for inspiration.

Useful documents

The Government has published a document called “What to do if you’re worried a child is being abused” which should be circulated and discussed within your setting. It is non-statutory advice which is aimed at helping practitioners identify child abuse and neglect and take appropriate action in response and should be read in conjunction with the statutory guidance document, “Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015)” and subsequent annual updates.

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