Is Everyone Invited?

Sarah Henry © 01/04/21

I tweeted about this first thing this morning as I was heading to a meeting in haste, but it needs more than a tweet. Much more. ‘Everyone’s Invited’ is an online platform where young people, children, children as young as nine years old have made disclosures about abuse they have endured in one of the places that they are supposed to be safe; in school. 12,371 testimonials at the last count and a ‘community’ of 40,126 children who have joined. This is heart breaking. 12,371 children. Children with a horrific story to tell. Traumatic sexual abuse experiences behind the school gates.

“We are a movement committed to eradicating rape culture.

Trigger warning for the survivor testimonies: sexual violence and abuse”

I read the trigger warning on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website and know that for people like me it is a warning to go no further unless I feel able to. I am an adult (not using the word survivor) now but I understand my own triggers will always be with me. An associated song on the radio can be enough. I really worry for the children reading the testimonials and wonder where they will get support afterwards.

Everyone’s Invited has revealed how children have been let down and failed. It has ultimately shone a spotlight on an area of safeguarding that needs urgent review. We talk about the ‘Voice of the Child’ in our work with families. I would like to think we have got better at hearing the voice of children over the years, but have we? I have read 100s of safeguarding policies in my time. But not once have I read one where I actually hear the voice of the child.  Where I see that they have been spoken to about and included in what they need from a safeguarding policy. See, it would seem that no matter how far we have come, we omitted to hear the voice of the child in the very policy that has a sole objective to safeguard them. The Safeguarding Policy.

There is of course nothing wrong with a safeguarding policy written by professionals for professionals but we have missed a very important piece.

Children need to have and own their own safeguarding policy that contains their voice, that they have contributed to; their words, easy to understand, clear, and jargon free. If we are going to keep children safe then we must make it as easy a process as we can for them, so that they feel safe to call out abusive behaviour by their peers or professionals in the school setting. They need to know not only who the DSL is, for example, but what they do – because in the main they really are wonderful people who work hard to fiercely protect the children in their care.

We hear the strap line, ‘Safeguarding is Everyone’s Responsibility’ time over.  It is now time to look again at how we can do things better.  How we can create the safest of spaces in school and where all children and young people understand their right to feel safe and protected. I think we need to start by asking them again – what do you need? What do you want from YOUR safeguarding system? How can we get this right for you?

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 makes a start with this in its introduction.

“Children have said that they need

  • Vigilance: to have adults notice when things are troubling them
  • Understanding and action: to understand what is happening; to be heard and understood; and to have that understanding acted upon
  • Stability: to be able to develop an ongoing stable relationship of trust with those helping them
  • Respect: to be treated with the expectation that they are competent rather than not Information and engagement: to be informed about and involved in procedures,  decisions, concerns and plans
  • Explanation: to be informed of the outcome of assessments and decisions and  reasons when their views have not met with a positive response
  • Support: to be provided with support in their own right as well as a member of their family
  • Advocacy: to be provided with advocacy to assist them in putting forward their views
  • Protection: to be protected against all forms of abuse and discrimination and the  right to special protection and help if a refugee”

It is time to take this further now as a spring board for putting words into action. Creating not just good policy but cultures of safety for all children in all schools, in all places, all of the time.

Today the NSPCC have opened their special helpline for children:

The Report Abuse in Education helpline can be reached on 0800 136 663, on Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm, or 9am – 6pm at weekends. It can also be contacted by email at help@nspcc.org.uk

References: Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 © Crown copyright 2020