UPDATE: We have now (16.11.20) received a response from the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson. In this response, the Education Secretary acknowledges that many children now back at school will have been exposed to trauma during lockdown and that is is critical for schools to respond effectively to any increased safeguarding risks arising from this period:
“As you rightly identify, unfortunately, there will be some pupils who will return to school having been exposed to a range of adversity and trauma and in some cases increased welfare and safeguarding risks. Where such harm and abuse has not yet been identified it will be critical that schools are able to respond effectively.”
Read the full letter here: EVAW Letter to Education Secretary
Yesterday (23 July) we wrote to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, expressing concern about girls’ welfare during the COVID 19 lockdown period and to highlight the important role schools have in safeguarding children who will have been out of school for months when they return in September.
Schools are often the only place that many girls can find a trusted adult to talk to and they simultaneously present the best opportunity for challenging attitudes which condone abuse and to transform the long-term likelihood of abuse in adult relationships, which is the aim of good quality, compulsory Relationship Education/Relationships and Sex Education (RE/RSE).
We are urging the Department for Education to communicate to schools that the extreme seriousness of their safeguarding responsibilities they have in September is a high priority, and that this requires a very high level of vigilance over children who may have been through traumatic experiences and have been unable to disclose these to any trusted adult for months.
Such experiences might include experiencing and being exposed to domestic abuse or other forms of VAWG including FGM, online abuse by adult strangers or by their peers, or abuse in the community by adults outside the family, both before and after social restrictions were relaxed. The vast numbers of young people with no access to youth services during the lockdown, has also led to the National Youth Agency warning of young people’s susceptibility to being groomed by gangs or involved in child exploitation as lockdown is eased. Their recent report draws specific attention to the particular risks to girls and young women being recruited into gangs as they could ‘fall under the radar’ and move around with less visibility than young men during lockdown.
We know that the Department for Education has convened a Vulnerable Children and Young People National Board during the COVID 19 crisis, and we hope this has led to placing a high priority on listening out for signs and disclosures of abuse.
The role of schools, social services and other key institutions in identifying and responding to victims of child abuse appropriately requires close attention. Recent research commissioned by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has found that racism can lead to failures in the response of institutions to child sexual abuse. We urge the Education Secretary to take this learning forward, and ensure his department take steps so that all school leaders are prioritising safeguarding and vigilance over children returning to school this coming term.
RE/RSE teaching can help children and young people recognise abusive behaviour and be able to talk about it. This is why we have also highlighted the importance of supporting schools to get back on track with the roll out of compulsory RE/RSE, and that those early adopter schools are supported to continue the work already started on developing and delivering this curriculum.
Finally, we are calling on the Education Secretary to inform Parliament in the autumn about the levels of abuse disclosure and child protection reports schools are experiencing, as well as the impact this is having. This is a critical part of improving planning around any further national and local lockdowns.
We hope to receive a reply to our letter soon, and will publish any replies here.