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Struggling with compliance fatigue? Don’t let it impact your school’s child safety culture

15 September 2020 at 7:00 am
Embedding and continually building a strong child safety culture must be the priority for every school, so here Child Wise shares some tips on how schools can cultivate a child safe culture.

Contributor | 15 September 2020 at 7:00 am


Struggling with compliance fatigue? Don’t let it impact your school’s child safety culture
15 September 2020 at 7:00 am

Embedding and continually building a strong child safety culture must be the priority for every school, so here Child Wise shares some tips on how schools can cultivate a child safe culture.

There are nearly four million children enrolled in 9,503 schools across Australia according to the ABS, and each of them play a critical role in keeping children safe by ensuring that school is a safe place. Schools are also at the forefront of identifying signs of abuse and neglect in students when they are at school. 

Schools operate in a constantly changing and complex regulatory environment. Teachers tell me that time is the scarcest resource of all and that it can be difficult to resist the slide into a tick box approach to child safety.

But resist they must. 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard from 7,981 survivors of abuse. Almost one third of survivors reported that their abuse occurred at school and 30.1 per cent reported being abused by a teacher. Yes, it is a challenge amongst many competing challenges, but surely embedding and continually building a strong child safety culture must be the priority for every school. 

How to embed a child safe culture in schools

A clear, regulated child safety framework is a necessary ingredient for a child safe organisation. But as the adage goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. No matter how strong your framework, if your people don’t nurture a child safe culture your school can’t be child safe. 

That’s because culture is the habitat in which your framework thrives. And your school’s child safety culture happens whether you focus on it or not. If it is not visible at governance and executive level, it is not visible elsewhere and that absence becomes your school’s child safety habitat.

The wonderful thing about culture is that it is changeable and we have solid evidence about how to cultivate and grow a child safe culture.

Make a written public statement to child safety

Ensure it is clear and definite as well as publicly available on your website and all external facing documents. Translate it into the languages of your school community; produce child friendly versions. Include it in all child safety related documents. Let no hiring process go by without making this commitment clear to applicants, no matter the role. From the chair of the council to the bake sale volunteer; from the board to the basement, as Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM says.

At every opportunity champion child safety

Ask questions and encourage open discussion about child safety across the school. Include it in every meeting agenda, in every assembly and in every newsletter. Include questions about child safety in annual engagement surveys. Saturate the school with posters and information about child safety. This may initially feel artificial, but it will soon become “just the way we do things around here”, which is another definition of culture. 

Have a governing council that is fit for purpose 

Ensure a thriving child safety habitat. To do this the council requires membership with child safety expertise, either through recruitment or training. Avoid over representation from alumni, who may have a personal stake in upholding their school’s reputation. Council should oversee a school hierarchy with clear roles and responsibilities for child safety. Ideally this includes having child safety champions across the school.

School leaders must model a commitment to embracing student voice

What opportunities are available in your school for students to be heard? Do you hear from a diverse range of students? Does the governing council interact with students at all? Are students involved in the review of key documents? Is this process authentic or token? Students obviously know the difference. 

Communicate with your school community about policy and procedure

And then communicate with them some more. In our child safety reviews we consistently hear schools report high confidence in their communication, while students, parents and carers report otherwise. Over communicate to your school community. 

Set standards of professional behaviour 

Include child safety into your school’s code of conduct. Apply the code to every single adult at school, no exceptions. It is important that students understand the rules that apply to the adults around them so that they can identify when the rules are being broken, so produce student friendly versions of your adult code. Tackle bullying. Research shows that children and young people need to feel that an organisation deals with issues such as bullying effectively if they are to disclose abuse.

Understand and manage risk 

Schools have been assessing and managing situational risk for activities like camps and excursions forever and have specific procedures for enforcing adherence. A school level or systemic view of child safety risks is less common. To nurture a child safe culture, you must identify, mitigate and register risk at a systems level, not just at a site or activity level. Students will identify risks differently; be sure to include them in the process. Ensure the council reviews the child safety risk register periodically.

Be a feedback rich environment

To give feedback, people must feel a sense of safety and trust. Become a school that celebrates feedback, all the different kinds of feedback. Make it as easy as possible for people of all abilities to give feedback. If you have students from a range of cultural or language backgrounds, ensure the process is accessible. Do something with the feedback every time and ensure there is a process for capturing, managing and reporting on all feedback (in accordance with confidentiality and information sharing guidelines). Track trends and ensure there are reporting thresholds for feedback to escalate to school council where appropriate. 

Equip your people with the knowledge about disclosure

Inform your staff about what to do when a student discloses abuse or if there are any concerns about a student’s safety. Disclosure is about seeking support and the response can have a great impact on the student’s ability to seek further help and recover from the trauma. As Fitzgerald puts it: “Your opinion doesn’t matter but your judgement does.” So train your people in how to manage disclosures. What reports are then needed – both internally and externally to statutory or regulatory bodies, what information do they need to share and what records should be kept? Ensure your process is aligned with legislation and regulations. Do not adopt “in-house” or overly complicated processes. 

There is support available to help schools create and embed a child safe culture 

Schools have a range of support services available to them, such as organisations like Child Wise, to help them review their child safety policies and procedures to embed a child safe culture for the entire school community. 

Child Wise offers a tailored child safeguarding consulting service, coaching, accreditation and training. Child safety training sessions are run on a range of topics through our online virtual classroom

Every organisation faces a different journey to becoming child safe, and we’re here to provide you with the guidance you need for your individual circumstances. 

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