This is the edited text of a speech that our spokeswoman Tanya Carter gave on a webinar on the 19th March 2022 organised by the Welsh women’s group Merched Cymru, in which she discusses the recently published Child Safeguarding Practice Review on Child Q.
“Thank you for having me here today, I’ve been asked to speak about what matters to the parents we hear from and what parents need to know.
Firstly, at Safe Schools Alliance we are very in favour of Relationships and Sex Education; we believe it’s a crucial part of safeguarding children.
The vast majority of parents who we hear from agree with us. We hear from parents from all walks of life, from those whose children attend the state sector and also those in the private sector. While the parents and teachers that contact us are diverse, they all have a lot in common, they understand the importance of working together for the benefit of children. They want to get education on such a sensitive subject right for children. They are disturbed when they encounter people who don’t want this.
All good parents and teachers know that boundaries are incredibly important for raising children to be well-rounded, functional members of society, you can read more about this in my blog on Merched Cymru’s website. Boundaries are also an important part of safeguarding. Adults who are unable to keep appropriate boundaries between them and the children they teach are a recognised safeguarding concern, as is anybody who doesn’t understand that children and adults are different.
Safeguarding children is the responsibility of all adults in society. It is also some peoples’ jobs. Safeguarding frameworks are based on our collective learning from previous reviews and inquires when things have gone wrong.
The latest review in England that you may have heard of was released this week. It was an investigation into the treatment of Child Q, a 15 year old black girl who was strip-searched at her school by met police officers. There was no appropriate adult present for this search.
The school failed to call Child Q’s mother or any other adult to advocate for her and the teachers failed to fulfil this role themselves. The school called the police after smelling cannabis and being unable to locate any drugs on the child.
The police despite subjecting the child to a humiliating search that involved the exposure of her intimate parts while menstruating, also found no drugs. Child Q remains traumatised by her experiences. The fallout from this horrific incident is incredibly damaging to both race relationships and parents’ confidence in schools’ ability to safeguard their children. A lot of work is going to have to be done to restore trust.
The report notes that the school should’ve been more challenging to the police, that “All practitioners need to be mindful of their duties to uphold the best interests of children.” and “School staff had an insufficient focus on the safeguarding needs of Child Q”.
There are many recommendations made in the report for the police, practitioners, the Home Office and the Department for Education. They include the need for clearer guidance, a clearer understanding of safeguarding and the responsibilities of adults to children in their care, the importance of working together with families and training on ‘adultification’. This is particularly pertinent to black children. Children must not be treated as older than they are. Under 18’s are children and are entitled to the protection of adults. They must not be exposed to experiences unsuitable for their age.
So we have established that most parents want to work in partnership with schools and that this is an important part of safeguarding. Therefore it is shocking that we have seen footage of some self-appointed RSE experts advising rooms full of teachers to not consult with parents on the content of programs.
Teachers should be alert to any ‘training’ that seeks to undermine basic safeguarding principles such as working together. If any such suggestion is made it should arouse professional curiosity to have a very thorough look at all materials through a safeguarding lens.
We know that predators will always try to groom children and that part of that grooming process will be to groom those protective adults that stand in their way. We know that this grooming can be done in person, or online. We also need to be aware that grooming of both adults and children can be done via materials purporting to be RSE resources.
We have seen resources that go far beyond what most parents want. Most parents want their children to be factually educated about puberty, so that the changes to their growing bodies do not come as a shock to them. They want children to know how babies are made. They are happy with factual information regarding prevention of pregnancy and STDs (though some religions object to contraception and will want their views acknowledged) The vast majority of parents want their children to be able to assert their boundaries and know who to speak to if someone is breaking those boundaries. They want children to know what the law is in this country and that not all families are the same as their own. Parents are worried about porn and what else their children may be exposed to online.
Most parents understand the importance of sex-based segregation for safeguarding purposes, after all they were all teens once. They are alarmed when schools have mixed-sex toilets, changing rooms, overnight accommodation, sports and Sex Ed classes. It is blindingly obvious why these things are not a good idea. What no responsible parent wants for their child is materials that suggest extreme porn is liberating, directs children to chemsex sites or suggests that an emerging same sex attraction may be a sign of being trans and a reason for young girls to bind their breasts. Sadly we have seen all these in materials aimed at children in schools.
It is imperative that teachers check all materials with a view to safeguarding. Schools cannot abdicate responsibility to safeguard to an outside agency. If the children are in your care, you are responsible for what is taught and ensuring its suitability.
If it would not be appropriate in the normal way of things, it is not appropriate just because it claims that it is an RSE resource or ‘inclusive’. Just because materials claim that they are endorsed by the Welsh government (or anybody else) it doesn’t mean that they actually are and it doesn’t mean that they are appropriate. Teachers are responsible for safeguarding the children in their care. This includes ensuring that they are not exposed to materials that are age-inappropriate, erode their boundaries, promote self-harm, damage relationships with parents, include homophobic definitions, misrepresent the law or promote partisan politics.
Teachers must teach all Sex Education on the assumption that there is at least one child in the class that is being or has previously been abused. The teacher will not know who this child is as they have probably yet to disclose. They may not even realise what they have been subjected to is abuse.
That realisation may come in the lesson. How the materials will be received by that abused child must always be at the forefront of teachers’ thoughts. Will they help them? Will they enforce what an abuser may have said to them? Will they increase a child’s feelings of shame or will they give them the confidence to disclose?
Parents must also check materials: parents like all adults have a duty to safeguard. If schools do not volunteer the materials to parents, ask to see them. Decent schools will welcome the engagement, if they do not that is a cause for concern and all the more reason to obtain them and scrutinise them thoroughly.
We are currently working on a new factsheet on what schools need to be aware of following the Cass review.
So thank you for listening; it’s good to see so many of you here. We all have a responsibility to safeguard children. RSE is an important part of that safeguarding. We have a duty to work together and ensure that we get it right.”