The school social worker: Schools need to be wary of stereotyping 'troubled' children

One incident shows why it is so important that pupils in need of extra support are given the benefit of the doubt by teachers

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Rebecca was on Tinder. The school had called me to pass on the information, as a member of staff had been playing on their "friend’s" app and spotted her. I had been working with Rebecca for some time, so they called me to help.  

Right from the start, the situation did not make sense. Yes, the photos definitely were of her, even though she had changed her name and was claiming to be 19 years old, but it just did not fit her profile. I had worked with many young teenagers that can fall into risky behaviour,  but Rebecca never seemed the type.

I went to her house to have a chat with her. I asked her about the websites she used and she openly chatted about how she had a Facebook profile and her Mum had the password for it. She didn’t mention Tinder, but then I did not expect her to.

I then asked quite directly if she had used any dating sites, at which point she nearly choked on her glass of water. I mentioned the name Tinder; she said she had never heard of it. I believed her. I explained how Tinder was linked to Facebook and something suddenly clicked. She asked to call a friend.

It turned out that Rebecca had given her "friend" access to her Facebook account and that friend had then set up the Tinder account. This had been done without Rebecca’s knowledge.

Rebecca asked to be taken off both Facebook and Tinder immediately, and we helped her to do that. We then gave her a brief tutorial on safe internet practice.

Troubled children get stereotyped very quickly. The teachers at Rebecca’s school could easily have jumped to conclusions, escalated the situation and not believed Rebecca’s story. Tensions would have risen, Rebecca would have reacted and the situation would have got out of hand very quickly. All the good work Rebecca and I had achieved together could have been undone.

Schools need to be extremely wary about how they view children in need of extra support from people like me. Assumptions can be extremely damaging and we owe children like Rebecca the benefit of the doubt as much as any other child.

All names and some details of the story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. The other blogs in this series can be found in the related links below. 

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