'I'm not trying to turn staff into abuse police'

25th August 2006 at 01:00
Boston College has a secret weapon when it comes to child protection.

Claire George, its manager for under-16s, has a background in child protection and social work. She has responsibility for writing the college's student protection policy, doing staff training and referrals to social services for investigation.

The Lincolnshire college takes 800 pupils from more than 20 schools who come in for a day a week to study vocational subjects. It has won awards for its work with school-age children and has been a pioneer of 14-19 classes in FE colleges.

It recently completed training sessions in student protection for 200 staff, including how to respond to possible signs of abuse.

"One thing I often say to people is I'm not trying to turn you into child abuse police," said Ms George.

"But you do need to know when you see something that gives you a bit of a gut instinct that something's not right. What you don't do is shut up about it. You share it with somebody."

A major difference in working with under-16s is in the issue of confidentiality.

"If you have a situation which involves a pre-16 student, or someone who has siblings in a household who are under 16, that has to be reported for investigation," she said.

"If they're 16-plus and they say 'I don't want it reported' and there are no other children involved, then you have to respect that. You have to look at other ways of helping them cope."

How does the college deal with the potential risk from new staff and members of the public visiting the campus?

"We're an open-access building and no, of course not every adult who enters any college will be police-checked, though almost all our staff are now.

But it's about knowing your students and it's about appropriate levels of supervision."

Under-16 year-old students are only taught with the same age groups. When out of the classroom, they are closely supervised by learning support staff.

"It's about behaving responsibly, not over-reacting. Away from college, kids of 14 go out in the daytime and they mix with all sorts of people.

"We have to be sensible and we have to be professional. We have to assess the risk.

"But if you took that to its logical conclusion then no child would ever set foot outside the family. And most abuse occurs within the home.

"So it's about taking a responsible and professional approach to your provision and your learning environment."

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