New service to track pupils

26th August 2005 at 01:00
While the murder of a Livingston boy has focused attention on absent pupils, a new service has been launched to track pupils who go missing from the education system altogether.

The Children Missing Education (Scotland) service (CME) is one of a raft of measures launched by the Scottish Executive this week under its Safe and Well guide for schools and authorities.

The moves are part of a series of child protection reforms targeting vulnerable children, announced earlier this year. They include a new national framework of standards for child protection, funding for training and a charter spelling out children's rights.

The murder of Rory Blackhall, a pupil at Meldrum primary in West Lothian, illustrates the difficulties schools face. Rory was dropped off by his mother but was only found not to have attended classes when his grandfather went to collect him some seven hours later.

The latest moves were sparked by the case of Danielle Reid, the five-year-old Inverness girl murdered by her mother's boyfriend and dumped in the Caledonian Canal. A subsequent inquiry highlighted the duties and responsibilities of schools and authorities to keep track of children who disappear from the system.

The new guidelines are designed to help trace children who have disappeared from view. Staff from CME will liaise with authorities and help promote systematic procedures, enhanced record-keeping procedures and inter-authority working.

The guidance states: "Proactive approaches may involve identifying families likely to move regularly and, where necessary, putting in place support strategies to avoid them disappearing from view."

Outside agencies should be involved "sensitively", and there should be regular contact through home-school link staff.

Other sections of the Safe and Well guide, which is being made available to every school, include practical advice, such as guidance on how to talk to a child thought to be at risk and giving advice on signs of abuse or neglect.

The guide stresses a pledge to children, promising that they will be listened to seriously. They should be seen by a professional such as a teacher, doctor or social worker to make sure they are all right and not put at more risk. They should be able to discuss issues in private, if and when they want to.

There is also a promise that professionals will share information to protect children at risk and work together to minimise disruption to their lives.

The guidance acknowledges, however, that "only a very few children and young people experiencing abuse have the confidence or the courage to tell an adult.

"Children and young people must feel confident that, when they tell, they will be listened to and that adults will do as much as they can to help."

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