Shining a light in very dark places

7th March 2008 at 00:00

Our report on page 1 paints a disturbing picture of the dangers many children face as a result of maltreatment, neglect, or abuse by adults. The number of children identified as being at risk has risen while three out of four teachers tell us they have taught children they believe to have been physically or sexually abused.

The news from Jersey, where police inquiries continue into the scandal at the former Haut de la Garenne children's home, is a timely reminder of how too often criminal abuse has been ignored or swept under the carpet by the authorities.

Thankfully, attitudes are changing. The present government has done much to put the interests and safety of children centre stage with its plan to integrate children's services and to make their welfare a top priority - see the second in our Big 5 series on Every Child Matters in today's TES.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, emphasises schools' central role in helping children to thrive; and correctly says that teachers and school leaders can't do everything on their own (see opposite, page 29).

Of course, there are risks involved in attempting to integrate children's services and base them, where possible, in school. No one wants to turn teachers into social workers, as Mr Balls is quick to acknowledge.

Yet by making children's wellbeing a national priority - and emphasising their right to be safe and free from harm - the Government's children agenda has helped to shine a light into some very dark places. The real concern is not that the danger from adults is increasing, but that too little has been done to identify and put a stop to what has been a problem for years.

This must change. There is a lot that teachers can do to spot abuse. Our survey shows that the majority of teachers are sensitive to the problem. What they need is guidance so that they will know what to do if they suspect maltreatment.

But teachers cannot solve this on their own. We need to improve support services so that schools can call on trained specialists to deal with suspicions when they arise. We should start by making social work a graduate-led profession with a pay and career structure equivalent to teaching. Even one child who suffers abuse or neglect is one too many.

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