Who's protecting the children?
Anat Arkin reports.
When the child-protection co-ordinator of a Liverpool comprehensive tried to refer a pupil to social services recently, the practical difficulties almost defeated him.
First, it was impossible to reach social services because the phones were always busy. When he finally got through and made an appointment, it was cancelled at the last minute even though it was feared that the child had been seriously abused. So were two subsequent appointments. When The TES spoke to the teacher earlier this month he had been waiting 10 days for an appointment and was becoming increasingly exasperated.
The view that relationships between schools and social services are not all they should be is widespread, according to a report on child protection and education published today by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Of the 327 schools that took part in the study, 84 per cent expressed concern about the communication between the different agencies involved in child protection. Many schools said social services failed to update them on cases. Some also mentioned lack of information from health professionals.
While 305 schools said they were usually represented at case conferences, 21 had never been asked to attend. Half the schools said that often they did not receive adequate notice of conferences or full information on cases under discussion.
The degree of involvement often depended on the attitude of individual social workers. As one respondent put it: "If you have a social worker keen to work with a school it makes all the difference to the information which we receive and the way we are listened to."
The majority of schools surveyed were concerned about the vulnerability of teachers who report abuse, and found it helpful if social services explained to parents that schools had no choice but to follow child-protection procedures. However, this support is not always available. One school also complained that social services had passed on confidential information to families and named individual teachers.
Almost all the schools had child-protection policies, but only 63 per cent of them were sure that their policies had been inspected by the Office for Standards in Education.
Some 90 per cent of respondents were the designated child-protection teachers in their schools, and were reasonably confident of their own ability to recognise and act on signs of abuse.
But 88 per cent were worried that this would not be the case for all teachers, and one-third thought abuse could go unnoticed because of teachers' inexperience and lack of training. There was a strong feeling that all teachers should receive regular training to enable them to recognise signs of abuse and respond to children who confided in them.
There were also calls for training to help students on teaching practice and newly-qualified teachers. Mary Baginsky, author of the NSPCC report, argues that training for both new and experienced teachers also needs to cover the handling of accusations made by pupils against staff - a cause of concern for 79 per cent of the schools surveyed.
"An appreciation of the allegations that can be made against teachers and of appropriate behaviour towards children has to be fundamental to child protection training," she says.
Child Protection and Education is available from the NSPCC Publications and Information Unit. Telephone 020 7825 2775