I once heard a colleague describe the job of being a safeguarding lead as akin to repeatedly smashing your head into a brick wall. Sadly, I think the job can often be even worse than that; it can feel more like watching helplessly while vulnerable children repeatedly have their heads smashed against brick walls.
Being a senior designated person is not a role that many teachers aspire to. Working closely with the most vulnerable and damaged children in the school, their families and the myriad agencies that frequently cannot do anything to improve these children’s lives is rarely a job you choose. Instead, it is something you drift into, by way of a pastoral role such as head of year or being a Sendco.
This is a role that will keep you awake at night; drive you to tears; affect your home life.
And yet it is also one of the most important and rewarding jobs you can ever do. Because of your tenacity and your care, lives will be changed.
That little boy with the bruises will suddenly come out of his shell once his mum has moved into her own place. The little girl exhibiting overtly sexualised behaviour will return after the summer like a child again, now the risk has gone. You may not be able to solve all of that family’s problems, but at least they now have access to a food bank, vouchers to buy new uniform and, because the dad is less worried about money, the children will be safer. The shocking, heartbreaking cases are more common than anyone could fathom. But there are not many other roles in a school in which the impact can be quite so huge and so immediate.
It’s true that the frustrations can be enormous. External agencies are stretched beyond capacity and starved of funding, and thresholds seem to rise weekly. Meanwhile, school funding has reached the point where what you can do yourself is reducing all the time.
Sadly, your colleagues may not seem to care or understand why vulnerable children often behave as they do, and may simply want the problem to go away. You, on the other hand, know it is not that simple.
When you retire, though, and reflect on everything you have done in your professional life, you will know that, as well as teaching thousands of children to read and to obtain qualifications that enabled them to move on to distinguished careers, you also saved some lives and prevented some children from being beaten or starved or raped. You may have prevented others from going to prison and from perpetuating cycles of abuse – and that really is a lasting legacy.
Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets at @keziah70