The last day of school often heralds the first cry for help

13th July 2018 at 00:00
Expect last-minute disclosures of home-life problems from at-risk children on the final day before the holidays

On the last day of term, long after the other children had gone home, after the staff had stuffed all the leaving presents into their cars, Cassie appeared at my door.

Like many children, Cassie did not want to go home for six weeks with no recourse to the adults at school.

It was then that she made the disclosure: her stepdad was coming into her room most nights, and she was ashamed and scared.

The year before, it had been a slightly older boy, Paul, who disclosed on the last day of term how his brother would take drugs in their shared bedroom and then become violent and aggressive.

There are thousands of children for whom school is their safest place. Taking it away for a weekend is hard enough, but the thought of six weeks alone can be terrifying. Children are highly likely to disclose at the last minute, as they suddenly find the courage to do so. Sometimes you can spot these children. All staff should know what to look for in terms of abuse, and some children register highly on that radar even though there is, as yet, no proof. It is always worth checking in with these children before a holiday to make sure that they’re OK.

But it is not just children with disclosures to make who are vulnerable in the holidays. I once spent a summer worrying about an entire family because I knew they did not have enough money to feed themselves. I’d driven them to the foodbank, made sure they knew the staff there, but I still suspected they would have a hungry summer.

Six weeks is also a long time for children who are carers, live in an isolated area or suffer with poor mental health. Seeking these children out in the run-up to holidays, talking to them about the break and gently nudging them towards places of help can be invaluable. I remember one 12-year-old being sent to spend the summer with his grandparents on a remote Scottish island; he was kept going after being shown how to Skype his friends.

It is important to ensure that your school website has an area for students – ideally designed by students – that lists ways to gain support during the summer. Direct students to this during assemblies, and schedule emails over the summer to remind them that you’re thinking of them. Some schools are able to employ someone year-round to be available should anything happen. If you aren’t able to provide this, then signposting is your best hope.

Last-minute disclosures can be inconvenient, but the alternative – a child struggling through an unbearable six weeks – is intolerable.

Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader of #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and the head of Q3 Academy Tipton. She tweets @keziah70

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