Wellbeing: who safeguards the safeguarding leads?

Designated safeguarding leads perform vital functions in schools, but have to bear huge burdens associated with them. It’s time to prioritise their wellbeing, says Emma Davis

safeguarding protection

There's no denying that although teaching can be an incredibly rewarding career, there are aspects of the role that can bring emotional stress.

Working as a designated safeguarding lead (DSL) can be especially testing. 

We need to protect the children in our care by being vigilant about potential signs of abuse as well as managing allegations, disclosures and concerns, and taking action to advocate for children.  


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The pressure of the role can be overwhelming, with concerns about time constraints, (especially in relation to keeping accurate, secure records), ensuring all staff are aware of (and understand) safeguarding policies and procedures, keeping up to date with legislation, managing reprisals when discussing concerns with families, and providing adequate support to staff involved with children for whom there are safeguarding concerns.

All of these worries occupy headspace. However much you tell yourself to keep your worries at school, sleepless nights can be a common occurrence. 

Sometimes it’s a gut feeling that a child may be at risk – there’s no disclosure or evidence of abuse but a nagging sense of unease that you’ve missed something. 

I find the “what-if”s come thick and fast in the small hours. What if they’ve gone to bed hungry? Were those tears at home time because they were scared to go home?

Was that bruise on the head really from falling out of bed, or was there was more to it? They’ve not been in all week - what if they’re staying away because they’re covered in bruises? 

All these scenarios lead to overthinking and overanalysing. But I’d rather consider and reflect on concerns than be blinkered and miss something.   

Breaking down

When concerns around a child's welfare are raised, this will inevitably lead to difficult conversations with parents and carers. These relationships can break down, placing more stress on the DSL. 

Being shouted at, called a liar and facing threats and abuse are all unfortunate repercussions from acting on concerns about a child’s welfare.

But the fear of damaging relationships with parents and carers must never impact on judgement when it comes to a child's welfare. The child must come first.

DSLs face a wide variety of scenarios every day, from referrals resulting from disclosures to liaising with other professionals in order to investigate concerns.  But whatever the circumstances, it is the DSL who feels the burden of responsibility.  

Open discussion

So how can we manage our own wellbeing? Who safeguards us?

With an ever-increasing focus on teacher wellbeing, it’s time for open, honest discussion about the impact of the emotional stress associated with this important role.

Having procedures to offload our concerns is vitally important; without a means of talking things through, the burden stays with the DSL, impacting on their mental health.  

But confidentiality means that offloading at home with family or friends is not an option. This process of reflection and supervision must take place within the school or setting. But in busy schools with tight budgets, where is the time to talk? 

We need to make time. A debrief procedure for all DSLs must be available after any referrals, conferences or meetings. Whether this is a quick exchange of information or a chance to unburden will depend on the seriousness of the case.

Providing this time to talk highlights that their role is recognised as being stressful and a cause of worry and that systems are in place to protect them.

If we simply accept that stress and worry are unfortunate by-products of the job, we negate its value. Let’s protect those who protect our children. 

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