What to do when you hear an out-of-hours cry for help

When teachers see things that concern them about a student out of school time or via social media, it is important to know how to respond, says Keziah Featherstone

Tes Reporter

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It’s midnight on a Friday. You’ve just finished a Skype call with your partner, who is away on business in a different time zone, and you are just about to shut down your laptop when an email appears. It is from a student in crisis, calling out for your help.

It is unlikely that any of your senior leaders will be awake right now, let alone answering emails. You don’t have their phone number either. But this is a safeguarding situation and it can’t wait. So what should you do?

The most common safeguarding training in schools is about how to spot the signs of abuse and what to do if a child makes a disclosure. But in both cases, you ultimately pass the issue on to someone else in the school; they take it off your hands and you often don’t know what happens next, as everything will be shrouded in confidentiality.

It is becoming more and more common for school professionals to see things that concern them out of school time or, more worryingly, for students to reach out via social media and email. Be aware that the school email address you use to share homework may become the means for a student to tell you that he or she has been raped, kicked out of their home, beaten up by a family member, or is feeling suicidal.

In this situation, you should act in the manner of any other concerned citizen and immediately report it to the appropriate authorities. If you think that a child is in immediate danger, phone 999 without delay. Alternatively, contact your local authority’s child-protection team – the number will be on its website, although the best schools will have provided this number in your handbook or as part of the training.

And, as with a disclosure that happens in person, you cannot promise not to pass it on. The same applies regardless of the medium of disclosure. So, remember to log it with your school team as soon as you can.

The process should be exactly the same if you see something out of hours, such as an adult abusing their child or a teenager standing on street corners and getting into cars. Take action immediately.

Don’t underestimate the effect that this will have on you. It’s emotionally tough and no one ever gets used to it. Ask for support and talk things through with your designated person, as they are the only one that you can share all the confidential details with. Chatting to them about it will be therapy for the both of you.

Rest assured, by taking quick and decisive action, you will have made a child’s life much better.

Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader of #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets @keziah70

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