Schools play a vital part in providing a safe, structured and ‘predictable’ space for many vulnerable children and young people. Schools are at the forefront of identifying signs of abuse and neglect in children and young people in their care and are considered a vital part of the child protection system.
Schools are clearly charged with the difficult, but essential task of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children and young people in their care. To help schools navigate the challenges of the current COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 climate, Child Wise has listed some helpful tips for principals, teachers and other staff that engage with students.
What child protection challenges will Australian schools face after COVID-19 lockdowns?
The COVID-19 lockdown unfortunately left many vulnerable children at an increased risk of harm. Child protection issues were harder for school communities to manage and monitor due to decreased visibility of students. The increase in child abuse and domestic and family violence during COVID-19 has been well documented, and the role of schools in protecting children and young people is now more essential than ever before.
Many will still be at increased risk at home due to the stressors of job losses, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, parents working from home, financial pressures and increased internet use.
There’s a few strategies that schools can implement to monitor, protect and support children while the pandemic continues and when lock-downs occur on and off.
1 Re-establish routine and structure
Returning as quickly as possible to regular school and learning routines, with known boundaries and structure may be comforting. Ensure staff are aware of the extra impacts and traumas of COVID-19 on children and young people and provide them with clear reporting and escalation points within the school environment.
2 Share and explore home learning experiences
Taking time to explore and learn about children’s experiences allows children and young people to process what they’ve experienced and readjust to school. This can take the form of:
It may also facilitate some disclosures of abuse or family violence, so it’s important that teachers and other staff are equipped to respond appropriately.
3 Ensure school activities contribute to equity and inclusion
Designing teaching and learning activities to cater for the needs of all students, has never been more important than now. Ensuring everyone is included goes a long way to reducing anxiety for everyone. Ensure you have accessible child friendly information available to your students who may be at a greater risk of harm, such as the Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800. Ensure your information is inclusive and available in other languages, caters for children with disability, and addresses Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.
4 Maintain a close school-family relationship
Shared experience of anxieties during COVID-19 has created more opportunities for parents/carers and teachers to engage in understanding and empathising with each other. Close communication and collaboration between schools and parents/carers may be a protective factor which can support student learning and wellbeing.
5 Empower children and young people to actively participate
Listening to the voices of children and young people and taking them and their experiences seriously, is vital in assisting them to regain confidence and step forward with a sense of security. Encourage and take on their suggestions for wellbeing and recovery ideas within the school.
Continuing and improving child safety at this time is paramount
A commitment to continuing and improving child safety at this time is paramount. The true test of an organisation’s safeguarding capabilities are if standards can be maintained and improved during challenging and uncertain times.
About Child Wise
Child Wise is a social enterprise that exists to ensure the safety of children and young people in organisations where they spend time. We provide child safety training, consultancy and accreditation services to build the capacity of executives, staff and volunteers to meet state and national child safety standards and principles.
Child Wise is able to assist organisations with the development of a suite of policies and procedures to encourage and support an organisational culture of child safety.