Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

As we move towards re-opening it is time to think about how we safeguard students (both those still at home and those in school) and support staff.  Take a look at our wider re-opening checklist for areas to consider.  Members can download a Word version of the information to use as a checklist.

Safeguarding children is always a high priority for schools, and through the current crisis this need is greater than ever. Rather than discuss education settings’ planning and response to the spread of the virus (see the Department for Education guidance) this page gathers together the experience and plans of DSLs to help education settings plan for their most vulnerable children.

Thank you to everyone on Twitter who contributed to this guide. To add further information please tweet @safernetwork and include #safeguardingcovid.

At the bottom of the page you will find our template for the Covid-19 Annexe to your Child Protection Policy.  Members, when logged in, can also access our template Governor’s Safeguarding Report to cover the Covid-19 period.

Creating a safe culture

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It’s important that we remain supportive and calm for our students during what for some is quite a terrifying time. Click EXPAND to see some of the ideas being implemented in schools to ensure young people are equipped with the facts in a manner in keeping with their age and understanding.

There is huge anxiety about Covid-19, with some substance. Conversations overheard between parents at the school gate in front of children include what happens to people as they die from the virus, the number of beds needed in mortuaries and phrases such as lockdown, isolation and social distancing. The news is filled with disturbing pictures and graphics, including many people wearing masks or other protective equipment. It’s crucial in working with children that we see things from their point of view.

  • Start with the child – talk about coronavirus within school in a developmentally appropriate way – ask them what they know. I observed a group of 6 year olds playing a version of ‘tag’ where one child was the coronavirus and needed to infect the others – it’s great to see them processing things for themselves, but they need some help with adult interpretation.
  • Keep calm, and don’t explain too much – while children need honesty, they don’t need all the detail. If a child asks if they’ll die from this, you can just say ‘no’ rather than go into the potential issues with the Chinese CDC research on a 0.2% mortality rate if they catch the virus.
  • Recognise that many of us are anxious, and we need to deal with staff anxiety so that it is not communicated to students. Some of this is about strong leadership with clear messages and a vision for how the school will come through this situation, for some staff it will be about effective supervision. Ensure staff feel safe, contained and calm before talking to young people.
  • Children should know their role in keeping everyone safe, following the NHS guidance on preventing the spread of the virus.
  • Let children know what is happening in an age appropriate way. Talk about how this might feel, the advantages and some of the challenges, and think together about how you will keep communication lines open.

There is more information on how to talk to children about coronavirus on the Child Mind Institute website.

Planning ahead

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With school sites closed or partly closed there is a need to plan ahead. We explore what work can be done to ensure vulnerable children are identified, risks understood and an interagency action plan formed to keep risks to their health and wellbeing to a minimum.

Keeping in touch

With schools sites partly or fully closed your setting may wish to be engaging with young people, families and staff to help them learn, hold together as a school community and address any safeguarding concerns. There needs to be clarity of expectation around learning, behaviour, communication and the school’s on-going safeguarding duties. There is more information about this in our template COVID-19 Annex to Child Protection Policy below to tailor to your setting.

Keeping in touch with families is crucial. Please ensure your setting has up to date contact details for each child, and for any other person with whom they may live (for example, a child may move in with grandparents or friends while a parent self-isolates or recovers). Keeping Children Safe in Education requires schools to have two contact numbers where possible for families, but good practice suggests three numbers is better. Having a telephone number outside the household could be crucial and save much time if you become unable to make contact with a family at some point.

Consider what kind of contact you are planning to have with families and the point of that contact. Where you have very frequent contact think about what benefit you are offering to the child and the parent. Checking up daily on families without a perceived benefit from their end will quickly be perceived as a lack of trust or form of social control and, unsurprisingly, will be resisted by parents and young people. @helendaykin shared a personal account that schools are in the best place to ensure all children are contacted every day – if adults around them become sick or, in some cases pass away, the school could then alert the authorities. This is a significant endeavour forschools, but there are no other services in such a position and by adapting existing systems and structures this could be quite efficient. While the death rate for children and parents is very low, across the country there are likely to be some children in a vulnerable position.

Where children are absent or not contactable without an explanation schools are under a duty to investigate, including ensuring a home visit is made. This naturally extends to children on the school roll where the school has been unable to make contact. There is more on the duties on schools with links to guidance and regulations  on our Emergency Contact Numbers post. The reasons for this approach are all the greater with the presence of the virus.

For example, one school in Halifax has put in place a system so that most children are registered by 8:45am, by 9am telephone calls are being made to parents and carers, and the DSL advised where no contact has been made by 10am to arrange a home visit. Contact is made with the Police by 11am. The alternative is for a small number of young people, particularly young or disabled children, to be left in the most dire of circumstances.

Reviewing key policies

A school population all at a distance from the school site brings new challenges. You will want to review a number of policies from a safeguarding perspective to ensure they make sense in the light of your new approach.

  • Attendance policy (see government guidance)
  • Children missing education policy
  • Safeguarding policy – think in particular about recording mechanisms, maintaining chronologies, lines of communication to the DSL
  • Online safety & digital wellbeing – especially given most children will be on the internet a lot more. (See distance learning in the event of a school site closure, below)

Does your school have a…

  • Lone working policy
  • Home visiting policy – this should not only include a risk assessment around Covid-19 but also ensure risks to children and other risks to staff are considered
  • Bereavement policy (see school closure section, below)

@ceristokes in an article for TES notes the importance of staff training – are there clear lines of accountability during periods of schools closure. Do all staff still know how to contact the DSL or safeguarding team? Is there a rota for monitoring concerns logged on safeguarding recording systems? How will people have access to information about children if they are not working from the school site?

Considering risk to individual children

We suggest beginning with a risk assessment. Consider each of your more vulnerable children and think about the impact on them and their family of the virus itself (are they in a high risk group?), their own social, emotional, mental health vulnerability and the presence of other risks in the home (such as domestic abuse, sexual abuse, criminal exploitation and so on).

Hypothesise how this might be affected by social distancing or family isolation. Some risks may reduce, others will rise. For example, stresses and pressures in families who have no outlet are likely to increase while the opportunity to escape or seek external support will diminish, so we should have a heightened awareness of the risk of domestic abuse in families. The finanicial situation and potential inability to work is going to cause huge stress which will contribute to this, but also bring about its own risks in respect of poverty.

Think about the actions required to mitigate these risks. Sometimes these may compete – you might be weighing up the potential for infection against the likelihood of more severe consequences if children are not seen regularly. You should have a strong rationale for the actions you and other agencies take – Covid-19 is not the only risk and may not even be the largest risk for some people. It is worth remembering the findings of the Victoria Climbie enquiry (paras 6.240-1) where scabies was considered to be “highly infectious and that any contact with the family home would require [Police and Children’s Services] to wear protective clothing. [The Police Officer] made it quite clear that she was not prepared to conduct a home visit” and an office visit was arranged instead, missing signs of abuse and neglect. There are several parallels with the current virus – risks must be weighed in relation to their relative impact and likelihood.

Don’t do this on your own. @LouiseQuick11 notes the importance of interagency working, linking with the local authority and other involved agencies to ensure children are not at risk of harm. Other agencies who have involvement with a child should also continue to provide services to prevent abuse and neglect. @BenMartin_Edu highlights the nature of these services might change and services may be stretched if there are high levels of staff sickness. Again, working together to prioritise children at greatest risk is crucial if we are to avoid the risk being left with the child and the family.

As closures become more likely it’s important to have open conversations with students about what life might be like without school. While this might seem an enticing prospect for some, experience of Italian parents is that teenagers in particular have found this difficult.

@MrbEducation has shared a take home document on Looking After Your Mental Health. This highlights the importance of activity, sleep, sunlight, routines, self-care and staying connected. There are a range of telephone helplines and some emergency numbers to call. This is also an opportunity to add school or locality specific support available during this time.

During the school site closure

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We’ve drawn on a range of actions across both UK schools and those abroad reflecting on work that can be undertaken with children and young people if they are living at home for a prolonged period.

Distance learning

Attention has naturally turned to distance learning approaches, and @LukeReesEdu in a great infographic helpfully draws out some safeguarding questions to think about if you are looking at introducing this in your school:

  • Does your Student Responsible Use policy consider distance learning?
  • Does your Staff Responsible Use policy consider distance learning?
  • Does your Social Media Policy consider distance learning?
  • Who is accountable for what students are doing online during ‘lesson’ time?
  • Should teachers Direct Message pupils?
  • What implications are there with varying levels of online security in each home?
  • How will you monitor student wellbeing online?
  • What criteria will you use to monitor attendance?
  • What risks are there for staff when filming content at home?
  • What implications are there with pupils and parents sharing staff content on social media?
  • How does distance learning impact children on a child protection plan?
  • What e-safety resources should be shared with parents?
  • How do students authenticate who is contacting them?
  • How do you stay connected with families that have poor home wifi or limited digital resources?
  • What safeguarding checks are essential when adopting new online platforms and how do you make sure they happen?

We’ve lots more information in our Covid-19 Annex to Child Protection policy template below.

Do be cautious about the level of your ambition. Leading a strong school safeguarding culture takes time, skill and effort. A similar approach is needed to create a safe online learning environment. The Developing Digital Leadership March 2020 Bulletin suggests building on your strengths in school, suggesting “this is not the time to change culture and embark on an intense training period” to introduce radical new approaches.

Think carefully too about who might be included and excluded in such an approach. Not all families have fast internet access (or any access at all), families with several children may be sharing devices and the introduction of distance learning may unintentionally make stark the differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. The Independent Schools Council already have schools abroad that have been closed for some time, and some of their accounts have been published by their Digital Strategy Group (@ISC_Digital). They highlight the potential for school laptops to be given to students who may not have access to a device, together with thinking through the range of issues such as background activity in teachers’ or students’ homes which create the potential for safeguarding issues.

Direct contact with students

@ParklandsLeeds have a detailed emergency safeguarding procedure in place and are working to ensure everyone has regular contact from staff – they are reviewing this to include daily contact with children. Children on child protection plans will have twice weekly visits (vulnerable families once weekly) to the family home with doorstep contact and all children being seen. This school has seen provision of food as an essential part of keeping children safe – it is also a great way to ensure doors are opened for professionals. They have plans to provide basic items of food in hampers to the most vulnerable families or those facing financial hardship.

Some schools, such as @romaals, have set up online calling systems such as Skype to keep in touch with children and young people one to three times a week. Systems have been created to record discussions and highlight any concerns.

Suggestions also included reallocating Learning Support Assistants to support safeguarding, pastoral or education welfare tasks, such as home visits.

Managing attendance

You should have a clear expectations in place (see Planning, above) around contact with families. Where children are not in contact as expected schools should follow the Children Missing Education guidance. We’ve anonymised a possible Child Absence Protocol and Procedure shared by one school.  You should have in place a straightforward system for checking attendance – do ensure you have considered the resilience of follow-up calls in the event of staff absence, potentially including that of the DSL.

In the event of the death of a student or parent

The death rate for individuals is very low, but this means in school communities of even just a thousand people there will be deaths of parents, close relatives, siblings or even staff or young people from your setting. It is therefore important to plan for this eventuality with a bereavement policy so that staff know what to do and how to provide support for those immediately involved and the wider school population.

Child Bereavement UK has school specific materials for early years, primary schools, secondary schools and Higher or Further education settings, including procedures for managing a sudden death and exemplar school bereavement policies. The Good Grief Trust (@goodgrieftrust) has a range of resources to help individuals find the help or advice they may need.

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020

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While schools are dealing with a range of concerns in the moment it is important to think ahead to September and the updated Keeping Children Safe in Education. If your staff are working from home this may create an opportunity to provide essential updates and build capacity ahead of the children’s return.

We highlight some of the main changes with some proposals to get ahead of the curve.

Although the draft guidance consultation has been withdrawn we believe the change of emphasis around holistic approaches and supervision have such wide support they are still likely to be implemented – supervision of staff is already part of the inspection of safeguarding guidance for early years, schools and colleges. The proposed changes are summarised in our briefing on the changes. There will hopefully be less reading for staff who are not pupil-facing, but there is a greater emphasis throughout on:

There’s more information on each area in our resource pages – Safeguarding Network members will also get access to training packs for staff when they log in.

Another key change that is worth planning for now is the introduction of safeguarding supervision for all staff who work directly with vulnerable children and in particular for the DSL. We are providing supervision to more schools and are also able to run Safeguarding Supervision training for your school. Contact us for more details.

Should schools close we are exploring the potential to offer webinars on each of the above areas for staff who may be at home, building capacity and preparing your staff team for the new guidance. Please express interest using the registration form below.

 

Q&A

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We’ve a free online DSL forum every Wednesday for members, and we’re also contacted regularly for safeguarding advice. We’re posting a few of the responses here to help the education community. Subscribe to our newsletter below to be kept up to date, or better still join Safeguarding Network and benefit from free, initial safeguarding advice as well as training packs and our free webinar series.

What to do if a family don’t respond to welfare calls?

Responding to this question means taking a few steps back in the process to understand why welfare checks are being made in the first place, and what the implications mights be for the child. The response of the education community nationally has been amazing – many schools are making routine calls to families and ensuring that people remain connected. It’s important though to think ahead and ensure you have a systematic approach as an education setting.

The reasons for welfare calls might vary. Is it about keeping people connected with the school. Do you know the parent is highly vulnerable, and so you’re making checks to see how they are? Do you have such concern for this family that you’re wanting to monitor escalating tensions and provide verbal support to the parent. Each of these scenarios require a different response. Think through the reason for the call and what you are offering to the family. ‘Welfare checks’ might be thought of as a positive support, but be perceived as a lack of trust, or snooping on family life. Think about what will best help the family and who is best placed to have the discussion? Who will they speak to and what do you want them to talk about?

Assess the risk. For many students this will be a universal approach. For some you will want to think a little more carefully about the things you are worried about and the best way to provide support. Using a risk mitigation approach ensures that the time you are investing in contacting the family is effective in reducing the risk to the children or young people. A call at the right time might make all the difference, or in some cases a call might be insufficient to reduce the risk.

What are the possible outcomes for the call? Think through the ramifications if a family don’t answer or don’t want the support. There should be clear steps to manage these. For some there will be immediate concern, for others there may be less worry and a subsequent call or two might be made. Ensure your staff have access to the second and third telephone numbers for the family.

What if we are worried for the child? What are you worried may happen? How likely is it? What is making you think this? These questions will frame your response to the family. If you are worried a child may be abused or neglected you should follow your agency’s child protection procedures. School leaders should ensure staff are clear about the changes to the arrangements caused by home working and through the holiday period. There’s more of this in the template annex to child protection procedures below. If you have an immediate concern that a child is at risk, contact the Police, if necessary on 999. Otherwise, your child protection procedure sets out the steps to take to refer to children’s services.

Not answering a welfare call is unlikely to be a reason for referral on its own. Children’s services are under huge pressure at present so are going to be more focused on areas of imminent risk. If the risk to a child is such that failing to answer a call requires contact with children’s services, then they should already be involved. We know, however, that families are under much pressure and that this increases risk to children. Where telephone contact is not possible and you are worried, consult with school leaders to determine the next steps. Is anyone else involved with the family? Do we have any other contact numbers? Does someone need to go out to see the child or parent?

My school isn’t allowing home visits

We had a very supportive and not a little challenging discussion on this issue at the DSL forum. The dangers from COVID-19 are highlighted repeatedly in the news and there is guidance on steps to take to minimise this risk. It is not, however, the only risk you are dealing with and effective risk management is about balancing the likelihood and impact of the various risks. Rather than a whole school approach there needs to be an individualised approach that takes account of risks to the child or young person, and the risks to staff members. This could include a visit to the doorstep of a home or even offering a school place.

This is supported by the government guidance: “Senior leaders, especially DSLs (and deputies) know who their most vulnerable children are and have the flexibility to offer a place to those on the edges of receiving children’s social care support.”

Got a question…?

We have a weekly online DSL forum for members, and membership also includes free initial safeguarding and regulatory advice. We will research your queries and provide an evidence based response, whether in response to issues like those above or in respect of a concern about a child. Join Safeguarding Network for just £99 a term for immediate access.

In addition to your questions, Safeguarding Network membership includes materials for regular in-house staff safeguarding training, scenarios and discounted elearning such as our Keeping Children Safe in Education knowledge check.

Can I record online one-to-one sessions with young people to protect staff and children?

As with all data it’s important to be clear about the purpose of the recording, to think about consent, storage and security. In education settings you also need to consider whether the recording constitutes an curricular or educational record. Much of this will be in your setting’s Data Protection policy, but as with many things with COVID-19 you may need to add an appendix to address distance learning as no one previously expected teachers to be engaging with students so much online.

The Data Protection Toolkit for Schools is a great starting point and suggests you’ll need to complete a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) as this is similar to CCTV. The following paragraphs follow the structure of a DPIA and you are welcome to use these to inform your assessment.

What is the purpose of the recording? If you plan to use the recordings to judge progress they are likely to constitute an educational record and you will need to think carefully about how they are stored and for how long. The purpose described above is more akin to CCTV recording – your school may already have a Data Protection policy that describes the use of CCTV to provide a safe and secure environment for pupils and staff. You will want to draw on this guidance to consider the use of these recordings part of your public task and add to your current Data Protection policy to cover the new approach. Bear in mind that this approach is more intrusive than CCTV – you’re filming children and potentially other family members in a private dwelling and from close quarters.

How will the recordings be processed? You’ll need to think through the recording process in detail. If you’re using the functionality of the platform to record the meeting consider whether it is being stored remotely or locally. Who has access to the information, how and why will they access it? How will it be deleted?

You will also want to think about the scope of the processing. What information might be collected both intentionally and inadvertently? The retention of the record should be in line with the purpose of the recording. If the intention is solely to ensure everyone’s safety it would be surprising if this information was kept longer than 30 days.

Consent, context and consultation. You will need to think through the potential ramifications of processing the information. What control do children and staff have in this context? How certain are you of the technology and what efforts have you made to explore this? Will you be consulting with your staff, parents and children about the plan? Would you seek any external advice?

Compliance and proportionality. Will recording actually help in your public task of keeping children safe? It is perhaps reasonable to compare a Zoom recording with safer schools practices such as senior leaders occasionally popping by classrooms, doors to areas where individual teaching may occur having a glass pane so passers-by can check on the welfare of those inside without interfering. Is there another way to achieve the same outcome? Perhaps meetings should be moderated instead so someone has oversight but no recording is made?

There is a danger that recordings could begin to be used to support assessment or teaching activity. Perhaps you can manage the situation by preventing the teacher and student reviewing the footage (without a formal request) so that the approval stays true to purpose.

Think through the information being given to children, parents and staff and how the system communicates that recording is taking place.

Consider the risks and measures to reduce these. What could go wrong? Who might access the data, how likely is it the recordings are misused, what safeguards can you put in place to minimise this. Again, if you have CCTV recording you will have similar information, although the Zoom recordings are closer and more personal, and may include recording of the inside of people’s homes.

Are there steps you could take to minimise the invasiveness of the recordings, for example that meetings do not take place in children’s bedrooms and that family members are made aware the recording is taking place?

You should also set out how you will respond if a child protection concern arises. This could be a concern raised by a parent, or a teacher may year or observe something worrying during the call. In these circumstances you must secure the recording to support any child protection investigation in line with your child protection procedures.

Ensure your approach is approved. Your risk assessment will indicate how best to proceed and who should be involved in the approval process. Record their comments on your DPIA. How often will you review the DPIA and who will be responsible for this?

Mental Health and Wellbeing

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Covid-19 has led to an extended period of lock-down. For many families, children and young people this can have a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing. In this section we have links to resources for supporting mental health and wellbeing. Links supplied by mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk

Supporting schools and colleges booklet – the Anna Freud Centre

This free booklet provides advice and guidance for school staff about how to help children and young people manage their mental health and wellbeing during times of disruption to their learning.

Supporting schools video – the Anna Freud Centre

This video provides guidance to those working in schools and colleges about how they can help their pupils manage their mental health and wellbeing during any disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Supporting parents and carers video – the Anna Freud Centre

This video provides guidance to parents and carers about how they can support themselves and their children during any disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Self-care strategies – the Anna Freud Centre

A selection of self-care strategies that have been developed by young people to help manage their own wellbeing. During a time when access to regular appointments may be disrupted or anxiety might be heightened, it might be helpful to try one or some of these strategies.

Helpful information to answer children questions about coronavirus – Place2Be

Talking to your child about the coronavirus – YoungMinds

Coronavirus and your wellbeing – Mind

Worries about the world – Childline advice page

This page includes information on what concerns a child might currently have, for example about the coronavirus, and some things to try to address these worries.

Mood journal – Childline

Children can sign up to Childline’s “locker” and track their daily mood in the mood journal. This might be a helpful way for children to balance their mood during a period of uncertainty.

Calm zone – Childline

A toolbox of activities such as breathing exercises, coping videos, yoga videos and games that can help children feel calm in a period of disruption.

Understanding anxiety illustration – Priory Group

Coronavirus comic strip – NPR

A comic strip to help children understand what the coronavirus is and respond to some common questions and worries they may have.

Tips for if you’re worried about the coronavirus – Newsround video

How to cope when you can’t go to school because of the coronavirus – Newsround video

Wider school opening

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Schools are likely to be opening at different times for different pupils, but most schools will eventually reopen. We’ve gathered together the guidance for DSLs across a range of DfE documents, plus ideas from our DSL online forum and other useful resources to help your DSL plan ahead. This section opens a new page.

We will be updating the content on this page regularly and you can stay in touch by subscribing to our safeguarding bulletin. This is normally fortnightly, but we may send out additional issues if there is substantial new information. Safeguarding Network has always been led by the needs of DSLs – if you feel you and your staff would be able to use time when working from home to join webinars on safeguarding topics, please mark this below and if there is sufficient interest we will set these up.

Enter your details for our free fortnightly safeguarding bulletin

and finally…

Thank you for taking the time to read this Safeguarding Insight. Safeguarding Network supports Designated Safeguarding Leads with monthly in-house training packs covering every area in Keeping Children Safe in Education. This systematic and robust approach is sound evidence for inspection of your school’s safeguarding training programme, but more importantly makes a difference to children and young people by building confidence in staff teams, while saving the DSL lots of time. Membership also includes initial safeguarding and regulatory advice for just £99 a term. There is no tie in and membership will include the webinars, if there is sufficient interest. To join Safeguarding Network click click here or for more information and a tour of the site please contact us.

Template policies

  • COVID-19 Annex to Child Protection Policy template

    This Annex is recommended by the COVID-19 safeguarding guidance published by the Department for Education on 27 March 2020. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ in safeguarding so there is some tailoring to be done, but it gives you a good framework, includes the necessary areas and links to guidance so will hopefully save you a few hours of policy drafting.

  • COVID-19 Template Safeguarding Report to Governors

    The significant change that the lockdown has bought about means that the way that we safeguard children and young people in schools has changed. What has not changed is the need to report to governors. We have developed a template report to provide the high level information that governors need to oversee the strategic approach of the school to safeguarding. As always this is a suggestion and you may wish to adapt to your own needs.