Emergency Contact Numbers

Tragic events in 2016 which led to the death of a young child have highlighted the need for schools to have more than one emergency contact number for every child in school.

In October 2016 a four year old boy was found dead alongside his mother’s body.

Chadrack Mulo was known to have been on the autistic spectrum and was also reported to be mute.  It is believed that his mother had died suddenly whilst having an epileptic fit at some point during the weekend prior to him missing school.  Chadrack is understood to have been likely to have not known how to call for help or to feed himself.

The school only had one number for the family which was for Chadrack’s mother.  School staff were concerned about the unexplained absence and attempted to make contact by phone.  They also undertook two home visits, but were unable to gain access to the block of flats where the family lived.

Chadrack and his mother were found when Police forced entry around two weeks later.

Legislation

s.5(1c) of the Education (Pupil Registration)(England) Regulations 2006 states that:

5.—(1) The admission register for every school shall contain an index in alphabetical order of all the pupils at the school and shall also contain the following particulars in respect of every such pupil—[…]

(c) the name and address of every person known to the proprietor of the school to be a parent of the pupil and, against the entry on the register of the particulars of any parent with whom the pupil normally resides, an indication of that fact and a note of at least one telephone number at which the parent can be contacted in an emergency; [emphasis added]

There is no legislation that sets out how long schools should wait before a home visit is conducted.

Keeping Children Safe in Education 2018

Following the death of Chadrack, it is now proposed that best practice is that schools hold more than one emergency contact number for each pupil.  KCSiE 2018 acknowledges that this goes beyond the legal minimum but rightly identifies that this gives the school or college additional options to make contact with a responsible adult when “a child missing education is also identified as a welfare and/or safeguarding concern”.

There are two key things of note:

  • this does not restrict schools to contact details of parents, but anyone identified as a “responsible adult”.
  • this does not just include primary schools, but all schools and colleges.

Home visits

Government guidance in relation to Children Missing Education identifies that all schools (including maintained, academies and independent schools) have a safeguarding duty and that “as part of this should investigate any unexplained absences” (para 21).  Paragraph 37 then sets out that:

37. When the whereabouts of a child is unclear or unknown, it is reasonable to expect that the local authority and the school will complete and record one or more of the following actions:[…]

k. home visit(s) made by appropriate team, following local guidance concerning risk assessment and if appropriate make enquiries with neighbour(s) and relatives.

As a result of the death of Chadrack, the school where he was a pupil will now immediately send a member of staff to the family home if they are unable to make contact with a relevant adult.  If there is no answer to that visit then they will contact the Police requesting a welfare visit (the Police may then force entry if they suspect a welfare concern).

What needs to happen?

Schools will therefore need to have a clear policy in place about how unexplained absences are dealt with.  This should include:

  • determining when the first phone call to a family should be made (we would recommend that same morning);
  • what should happen if there is no contact made with the family;
  • when a visit should be completed and who will be tasked with undertaking this visit;
  • what should happen if there is no answer upon visiting.

This will however also require schools to make the differentiation between a welfare concern and an attendance issue – this should be done on a case by case basis considering everything that is known about the child and their family, and schools will need to determine who in the school is deemed to be able to make this decision.

It is important that this is also communicated to families so that they are clear about the need to make contact with the school if their child is not going to be in that day, along with regular reminders.