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New resource for schools launched to help keep children safe

A website has been launched by the University of East Anglia (UEA) to help school and college staff keep children and young people safe.

Developed by researchers at UEA’s Centre for Research on Children and Families (CRCF), it offers a new framework called ‘iCAN’ to support staff in understanding abuse and neglect from the child's point of view.

Children who are suffering abuse or neglect are more likely to come to the attention of staff through their behaviour, attendance or appearance at school than to actively approach someone to tell.

The website - www.uea.ac.uk/ican/ - draws on insights from children about abuse and neglect and is based on key findings from the research project ‘It takes a lot to build trust’, which was led by Dr Jeanette Cossar at CRCF. The study was funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, in light of concerns that those suffering abuse and neglect may remain invisible if the adults working with them do not notice them and offer support.

At the heart of the research were the voices of young people who took part in focus groups in schools, in interviews and were part of the research team. The researchers also talked to professionals and parents about the challenges of dealing with abuse and neglect.

The website includes free training materials and resources for schools and colleges, while the iCAN framework helps teachers and other school and college staff to be alert to children and young people who may be experiencing abuse or neglect, and to better understand:

  • To what extent children and young people recognise maltreatment and how they decide whether to tell someone about it;
  • How they may show their distress, even when they can’t talk about it;
  • What children and young people think about the help they receive.

Dr Cossar said children can remain hidden for long periods because they do not recognise they are suffering abuse and it is so difficult to talk about it. There are also many barriers to children speaking out about abuse and neglect, for example if it is within the family they may feel loyalty, may fear the consequences of telling, and may not want to upset family members. Adults need to notice when children are troubled, and be curious about underlying problems.

“This website and the framework will help staff in their daily work with children and young people and can be used as part of staff training,” said Dr Cossar. “The resources can help school staff respond sensitively to children and young people, so that children start talking about these kinds of issues rather than repressing them into adulthood. Given all the cases of historical abuse, not only within families but institutions, creating a culture where children are able to talk and professionals notice, listen and act is vital.”

Dr Cossar added: “Some children experience multiple problems over long periods. If they feel they are not noticed or listened to, they will be discouraged from speaking out. If they feel that the response from adults, within or outside of school, is unhelpful or does not change their situation they will be less likely to tell in future. They will also be less likely to think that their problems are worth bothering with and count as abusive.

“However, where children do experience effective help, they are less likely to blame themselves and more likely to turn to adults for help in the future. The framework allows staff to think about the child's experiences across their childhood and adolescence and understand how the help they offer can make a real difference.”

Welcoming the new resource Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “I’ve long called for better support for adults to help them identify child neglect and abuse by listening and observing what a child actually says and does. This new website is a welcome practical tool for those adults best placed to notice changes in a child’s behaviour, those in schools and colleges.

“I’m pleased that much of the basis for the work on iCAN came from adults actually asking children what they thought and thereby put them at the heart and the start of the project. I’d urge all teachers to take a look at iCAN and see it as another useful step forward in keeping children safer.”

The launch of the website supports current Ofsted safeguarding guidance, which has a strong focus on how well schools have embedded a ‘culture of vigilance’ where learners are safe and feel safe.

In addition, the updated statutory guidance from the Department for Education stresses that: all school and college staff members should be aware of the types of abuse and neglect; knowing what to look for is vital to its early identification; and good practice means listening to the views of the child.

The iCAN framework has three areas - recognition, telling and help. When staff are worried about a child or young person it is important to think about what the child might be thinking and feeling – Do they recognise that there is a problem? Are they able to talk about it? What do they think about the help staff offer? Using the framework can help school staff to focus on the child's perspective in order to offer appropriate support.

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