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The importance of Safeguarding in 2021

Anna McCallum reflects on the importance of safeguarding as part of all of our early years work, and steps that she takes to ensure that staff remain vigilant, responsive and professional to signs of harm.

As a Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) it is my responsibility to ensure that all safeguarding documents are correct and up to date. I was recently reviewing my nursery’s safeguarding folder and I came to a worrying realisation that we have had a dramatic increase in cases in just the past few months.

With the way the world has been the past year we should have seen this coming and many of us probably did, but now that the impacts of Covid are becoming clearer we need to address what we can be doing as early years educators to further help our children and families, especially those who are struggling.

The consequences of Covid have created the perfect storm in enabling abuse of all kinds, but for this article I will be focusing on child abuse and safeguarding tips for nurseries.

Over the last year it has been reported that referrals to childcare services have increased exponentially. Why?

Families have been physically stuck together inside the same 4 walls for so long now and with the pressures of home-schooling, financial worries, and lack of personal space tempers are bound to fray and patience is going to be wafer thin. I am not in any way trying to justify why someone would abuse their child, but I am outlining a context that somewhat explains the rise in cases.

Like many other practitioners, safeguarding has always been my least favourite area of training, but it is also one of the most important. Learning about abuse makes my stomach physically churn, but it is something that all practitioners should be made aware of in case they are in the position to deal with it first-hand.

According to government statistics on child abuse, thousands of children are abused every year. Regrettably the true number is likely higher due under-reporting. Adult victims are often unable to come forward, and naturally this is even more likely to be the case with children.

Children are agonisingly unaware that what is being done to them is wrong and so they won’t feel the need to tell anyone. The fact that they are also small and vulnerable sadly makes them an easy target for abuse; children with additional needs are even more vulnerable.

With this in mind practitioners should be aware that it is we that need to be the voice for children that are being abused. It is our duty to look out for signs and symptoms that could be cause for concern and deal with any findings in the most effective, thorough and professional way.

I would recommend all settings to hold safeguarding training for all members of staff, from the most senior to the most junior, and to do it now. Recap the main issues that staff should be aware of, such as the types of abuse, what to look out for and the correct steps to take should they find anything. Discuss the Continuum of Need, SPOA, LADO and summarise how to use these tools at our disposal.

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Safeguarding is a broad and dense topic, so we should try to feed staff information in as simple a form as possible so as not to overwhelm them. I find condensing information in to “the 4 A’s” to be helpful; Abuse, Attendance, Appearance, and Anxiety.

1. For Abuse cover the 4 types being Physical, Emotional, Sexual and Neglect, by discussing the signs of each one. Use this as an opportunity to tie in CSE and CCE. We should also recap that staff should not be making any promises to children and should not over react to what is said to them.

2. For Attendance ensure staff are aware of the need to record any absences and the reasons for them. This will vary setting to setting as this can either fall to room staff or managers, but either way all staff should take note.

3. For Appearance focus more on the image of parents as the appearance of children would have been covered in signs of Neglect in children. Some parents will make sure their children are presentable but if they themselves are looking dishevelled this can be a sign of financial, relationship or mental health issues in adults. Where appropriate we should reach out to parents giving empathetic support and helping them to understand that the role of safeguarding is to keep families together wherever possible, not to tear them apart.

4. For Anxiety address how children might act out when feeling anxious and how changes in behaviour is a prevalent sign through out all types of abuse.

These are only personal suggestions in recapping safeguarding with staff members, ultimately it should be done in such a way that works best for each setting. The aim is to just remind everyone what to do if abuse is uncovered or disclosed to them so that they do not panic if or when it happens. We do not want to scare staff and make them overly apprehensive, but to remind them to be sensibly cautious and remain professional, as the rate of abuse and safeguarding issues is now worryingly at an all-time high.

What are ways that you recap safeguarding for you and your team? Join the discussion and share your ideas and experiences using the hashtag #mynurserylife