I am James Sykes, Safeguarding in Education Consultant for Hackney Learning Trust and chair of the Schools workstream for the Contextual Safeguarding Project in Hackney.
Firstly, some context. My current responsibility is to support schools and educational settings to discharge their statutory responsibility to safeguarding children and promote their welfare. This demands that I develop good relationships with a range of educational establishments and develop guidance, policy and training resources.
I volunteered to become involved in the Contextual Safeguarding project here as it seemed to resonate very strongly with my current and previous experiences working for an LSCB, managing youth participation projects and providing advocacy services to children and young people. In working with children looked after, those interacting with youth justice and those experiencing CSE, I became acutely aware that many of our professional responses were ineffective and, in some circumstances, not fit for purpose when trying to intervene effectively with complex risks outside of the home. It seemed to me that some children and young people became written off, they were too hard to reach, too resistant to change, sceptical of professional support and rejecting of interventions. How had we got here? I’d wonder, what are the answers? How do we support change? At times the answers laid beyond my understanding and influence; at others (ably supported by those more skilled and informed than me) I impacted positively in lives and systems.
With this in mind I’m particularly excited about the Contextual Safeguarding project effectively supporting schools as a core safeguarding partner. It seems entirely sensible to engage with children and young people in spaces and places that they already, in most cases, engage with. As the work develops it has been essential to present information to Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs). This has taken many forms from organising forums where the project team have presented the project, regular updates via online platforms and embedding contextual thinking in our training for leads. This ongoing work has gone some way to bridge the knowledge gap between the organisations involved and, I hope, a better understanding of the complexities DSLs in schools face in working with children and families alongside the broader safeguarding partnership.
The reach of the project is incredibly wide for the education sector, from rewriting polices to engaging with external agencies and thinking contextually about their setting whilst exploring the experience of exclusion in children and young people’s lives. Schools are encouraged to undertake self-assessments and map how safe children feel in school and online. This work to better understand children’s experiences is essential if we are to better respond to their lived experiences. Whilst this breadth may be initially confusing a whole system approach to better understanding extra-familial risk and developing new (dare I say better) interventions is critical if we are to have the impact we want. And this is where young people must be, at the centre of what we do, as active participants in their communities, empowered to be agents of change.
Buy in from school leads needs nurturing: this is being achieved by communicating their integral role in developing safe relationships and spaces and cannot be overemphasised. A rebalancing of the relationships between teachers, social workers, youth workers and the police is ongoing in Hackney supported by our working in health, youth justice, domestic violence and mental health. This opportunity may not easily present itself again and we must work together to deliver the safety and support our children need.