If you are approached by a child the most important thing to remember is that you cannot guarantee complete confidentiality. You must explain that you may need to pass information to other professionals to help keep the child or other children safe.
The way in which a member of staff talks to a child who discloses abuse (or any potential criminal offence e.g. FGM) could have an effect on the evidence that is put forward if there are subsequent proceedings. It is important that you:
- do not jump to conclusions
- do not ask leading questions
- do not put words in the child's mouth
- do record the conversation, in writing, as soon as possible distinguishing between fact, observation, allegation and opinion.
It may be that a child does not speak to you, but that you become concerned about a child's welfare. You may notice a change of behaviour, a change in appearance (i.e. the child appears unwashed, thinner, withdrawn) or a change in attendance. Any change can be an indicator of many different issues – for example weight loss may be a sign of an undiagnosed medical condition. It is not necessarily the case that a change in appearance or behaviour is a sign of abuse or neglect. All you can be expected to do is speak to the designated person at your establishment to express your concerns.
It is not your responsibility – or that of your school/college – to investigate suspected cases of abuse. However, if you do have any concerns about a child you should report them to the designated safeguarding lead at your establishment.
You do not need to do anything beyond the procedures established by your school/college. If you feel that any concerns have not been dealt with you may wish to speak to the local authority children's social care department or to the police.
Should I search a pupil's phone?
No. ATL does not believe individual teachers or support staff should be expected to search mobile phones or any other electronic device, and certainly not speculatively on the off-chance it contains inappropriate images. Sometimes you may witness inappropriate behaviour directly. For example, it may become evident during a lesson that sexting has taken place. One pupil may have sexted another pupil only for the image or video to be passed around the recipient's friends; or a child may come to you distressed that an image of them has been forwarded on, or shared on Facebook, Twitter or through another social media site. If you have concerns or a pupil approaches you report the matter to the designated safeguarding lead. ATL would strongly advise members against taking any action themselves (i.e. deleting the image) for their own safety.
The Education Act 2011 introduced significant powers allowing schools to seize and search an electronic device if they think there is good reason for doing so. This power has not been properly tested and searching a device may cause more distress to the child. ATL does not believe that teachers or other staff should be expected to search mobile phones. A search should only be carried out if the conditions below are met.
A device can be examined, confiscated and securely stored if there is reason to believe it contains indecent images or extreme pornography. When searching a device the following conditions should apply:
- the action must be in accordance with the School's child protection and safeguarding policies
- the search is conducted by the headteacher or person authorised by them
- a member of the safeguarding team is present
- ATL is of the view that the school or college should exercise common sense in deciding the sex of the member of staff who searches the device, in that it should be the one least likely to cause distress to all parties involved.
If any illegal images of a child are found you should consider whether to inform the police. The ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) has expressed the view that they do not support the prosecution or criminalisation of children for taking indecent images of themselves and sharing them. Your school or college may conclude that there is a difference between "experimental sharing" and "aggravated sharing" i.e. the image is passed around to a wider audience than the sender intended. Each case should be judged on an individual basis but remember:
- It is not your responsibility to decide whether or not an individual is prosecuted.
- If the matter is not reported to the police the reasons for this should be recorded in writing.
- Do not print out any material for evidence or move it from one storage device to another. If you do, you could be committing an offence of disseminating, reproducing or downloading pornographic material.
What should you do if you feel the designated safeguarding lead has not taken any/sufficient action?
Occasionally, there may be cases where a member of staff reports concerns but cannot see any evidence that action has been taken. If you have concerns about a child's welfare but you do not think your establishment has done anything/enough about those concerns you can report the matter directly to the local authority children's social care, alternatively you could report your concerns to the police.
If you have concerns about the safeguarding procedures, policies or training that your school or college has in place then you may wish to speak to your school, governing body or, as a last resort, Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate.