Teachers have a responsibility for identifying and reporting any signs of abuse and/or neglect. Teachers must be alert and ready to recognise the signs of abuse including generally neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
If you suspect one of the children in your care is being abused you must not take direct action.
Each school will have a Child Protection Policy which will outline procedures for handling suspected cases of abuse of pupils. This policy will also outline procedures to be followed should a member of staff be accused of abuse. Schools must have a designated person trained to liaise with statutory agencies.
All teachers should make themselves aware of the designated person, familiarize themselves with the procedures and be alert to any signs of potential abuse.
If a child tells you they have been abused this will mean handling the child with tact and sympathy:
- Do not interrupt as you’re in the listening role. Avoid questioning but if you feel the need to clarify your understanding then ensure you use open questions. You must not lead the child in any way, e.g. “Tell me what happened?”
- At the earliest opportunity possible report to the designated senior person in your school ideally the Child Protection Office
- Make a note of the details of any discussions recording the time, date, place and people who were present as well as what was volunteered but not requested from the child
- Do not promise confidentiality. You have an obligation to pass on the information to the school who may then have to pass on information and liaise with other agencies
- You may subsequently be required to support or monitor the child, contribute to an assessment or assist in implementing child protection plans.
Substance abuse is a community issue but ever growing numbers of students in schools, at ever younger ages, are now getting involved with smoking, drinking and drugs. Students find themselves tempted, or feel pressured into experimenting with substances compromising their health and leaving themselves vulnerable. Substance abuse is also closely linked with youth offending, teenage pregnancy, truancy, exclusion and gang related activities.
Statistics show that on average, UK children have their first alcoholic drink at 13 and, by just over 14; hundreds have been drunk for the first time. Similar statistics show growing problems with underage smoking and drug use.
As a teacher you will not have it in your power to stop substance abuse but you can watch for the tell tale signs of students struggling with these issues.
You can teach skills, impart knowledge and help establish a sound values base in relation to health so that students can make informed decisions regarding tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.
By creating a supportive classroom climate where students can discuss, develop decision-making skills, take part in assertion training or role-playing you can empower them and provide them with the vital skills they will need if approached or pressured by peers.
What signs should you look out for?
Young people may from time to time exhibit some of the signs listed below as they meet normal everyday challenges. A combination of signs and factors should be present before substance abuse is suspected and brought to the attention of a senior colleague so they can investigate further. Even when all those factors are present, it may not indicate substance abuse – but simply be a response to the many things that can affect young people.
Marked personality change
A placid, softly spoken student may suddenly become troubled, noisy or abusive. The change may be gradual and apparent only on reflection. Sometimes the reverse may also happen.
Moods may swing from high to low and back again, seemingly without reason, with outbursts sparked by simple events.
Changes in physical appearance or well-being
Changes in weight, sleep patterns and general health may be sudden or gradual. They may include slurred speech, staggering, sluggishness, pinpoint or dilated pupils, talkativeness, euphoria, nausea and vomiting or sores/ rashes around nose and mouth.
Change in school performance
A significant deterioration in performance, especially when a student has been diligent, may be an indicator of difficulties. A rapid change from poor performance to diligence may be equally important.
Increased secretive communication with others
Students make huddle in close communication or move away when approached.
You may find unusual equipment lying around such as torn cigarette packets, small sealable bags or empty aerosols.
Increased need for or supply of money
Buying substances costs money and the more dependent a person is, the greater is their need for money. Student’s parents may comment on their increased need for money or pupils may be involved in stealing. Money, however, is not the only transferable commodity among young people; baseball caps, sports shoes etc may also be traded – so watch for valued items suddenly “going missing”.
Judgement must be considered in the context of the person’s whole life situation. It should be remembered that it may just be typical adolescent behaviour! An adult’s intuition may provide the best warning sign of something being wrong with a student, based on the adult’s knowledge of that person. It may not be possible to be specific or clearly verbalize the feeling of something being wrong, but the adult will know that something is wrong.
What can I do to help?
If an individual or group of students approach you for assistance, you should report this to a senior colleague. Remembering you will have limitations such as available time, confidentiality and expertise so you should refer to or seek the advice from a designated colleague or counselor.
More generally speaking your school will have a colleague able to provide you with details of the school’s schemes of work and policy on issues related to health, including substance abuse.
Every teacher can ensure their students know the importance of self-esteem, positive self-image and identity. You can also reinforce the consequences of unlawful and unsanctioned use of substances in terms of health and the law.
Students can be powerful agents for change when they are encouraged to undertake their own anti-substance abuse action. Outlined below are some suggested activities that students could undertake either in conjunction with the school, student groups and clubs or individually:
- Writing letters to favourite sporting teams and stars asking them not to use drugs or endorse tobacco or alcohol products
- Writing to film, television and magazine producers and editors to object to tobacco and alcohol advertising and promotion
- Promoting positive role models and seeking to establish non-smoking/ non drinking and non drug taking as the normative behaviour for most people
- Surveying local businesses that make inhalant products easily accessible to young people to buy or steal
- Creating anti-smoking, drinking or drug art projects for display around the school
- Using the school newsletter or magazine to promote smoking , drugs and alcohol -free messages
- Helping to revise the existing school policy or curriculum
- Participating in local community parades and festivals with health messages
- Planning a culturally appropriate youth health day
- Designing and painting an anti-tobacco/alcohol/drug mural in the school.
There are many organisations with free materials available for teachers and regular anti smoking, drinking and drugs campaigns which can be highlighted at different time of the year in PHSE lessons or assemblies.
Promoting safety while out and about
Students and especially teenagers are more at risk on the roads than they realise. Most teenagers don’t realise that they are more likely to be killed or injured in a road collision than any other age group. 2010 road casualty statistics for 12-16 year old show there were:
- 11,545 road casualties
- 43 people killed
- 3,936 pedestrian casualties (Of which 15 people were killed and 754 seriously injured).
Help keep them safe:
- stress the need to concentrate at all times
- warn about the dangers of distractions such as listening to music on headphones, texting, phoning or even chatting to friends while crossing roads
- point out people who are endangering themselves with foolish behaviour
- encourage your students to practice judging the speed and distance of approaching vehicles on busy roads and to identify safe gaps in the traffic
- stress the importance of not following others blindly into dangerous situations or taking part in “dares”. It’s better to be a live chicken then a dead duck!
- stress that just because they’re not “small children” does not mean they should not use The Green Cross Code.
Cycling is an enjoyable and healthy activity but a total of 2,881 cyclists under the age of 16 were killed or injured on Britain’s roads in 2011. Teenage boys are six times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on bikes than teenage girls.
Help keep them safe
- encourage your students to wear a cycle helmet, and something fluorescent/reflective to improve their visibility
- discourage your students from taking lifts on the back of a friend’s bike
- remind your students not to listen to music while they are cycling
- make sure students know that cyclists must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals
- encourage your students to give themselves space on the left and not feel they have to cycle close to the kerb if a car behind them gets impatient. By moving further into the road they’ll avoid most drain covers and roadside debris. They’ll also help drivers think more carefully about when it’s safe to pass them
- encourage students to make eye contact with drivers. This will tell you if the driver has seen you or not, which is especially helpful before you make a manoeuvre
- remind students to show drivers what they plan to do in plenty of time making sure they always look and signal before they start, stop or turn, look over their shoulder while indicating
- stress the need to cycle sensibly and to avoid weaving in and out of traffic or changing direction suddenly without signalling
- encourage them to use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless it’s unsafe to do so at the time
- stress the need to give pedestrians priority at all times. Some may be partially sighted or deaf and may not be aware of their presence
- encourage them to use a bell to inform other road users of your presence.
Public transport safety
Safety around trains and train tracks doesn’t always command the same attention that cars or bicycles do, yet trains remain a steadily consistent killer. Each year there are around 400-500 pedestrian train deaths. Many of these involve children and teenagers. Making matters even more dangerous has been the proliferation of high-speed railroad tracks. Not only are the trains travelling much faster and therefore taking longer to bring to a halt, but they are designed to reduce friction against the tracks, which also makes them quieter.
Help keep them safe on buses
- stress that they should not distract the driver
- most school bus related incidents happen to pupils just before they get to or just after they leave the bus so ensure they take greater care at these times
- ensure they know the bus time tables and know what to do if they miss the last bus home
- if they are travelling alone, tell them to sit near other students or families where they are less vulnerable to attack . If they feel uncomfortable for any reason , trust their instincts and change seats
- ensure they remain seated when the bus is travelling as a precaution against injury in the case of a sudden stop or manoeuvre
- keep valuables out of sight
- don’t talk about personal details on your phone while waiting for a bus.
Help keep them safe around trains and tracks
- never climb over or through fences by the side of railway track
- never walk along railway tracks or climb down from platforms to retrieve dropped items
- pay attention on the platform and stay away from the edge
- never throw stones at a train or place anything on the railway tracks
- never climb pylons near railway tracks or fly kites/ use fishing rods etc near railway power lines
- never lean over or climb on railway bridges to prevent falls on to the railway track
- ensure they know the train time tables and know what to do if they miss the last train home
- if they are travelling alone, tell them to sit near other students or families where they are less vulnerable to attack . If they feel uncomfortable for any reason , trust their instincts and change seats or carriages
- ensure they remain seated when the train is travelling as a precaution against injury in the case of a sudden stop
- keep valuable out of sight
- don’t talk about personal details on your phone while waiting for a train.