Safeguarding in the context of COVID-19: guidance for DSLs
‘In some respects, it’s different… in others, safeguarding is exactly as it always should be.’ Dai Durbridge, Partner, Browne Jacobson LLP
The principles of safeguarding remain the same – children’s best interests must come first. Safeguarding concerns must always be shared. There must always be a designated safeguarding lead or deputy available.
1. Get your policy annex in place
Your child protection policy annex should be drafted, finalised, sent to governors for sign off and disseminated to all staff to read and digest. Use our example annex which you can tweak to your setting before signing off through the normal channels and ensuring it is on the website. Use the accompanying training quiz to evidence and ensure staff understand safeguarding in this context.
It is best practice to review this policy annex weekly as well as reacting to any new or updated guidance from the DfE.
2. You’re not alone: share and access support
DSLs are feeling exposed and isolated in many contexts, especially where working remotely. We are all in a new boat, and in it together, so sharing learning is important, especially as there are many differing levels of experience among DSLs. Remember there is support available from other DSLs, the local authority and consultants.
The polls in these webinars showed most DSLs (just over half) are carrying out their role through online and telephone support. Around a quarter are operating onsite, often on a rota basis. More schools may need to plan ahead to share a designated safeguarding lead from another site, in case their own DSL is unable to work (see number 4 below).
3. Using video calls and telephone support to check in with pupils
Some staff have reported feeling at risk and vulnerable carrying out remote safeguarding checks. Dai explained that the risk is, in fact, reduced since there is no physical contact and online contact can be recorded. So, with sensible protocols in place, there needn’t be safeguarding or GDPR issues with online contact.
4. Share the load and plan for contingencies
Plan ahead and think now about whether you have a buddy school – someone who can support if your safeguarding team get ill. Where a safeguarding lead is not onsite, the department recommends a senior leader takes this role onsite. It is important to consider who this is and how to have good links and communication.
Establish networks with other safeguarding leads for regular catch ups to discuss questions and concerns and share what is working. Delegate and look at supervision for DSLs; make sure you have a listening ear for your own wellbeing.
5. Continue to practice safer recruitment
Remember to carry out the usual safeguarding induction of any new staff. If you are using staff from other schools or settings, request confirmation that all checks have been completed. Setting up a separate column called COVID-19 on your single central record will enable you to log that you have this confirmation for any additional staff onsite.
Continue to think about how staff can stay up to date with safeguarding training.
6. Stay in contact with pupils with a triage system
The majority of pupils may not be on site. To reduce the pressure on the DSL, spread the responsibility for checking in with children across the staff team. You might need to call those on child protection plans yourself but consider who would be the best person to check in with other pupils.
To triage the risk, use a system of red, amber and green to get clarity over what to best do for different categories of children. Each school has the discretion to decide who meets the category of ‘vulnerable’ and should be offered a place in school. Use a similar system, perhaps based on your multi-agency framework, to ensure consistency and evidence these decisions.
If there are children on site from other settings, be sure to have a clear system for logging and following up on concerns
Some may need daily check-ins, others once a week. Delegate across class teachers and most appropriate staff – this is a whole staff and whole school response.
The feedback loop is crucial between all staff and designated safeguarding leads and their deputies. All concerns must be passed on as usual. Using online services to log and monitor safeguarding concerns is very helpful in this context. If there are children on site from other settings, be sure to have a clear system for logging and following up on concerns.
7. Be aware of reduced social worker visits
There is a shortage of social workers and the reality is that home visits are fewer. Families may not welcome others into their homes in the COVID-19 context.
Continue to link in with social workers and other agencies as normal and to escalate where you have concerns.
8. Maintain transfer procedures for children in new settings
DSLs should co-ordinate and lead on this. Reflect on your usual procedures and share information with a new setting as you would with a transfer, so that the receiving school can risk assess, is aware of vulnerabilities and has contact details for the family and their social workers.
9. Check contact details and communications
In some local authorities, social workers are emailing to confirm their mobile numbers and explain they will be calling from that number about a case. Appropriate checks can be made via email ahead of information sharing.
Remember to check with police how domestic abuse notifications are being sent through. It is important to check your main school number and answerphone are staffed and checked.
Virtual heads will lead on support for looked after children.
10. Share helplines and continue practical support
Remind families and staff of domestic abuse helplines, online safety and debt management information. Consider sending home sanitary products where young people rely on them in school along with food parcels and signposting to food banks.