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  • Writer's pictureHelen Haydock

Ensuring Child Safety in Schools: A Parent's Guide

A group of children walking together, wearing backpacks
A group of children walking together, wearing backpacks

There has been a lot of attention on schools in recent weeks. The Board of Enquiry into historical child sexual abuse in Beaumaris Primary School and certain other government schools delivered its report to the Governor on 26 February 2024. It is also reported that nearly 400 Victorians are taking legal action over alleged abuse at more than 200 schools across the State. Other news reports have highlighted sexual harassment of teachers and students, and inappropriate responses to complaints. Whilst the Board of Enquiry was particularly focussed on historical cases it is important to note that this is an ongoing issue.

As a parent/guardian this can feel quite scary. We drop our children off at school and assume that they will be safe. It is important that we remember that the majority of teachers have our children's best interests at heart, but it is clear from reviews, criminal cases and the media that there are still risks.

As a professional working in this space I always start my workshops by explaining that whilst most people working with children do so for all the right reasons, anywhere that provides a service to children can be a place where children experience harm. Sometimes this is due to a lack of policies, procedures, resources and staff training and sometimes it can be because perpetrators have targeted the organisation with an intention to harm children.

This might sound scary but there is actually some positive news. We do have a roadmap for how to address this risk. Across Australia we have The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. In some states this has been enshrined through legislation such as The Victorian Child Safe Standards, The NSW Child Safe Standards and the Tasmanian Child and Youth Safe Standards.

I have written previously about what a Child Safe Organisation looks like here and here.

As a parent/guardian there are things that you can look out for and questions you can ask your school to ensure that they are prioritising the safety and wellbeing of your children.

Questions to ask yourself
  • Do I feel welcome at my child's school?

  • Does the school communicate with me in a way that I can understand?

  • Do I know who I can speak to if I have concerns?

  • If I have raised concerns in the past have I been listened to, acknowledged and provided with a response?

  • Can I access relevant policies? Are they up to date?

  • Do my child's teachers appear suitable to be working with children? Would they know what to do if there was an issue impacting the safety of a child in the school?

  • Does the school provide opportunities to give feedback?

  • Are there opportunities for families to have involvement with the school? (Parent committees, volunteering etc) If so what processes are in place to ensure safety (Working With Children Checks, Codes of Conduct, Staff supervision etc)

Questions to ask your child
  • What do they enjoy most about school?

  • Do they feel welcome?

  • Who would they go to at school if they had a concern or something was wrong?

  • What opportunities are there for the children at school to have a say in decisions affecting them? (Student councils, feedback opportunities etc)

Questions to ask the school
  • Have they implemented The Child Safe Standards (VIC/NSW/TAS) or The National Principles?

  • What child protection training have staff received and how often do they do it?

  • Can you access their Child Safety and Wellbeing Policy (or other relevant child safety policies), Code of Conduct and complaint handling policy?

  • How are staff, volunteers and contractors assessed for suitability to work or around children?

Things to look out for
  • How do teachers and other staff interact with children?

  • How do teachers and other staff interact with each other in the presence of children?

  • How involved are senior staff and leadership in the day to day interactions between teachers and students?

  • Is child safety information displayed within the school or communicated to families regularly?

Keep following our blog for more child safety related content. If your school is looking for Child Safety training they can contact Growing Futures for further information.


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