A safe route to school

Abuse of children is usually carried out by a family member or
carer or by someone who knows them.

Children will be trusting in the presence of people they know,
thus making them vulnerable. So, while “Don’t talk to strangers”
campaigns deliver a sound message, it makes sense to target
resources at educating children to be more aware of when they feel
unsafe even with people they know, and equip them with ways to make
them feel safe again.

In essence, this is the thinking behind the Taking Care project,
a partnership between health, education and social services, which
was set up in Warwickshire in 1999.

“We first worked with 11 primary schools in the county with a
package aimed at under-eights that used puppets and videos to
present safety messages,” says project manager, Ann Seal. “We were
then asked to come up with something suitable for older children
and came across Protective Behaviours – an approach which started
in the US, was developed in Australia and came to the UK about 15
years ago.”

Seal and a colleague took a foundation course in Protective
Behaviours and thought it fitted the bill. She says: “Using a
bought-in resource, we went into schools that agreed to have us. We
ran a four-week series with children looking at feeling safe, how
we feel when we feel safe, how we then know when we don’t feel
safe. The whole process is about recognising our own early warning
signs that we don’t feel safe and thinking about what we can do
about it.”

However, it became clear, if the training was left to just two
people it wasn’t going to be sustainable or reach enough children.
“We also found that schools who agreed to take the materials and
deliver the course themselves didn’t in the end do it,” Seal adds.
Things came to a head when Seal’s colleague left and wasn’t

“By that time I had become an accredited trainer in Protective
Behaviours, and it was agreed to start running training for
teachers and support staff and to put together a curriculum pack,”
says Seal. “Schools now run the four-week course each year and
because the staff are all trained it is hoped that the underlying
messages about feeling safe are embedded in the school ethos.”

The project provides children with a series of resources,
including a set of 12 badges with significant statements (for
example; “I am responsible for me”, “If I don’t feel safe, I will
keep on telling” and “I choose how I behave”) related to their
learning about Protective Behaviours. “By wearing them, family and
friends might ask what they are and that then helps everyone to
talk about things openly,” says Seal.

Involving families has also been crucial. There is a guide for
parents (We All Have the Right to Feel Safe) about Protective
Behaviours and how to encourage their child’s learning in
partnership with the school. Seal says: “When a school is new to
the programme, I always offer to run a meeting for parents just to
explain why the school is involved, what the project is about and
why we need to be doing it.”

The Taking Care project also provides, free of charge,
Protective Behaviours training for anybody – statutory or voluntary
sector – who works with children and families in the county. To
date, more than 700 professional staff have completed this.

Indeed, the project’s figures overall are impressive. By July
2,723 children have been involved, of which 1,227 completed the
work for the first time in the last school year, while 1,395
children have been enrolled for the first time in the current
academic year. Also, 237 teaching and support staff have been
trained on inset days.

With such commendable county-wide commitment to the project it’s
reassuring that so many children will not be a stranger to feeling

Lessons Learned 

  • Secure funding makes all the difference. For the first few
    years the project had no regular funding. However, it received two
    and a half years funding from the Children’s Fund (due to end in
    March 2006). “This stability gave us the impetus to expand it,”
    says Seal.
  • With the pressing need to train teachers, inset date allocation
    has meant that Seal can only train in up to seven schools a year.
    “So we needed other people who could train alongside me on the same
    days,” she says. “At the moment nine other professionals, who are
    spread organisationally and geographically, are training to be
    Protective Behaviours trainers.” The project funds their training
    but the organisations give them the time off to do it.


More from Community Care

Comments are closed.