Back in the day
It’s an awfully long time since I was at junior school but certain things and people stay with you for a variety of reasons. Like the school nurse, the headmaster and the classmate whose sunny personality went away when we were about 9 years old. For this blog we will call her Jane.
Our school nurse had many roles and responsibilities. She didn’t only tend to our cuts and bruises and called home when we had temperatures or had been sick. Our school nurse also had the role of safeguarding officer before it was an actual job.
Certain children went along to the nurse’s room when they arrived at school each day. I didn’t know why at the time but I knew these children were quieter than others, were often alone in the playground and walked home unaccompanied. The same group of children were called in first to the dining hall at lunchtime. They sat with the school nurse, the headmaster and other teachers to eat their meal.
Wearing her safeguarding officer's hat, the school nurse had these children come to her office each morning so a professional saw them and could confirm their physical state. Some of the children were also given breakfast in her office as this was often something they had not received at home. The purpose of the children going into lunch first was again so a professional could confirm that they had eaten a hot meal, maybe the only one they received that day.
Jane was a girl who had been in the same class as me since we started school when we were aged 4, and became one of these children. I think because she hadn’t always been one of this little group it came to my attention, and also because she was in my class though not someone I usually played with. Her parents were divorced and her mum had 1 further child (a boy) through another relationship. It was around that time when I started to notice a change in her. Jane’s mother remarried and changed Jane’s surname to her husband's and her half-brother’s surname. Jane hated her new name as it rhymed with dirty so she was made fun of by children who didn’t know any better. Contact with her natural father and her father's family was severed; I don’t know the reason for this.
We wore uniforms at our school but at the start of a new term Jane stopped wearing one and instead wore a navy-blue tracksuit and plimsolls virtually every day. Jane started to go to the nurse’s office each morning for breakfast and went into lunch first along with the little group and sat with the nurse and other teachers. Jane was now late for school and her attendance had dropped; she was also walking home alone. Gone was the chatty, dancing sunflower of a little girl I had known and in her place was a quiet little mouse who cried a lot and more often than not was alone or with the children who spoke little or no English at break times. I didn’t see bruises or cuts on Jane but I am told there were some. She was unkempt, with lank unwashed hair and as I already mentioned tended to wear the same clothes nearly every day. As the days grew colder she was sometimes seen to arrive at school with no jacket or coat. On the exceedingly rare occasion she was collected from school, Jane would be hurried away from school premises and she would scurry to the backseat of the car driven by her stepfather.
When we were in our last year of junior school, Jane stopped coming to school altogether and we were told that her family had moved away from the area. We didn’t see Jane for about 4 months but then she returned to our school. Jane told us that she was living with foster parents and was back in contact with her father but couldn’t live with him although she saw him regularly. We asked her where she had been for 4 months and she told us that she had been in Ireland for some of the time and then back in England. Jane said she saw her mum sometimes but not her stepdad or her half-brother. Jane’s personality changed yet again; she became disruptive in class, always seeking attention from the teacher, picking fights with children tougher than her so she was often on the receiving end of a well-aimed punch, slap or kick. Jane was often bullied as she was seen as an easy target and spent a lot of the school day outside the door of the headmaster's or nurse’s office. Sadly, this was Jane’s experience of her final year at junior school. We went off to our secondary schools in the September and I never saw her again.
I often wonder to this day what became of Jane as she didn’t attend a secondary school in the immediate area. I told myself that Jane moved away and had a better life, because to allow any other thoughts would make me incredibly sad.
1970’s safeguarding bears no resemblance to the safeguarding today. That said, I think without the measures put in place by my junior school and other establishments, such as ensuring the children at risk had a hot meal Monday to Friday during term times and that they were seen by a professional each school day, a lot more children would have come to serious harm.
In 2002 Safeguarding became a requirement in all schools, including nurseries, early years, and further education providers as part of the Education Act 2002. In 1989 The Children Act 1989 gave every child the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and the right to have inquiries made to safeguard their welfare. However, it was way back in 1889 that The Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of, Children Act was passed allowing police to arrest anyone mistreating a child and enter homes to prevent danger to children.
Over the years Acts to protect children have been updated and amended, sometimes in response to reports or tragic failures of policy or procedure that led to the death of a child. The following list contains just a few and were some of the ones that made headline news. Sadly there have been many, many more.
*1973: The death of 7-year-old Maria Colwell led to the establishment of our modern child protection system.
1984: Further changes were prompted partly by the inquiries into several other child deaths, including 4-year-old Jasmine Beckford.
1989: The Children Act 1989 established the legislative framework for the current child protection system in England and Wales.
2000: The death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie led to Lord Laming’s report (2003) which led to sweeping changes to the way children's services were structured in England and Wales.
2002: The deaths of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham led to the strengthening of legislation across the UK to protect children from adults who pose a risk to them.
2004: The Children Act 2004, informed by Lord Laming’s report, established a Children’s Commissioner in England.
2008: The death of 1-year-old Peter Connelly led to further reviews of social service care in England by Lord Laming, with the House of Commons debating the case.
District Safeguarding Officer
Beds, Essex & Herts District