Ruth Hawkins, of Turpin & Miller LLP 

NOW that the schools are back, I thought it might be helpful to have a recap about schools’ and others’ legal responsibilities for child protection.

The Education Act 2002 came into force in June 2004, and arose as a result of several high-profile serious case reviews including the Victoria Climbie Enquiry.

Sections 175 and 157 place a legal duty on local authorities to exercise their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children who are pupils at a school, or who are students under 18 of age attending further education institutions. The same duty applies to independent schools.

The legislation now goes further and states that safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility.

Everyone who comes into contact with children and their families and carers has a role to play in safeguarding children.

In order to fulfil this responsibility effectively, all professionals should make sure their approach is child-centred. This means that they should consider, at all times, what is in the best interests of the child.

In the Victoria Climbie Enquiry, one of the most striking findings was that of all the dozens of agencies and individuals who came into contact with little Victoria, including health, social services, police and so on, the two individuals who actually raised the most alarm were a childminder and a taxi driver.

The taxi driver had been asked to drive Victoria and her aunt to church and refused to do so, saying the little girl looked too unwell, and even when the aunt tried to insist, he drove them to the nearest hospital, although sadly for Victoria it was too late to save her life.

So there is a duty on any one of us, but particularly those who work with children and young people, to take safeguarding seriously and to take steps quickly and appropriately. That can include youth groups, choirs and football clubs, etc.

All schools and colleges and settings such as nurseries and childminders, have to have policies dealing with safeguarding, as well as staff behaviour or conduct and whistleblowing policies, and a designated safeguarding lead, and it must be known who they are and how they can be contacted.

They are expected to make sure that all new staff have regular (now annual) safeguarding training, which under more recent legislation also now includes training on anti-radicalisation and the steps that staff are obliged to take if they think that a child or young person might be being radicalised.

It also covers child sexual exploitation concerns (highly relevant here in Oxfordshire in recent years, sadly), forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

For some time, schools have had to vet their staff, and the CRB checks from a few years ago have moved on to the Disclosure and Barring Service checks of today. This would not just be for teaching staff but anyone working in a school, and includes volunteers, such as school governors and volunteer readers, etc.

If a school or agency thinks a child is at risk of abuse, then they must refer the matter urgently to their safeguarding lead, who will consider what steps to take. This will include speaking to the child to consider whether a call needs to be made to social services or the police.