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Written Statement - Safer Internet Day 2015 – Keeping learners safe

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

Today I would like to contribute to Safer Internet Day 2015 by up-dating Members on action the Welsh Government is taking so that education services play a full and active part in keeping our children safe from the risks of abuse and neglect – including when that risk is online.

Last month, I was pleased to publish new guidance to help keep children and young people safe in education. Keeping learners safe supplements multi-agency safeguarding guidance - Safeguarding children: Working together under the Children Act 2004 - and is designed to support all those in education settings in delivering their safeguarding and child protection responsibilities.

Keeping learners safe was written following a comprehensive consultation exercise with stakeholders. I would like to set on record my thanks to those who care greatly about the safeguarding and protection agenda for their constructive support and engagement in this process.

This is a first step only in strengthening safeguarding arrangements in education. In the coming weeks, we will engage further with stakeholders to seek their views on help required to support the effective and consistent implementation of the guidance, and of robust safeguarding practice. This will enable us to identify the gaps in current understanding and where extra support might be required.

We also intend to help establish an all Wales safeguarding in education group. The group will bring together operational education safeguarding leads from local authorities and other stakeholders to drive forward a work programme to support consistency of practice, procedures and policies throughout Wales.

The Welsh Government has always been very clear that safeguarding is everyone’s business. Effective child protection arrangements can only happen when safeguarding agencies work consistently and collaboratively to protect those most at risk from harm. Social services will always be pivotal to the effectiveness of those arrangements. However, all partners – including education services - must contribute fully to ensure the effective safeguarding. 

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 provides the framework to ensure that agencies with safeguarding duties are supported by more robust leadership and a stronger, more effective framework for multi-agency co-operation. The consultation on the regulations which underpin the Act has just closed. I hope that education stakeholders in Wales have played a full part in that to ensure that the needs of education settings are met fully in the new arrangements.

It is critical that the whole of the education service contributes its own experience of safeguarding both at a policy and practice level to ensure that the systems we have are effective to achieve our common goal of safeguarding all children and young people within education.

Keeping learners safe includes guidance on a range of areas where we already know that some areas of safeguarding and child protection benefit from additional advice and support, and where specific focus is required.

One of these areas is support for learners in accessing and using the internet safely and responsibly. We have awarded a contract to a leading e-Safety provider to partner with us in delivering advice, tools and resources through our Hwb platform, targeting schools and teachers as well as the young people themselves.

The Welsh Government’s approach to safeguarding children and young people online remains that we first teach them to use the internet safely under supervision, and then help them to develop the skills and understanding they need to manage their own risk as they use the internet independently.

Safer Internet Day 2015 is an opportunity for us all to reflect on our contributions to keeping learners safe and how we might make the internet a better – and safer - place for all users in the future.

Keeping learners safe is clear about how education services might identify and respond to concerns on child sexual exploitation, linking with statutory guidance and all Wales child protection procedures to ensure a consistent and clearly understood approach.

We need though to consider how we might provide greater support to teachers and others in education in what is an extremely difficult area of safeguarding. We are presently working with Barnardo’s Cymru to develop an education resource pack to assist everyone in education in talking openly to children and young people about the dangers of sexual exploitation, and risky behaviours that might put them in harm’s way.  

Barnardo’s Cymru was responsible for the development of the Seraf (sexual exploitation and referral assessment framework) which is central to statutory guidance, and we must ensure that this clear focus of approach is maintained and built upon. The education resource pack will be produced as a digital suite of resources that will be promoted and accessed through the Learning Wales and the Hwb websites.  

Last year, the former Minister for Local Government and I wrote to all head teachers in Wales to highlight the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and to reflect the important role that education services play to help safeguard girls who might be at risk.  

We are continuing to work to end these practices by collaborating with agencies and communities to promote awareness and prevention of FGM through training of key organisations and individuals. The Welsh Government held a community based conference - Making Our Voices Heard - to mark International Zero Tolerance of FGM on 6 February.

We have to continue to work hard to improve the knowledge and understanding of this heinous crime and to ensure that we support the voice of people within affected communities who speak out.

Childhood neglect is extremely damaging and is also the most common reason for children entering the child protection system in Wales. In March 2014 45% of children on child protection registers were victims of neglect.

Many people’s understanding of neglect is of poor hygiene, lack of appropriate clothing or insufficient food. Most professionals however understand that neglect is complex, is both emotional and physical and often co-exists alongside other forms of abuse.

The Welsh Government has commissioned the NSPCC and Action for Children to help develop the national Welsh neglect project.  

As part of this project, the NSPCC is seeking to learn more about the capacity of education services to help tackle child neglect at an early stage. Providing early support to children and families, can help stop low level neglect becoming chronic and entrenched - children perform better at school, by providing them with what they need to continue to develop and achieve.

Following a survey of schools, the NSPCC is undertaking focussed discussions with education professionals to explore their understanding of neglect, their role in tackling it, barriers to earlier and more effective responses and potential solutions to enable education services to more effectively respond to neglect at an early stage.

The Welsh Government is taking a firm stand against gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence with the introduction of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill.  The Bill recently completed Stage 2 of the scrutiny process and will establish a legal framework to improve public sector response to gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The Bill is a vital part of a comprehensive package of measures which takes important steps towards ending gender based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence. This includes the introduction of the National Training Framework.

We know there is a strong link between domestic abuse and the abuse and neglect of children. One in three child protection cases shows a history of domestic violence to the mother. Young people in violent households are more likely to be injured and abused, either directly or while trying to protect their parent. One in five cases dealt with by the NSPCC involves domestic abuse.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important to strengthen our response to safeguarding and protection arrangements through Keeping learners safe.

A lot has been done. There remains a lot to do and there is never room for complacency. Keeping learners safe will place considerable focus on this work and will clarify the role of education services in contributing to a multi-agency response to areas of safeguarding. But it is work in progress only. We will continue to find ways to ensure our arrangements continue to be the very best.

Protection comes in many forms, including self-protection. One of the best ways to safeguard our young people is through awareness, education and giving young people the confidence to respect themselves and to stand up for what they know is right.

Constructive enablement is crucial. Our rights based agenda supports that approach, but the Welsh Government, statutory agencies and third sector organisations must work hard to support them every step of the way

I would encourage everyone whose work and lives brings them into contact with education services in Wales to ensure that our children and young people remain safe while they learn. Keeping learners safe and Safer Internet Day 2015 will help support those in education services to make sure that is the case.

We need to maintain a very strong focus on safeguarding and I invite all Assembly Members to join me in helping to ensure that becomes a reality.