By: AnnMarie Christian
‘A person’s a person, no matter how small’. Dr Seuss
Since 2008 I’ve been fortunate in having the opportunity to frequently visit and work in Dubai with colleagues in educational establishments, delivering safeguarding training and consultancy. Every child in the world matters.
Child abuse does not discriminate, and internationally we share good practice, creating a proactive approach in raising the awareness of child abuse. This provides children with strategies and tools to use in reporting and deterring harmful behaviours suffered by them from others.
Children have the right to be safe, loved, valued, stable, protected, guided, stimulated and cared for by people around them, including their families and peers. These are echoed with the UNICEF Rights of the Child 1989 https://www.unicef.org.uk/child-rights-partners/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2016/08/CRC_summary_leaflet_Child_Rights_Partners_web_final.pdf and Child Rights Wadeema’s Law 2016. https://www.khda.gov.ae/CMS/WebParts/TextEditor/Documents/Children_Law_English.pdf
Over the last few decades, children’s rights and voices have become more pronounced as we have learnt from non-recent case studies and tragedies, that some adults and children harm children, deliberately or non-intentionally including online abuse.
Harm is categorised into four categories; Physical, Emotional, Neglect and Sexual (PENS). These can happen in person and online. Peer-on-peer abuse is also common, especially when a child harms another child, and is often by a person already known to the child.
It can take place in spaces that are supervised or not. Within a school context, for example, peer-on-peer sexual abuse might take place in lavatories, the playground, corridors or when walking home from school (Contextual Safeguarding Network, 2020).
During the first half of 2018, the Human Rights Department of Dubai Police recorded as many as 42 cases of child abuse in the UAE, compared to 29 in the same period in 2017.
Internationally, we must embed an “it could happen here’’ approach and ‘’Think the unthinkable’’ when working with children; knowing how to intervene and spot signs of child abuse. Research has informed us that children often find it difficult to report abuse they have suffered for various reasons, including; fear, embarrassment, not recognising the behaviour as harmful, unmentionable subjects to name a few. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/reporting-abuse/what-to-do-child-reveals-abuse/
We must remember both genders when we discuss child abuse, as we often forget the boys and concentrate on protecting the girls. As mentioned; Child abuse does not discriminate including gender, religion and race.
Creating a proactive approach to safeguarding children
As human beings, we receive natural warning signs within our bodies that inform us when we don’t feel safe or feel uncomfortable about a situation or person. We often receive warning signs for example; stomach pain, sweaty armpits or palms, heart palpitations, goosebumps or wanting to exit the situation.
Children should be taught about these warning signs as they may be able to seek help when recognising when they happen and tell a trusted person. Resources and conversations in schools and families should be encouraged as soon as children are able to understand about types of harmful behaviours. They will be empowered in knowing how to tell a trusted person they feel will listen and believe them.
Children should also be taught about empathy and how their own behaviour may offend and harm others around them. This is important in creating an environment where children can raise a concern and challenge others about their behaviours. They may not be aware that their behaviour is upsetting another and will need correction and challenging in a supportive way so they can learn how it makes others feel and know not to repeat this.
They are responsible for their own behaviours and partnership work with the school and family is important in creating a proactive approach to safeguarding children and giving them a voice to express their feelings.
Creating a ‘bystander’ model is key in reporting and deterring a person who is carrying out harmful behaviour. Children are taught about the ‘TAG’ approach ‘Tell them they are upsetting and harming you’, ‘Ask them to stop’ and ‘Get help’. RAG is a similar model but we ‘Recognise another person is being hurt’, ask the person if they are OK? And, encourage the person to stop and ask for help. In these situations, we never put ourselves at risk when asking the person to stop.
Teacher support and advice
We must recognise the person causing the harm often has power over the person they intend to or is already harming. The power status is often created in the group the child is in with the other child. Children naturally belong to various groups, for example, classes, friendship groups, year groups etc and every group has a leader, bystander and followers.
Teachers and school staff must be more vigilant when interacting, observing, teaching and working directly with children and young people. Often the person being harmed behaves in a way that indicates they do not want to be in the same space as the other person in their group. They may present as quiet, less vocal, distant, behavioural challenges or attention needing.
The child’s character would be different to their previous character. The person often pursues them including in the online world and may send online requests or comments. The child being harmed may not recognise the behaviour is harmful and not seek help. This makes it difficult to intervene. Teaching healthy respectful friendships is key in introducing positive and negative physical touch, respect, empathy, choice, privacy and consent.
Whether we are covering playground duty, a class, after school club, counselling or providing first aid we must be vigilant in how we interact with children. Who is sitting next to who? In class? On the minibus? In assembly? Is there a sense of awkwardness within the group? What are the group dynamics?
Being the adult and member of staff is welcoming to the person who is powerless because your presence will deter the perpetrator from causing harm and offer an opportunity for a child who wants help.
Well-being of children
The welfare of the child is paramount and we must encourage children and young people to express their thoughts and feelings. Children can start puberty as young as eight years old, so we need to have a conversation and guide them through these challenging times.
There will be times when they will be unable to manage their feelings and have sad times balanced with happier ones. Their body and emotions will constantly change and they will need reassurance from trusted people known to them. Children can access online platforms and communicate online, so it’s important they get advice and support from trusted people in their lives.
Ann Marie is an international safeguarding consultant. A qualified child protection social worker with over two decades of management experience. An affiliated consultant with COIS and BSME. Ann Marie frequently delivers workshops and keynotes at international conferences, over the last few years delivers training and keynotes in Dubai, Singapore, Jamaica, Japan and Armenia.