Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
The importance of procedures to protect children from abuse or neglect is widely appreciated. But what if the allegations of abuse are made against a member of your staff? Or perhaps even you? PJ White sets out the best way to react.
1. Keep calm. Think things through carefully, but without delay.The child’s safety is paramount, and will guide what you do. But don’t lose sight of the needs of the adults involved. You won’t want to cause unnecessary harm to the reputation of the project, either. Keep an open and inquiring mind. You are not being asked to judge the truth of anything, just to act properly on the facts you are given.
2. For instance, don’t rush into suspension.If the child appears to be in danger, or if the charges amount to serious misconduct, suspension of the member of staff may be quite proper. It is, in theory, a neutral act not a punishment. But if the accusations are not grave, or not well supported, there may be other ways. Agreed paid leave of absence or a shift to other duties can be alternatives.
3. In the overwhelming majority of cases involving allegations of physical or sexual abuse against teachers, no further action is taken. So says the teachers’ union NASUWT, which is campaigning for anonymity for those accused. It has compiled statistics since 1991 showing that of 1,931 allegations, just 74 have so far led to a conviction.
4. Listen carefully to the child or children involved. Do not ask leading questions. Do not contradict them or suggest alternative scenarios or explanations. Keep good records of who said what and when, and what you do and why. Communicate them properly to those who need to be told, including the accused member of staff where appropriate. Many of these procedures will be set out in your organisation’s child protection procedures. If you feel you need training, ask for it.
5. In many cases, the media gets to hear of allegations through parents or children. You may not want this to happen, so it can be useful to get advice about dealing with the press and advise the member of staff as soon as possible if media coverage seems likely.
6. Never do nothing, even if an allegation is ludicrous and obviously disprovable. A child who makes an obviously false allegation of abuse may be revealing problems of abuse elsewhere, which need exploring. Communicate any evidence you have that an allegation seems false, but follow the guidelines and allow the child’s whole situation to be investigated.
7. Obtain immediate legal advice if allegations are made against you, says FACT, a voluntary organisation supporting falsely accused carers and teachers. It recommends consulting your trade union, professional association, or Citizens Advice Bureau. Never speak to the police without your solicitor present.