Recognising child abuse is not easy, it is not our responsibility to decide whether or not child abuse has taken place or if a child is at significant risk of harm from someone. One does however, have both a responsibility and duty, as set out in our organisation’s child protection procedures, to act in order that the appropriate agencies can investigate and take any necessary action to protect a child. Preventing child abuse is considered a high priority, and detailed laws and policies exist to address this issue. The Children Act 1989 ‘the welfare of the child is paramount’ it gave every child the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and the right to enquiries to safeguard their welfare’. Also in this year 1989 The United Nations Convention was signed on the rights for the child, it is legally bound and must be followed-it is the most complete statement of children’s rights treaty in history. It is not only men who harm children according to Balbernie (2004) ‘There is the stereotype that it is men who are abusers,’ But that is not so.
It is less common among women, but it happens – and more than we would like.’ But he says from his research into the 800 cases reported to him, he believes that the more likely figure is that 20% of all sexual abuse is perpetrated by woman. Balbernie (2004) says ‘I don’t understand why people get so upset that a woman is involved, Women do this sort of thing. I think people get upset because we idealise women and motherhood and it breaks that idealism that men are rotter’s and women are angels of life’. There are four types of child abuse. They are defined in the UK Government guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010 (1.33 – 1.36) as follows: Physical abuse, Emotional abuse, Sexual abuse, Neglect. Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child either directly by inflicting harm, or indirectly, by failing to act to prevent harm. Physical abuse: Most children will collect cuts and bruises as part of the rough-and-tumble of daily life. Injuries should always be interpreted in light of the child’s medical and social history, developmental stage and the explanation given.
Most accidental bruises are seen over bony parts of the body, e.g. elbows, knees, shins, and are often on the front of the body. Some children, however, will have bruising that is more than likely inflicted rather than accidental. Important indicators of physical abuse are bruises or injuries that are either unexplained or inconsistent with the explanation given, or visible on the ‘soft’ parts of the body where accidental injuries are unlikely, e g, cheeks, abdomen, back and buttocks. A delay in seeking medical treatment when it is obviously necessary is also a cause for concern, although this can be more complicated with burns, as these are often delayed in presentation due to blistering taking place sometime later. Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.
Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child. Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.
It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone. Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males.
Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children. Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to: provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment); protecting a child from physical and emotional harm or danger; failing to ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or failing to ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs. Nursery worker Vanessa George was found guilty of abusing children in her care. Plymouth City Council initiated the serious case review into what happened at Little Ted’s, in Laira, so that lessons could be learnt. It was apparent that Little Ted’s did not provide a safe, positive environment for children in its care, the review stated.
Vanessa George was able to sexually assault infants in her care unchallenged because the nursery where she worked provided the “ideal environment” for child abuse. Poor regulation, inadequate training, missed opportunities, weak management, poor supervision, lack of safe recruitment procedures, an informal recruitment process, lack of formal staff supervision and a culture of “don’t complain”, allowed George the perfect condition in which she could carry out her offences. The serious case review severely criticised the management of Little Ted’s nursery the management culture allowed the abuse to happen and lessons needed to be learned, though it tempered this by concluding there was no indication “any professional could have reasonably predicted that George might be a risk to children”. But it also said there appeared to have been a “complete lack of recognition” that her increasingly strange behaviour after the break-up of her marriage had crossed boundaries.
Colleagues were worried about sexual conversations and how Vanessa George showed off indecent pictures of adults on her mobile phone but never challenged her – a result of the culture at the nursery. Savill (2009) ‘On the face of it she seemed very open about her personal life, maybe too open as we got the impression she was a bit promiscuous. But none of the parents ever suspected she was hiding anything’. The review said Little Ted’s “provided an ideal environment within which George could abuse” and it was critical that Ofsted inspections failed to spot shortcomings. This would indicate that either the individual (Ofsted) inspections were not rigorous enough, or the framework for inspection is not adequate. The staff-to-children ratio was never really right. An Ofsted inspector would attend and they could just move staff or children from one of the units at the church hall to the other unit by the school. The nursery was never inspected as one place – they would do one unit one year and another one the year after as the nursery was split into two buildings, also the manager would use her staff to take her foster children to see their biological parents, for supervised contact sessions (an inappropriate deployment of staff).
The escalation of George’s behaviour should have prompted a response by the manager of the nursery but Vanessa was a close friend of the manger and well-liked by some of the staff and parents, Morris (2010) says ‘Her fellow workers generally talk of George as a popular member of staff and – as one of the older workers – she quickly came to be seen as a figure of authority’, so her behaviour was over looked as the manager feared reprisals from parents and staff or feared parents would move their children to other settings, Staff working at the nursery were becoming increasingly uncomfortable and worried about George’s behaviour yet had nowhere to go with these feelings, Jim Gould, chairman of the Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board, called for the Government to introduce legislation to “strengthen accountability frameworks for nurseries” As well as concerns about inspections, the board will suggest that the government ought to take a wider look at how private community nurseries like Little Ted’s are set up and run.
These changes have been put into place ‘Working together to safeguard children’ then reviewed in March 2013, the EYFS has been reviewed and changed to bring it up to date, The safeguarding and welfare requirements, published in the EYFS March 2014 and effective September 2014. All these changes have come about with the serious case reviews to stop children and vulnerable adults coming to harm. Parents thought the manager of Little Ted’s was the owner of the nursery but instead there was a board of trustees who staff and parents should have been able to turn to with complaints and worries, but at Little Teds know one seemed to know this, at the review the trustees interviewed were unaware of their responsibilities. In my nursery there is a clearly defined complaints procedure listing contacts from management right up to executive committee, also a whistleblowing policy placed on the wall at the entrance of the building, also when new parents start they are given an introduction, and the running of the nursery is explained to them, then they sign it to say they understand what has been explained to them.
At this introduction the parent is also introduced to the child’s key worker, and explained that the key worker is the first port of call if the parent has any worries, or would like to pass any messages on and the key worker will be looking after their child and doing their child’s development files until their child has finish attending the nursery setting. In Little Ted’s there was no key worker system in place and the nursery frequently worked outside of staff: child ratios EYFS (2014) states ‘each child must be assigned a key person. Their role is to help ensure that every child’s care is tailored to meet their individual needs, to help the child become familiar with the setting, offer a settled relationship for the child and build a relationship with their parents’. Vanessa George had been recruited by word of mouth through the primary school, there was no formal interview or references, there was no clear staff recruitment and selection policy and the manager had not attended Safer Recruitment training but there was a cleared CRB check.
‘A CRB clearance certificate is not a reference, it is not an indicator of good intent, the reality is the CRB system is about deterring someone who has been caught from trying to get a job working with children. In work it is the duty of the manager to check all application forms, to sit in on the interviews when recruiting staff, and to send for the references, and follow them up with a telephone call, she has been on the local authority safer recruitment training and she does the introduction of new staff including the safeguarding. The manager is the designated safeguarding co-ordinator and been on the training EYFS ( 2014. 3.5) ‘a practitioner must be designated to take the lead responsibility for safeguarding children in every setting…the lead practitioner must attend a child protection training course that enables them to identify, understand and respond appropriately to signs of possible abuse and neglect’.
It is the manager’s job to write all the policies and procedures for the nursery and share them with the staff and parents and to make sure they are adhered to; it is also the mangers job to make sure all staff have safeguarding training and they understand what they need to do. The manager must ensure that volunteers and temporary staff are aware of the nursery’s procedures, who the designated person is, how to record a concern and their responsibility to safeguard children. In Little Teds nursery there was no intimate care policy or nappy-changing policy, if their staff would have had these policies they could have been alerted to Vanessa George’s behaviour with her using a closed toilet cubicle. You should avoid solo working and there should be transparency so people can see what their colleagues are doing.
Little Ted’s staff had not attended safeguarding training or any in house training, Vanessa Georges conduct and sexualised behaviour in the nursery was not noted as a clear sign that they may have a sexual predator in their midst EYFS (2014 3.6) ‘providers must train all staff to understand their safeguarding policy and procedures, and ensure that all staff have up to date knowledge of safeguarding issues….inappropriate behaviour displayed by other members of staff, or any other person working with children’. The manager must ensure they provide updates to all members of staff and regular volunteers if there is an amendment to national or local guidance or the implementation of new legislation. There was no supervisory framework implemented at Little Ted’s nursery where staff could air their worries about what was happening, supervision would also have provided a forum for ensuring staff training needs were met, according to EYFS (2014. 3.21) ‘ Providers must put appropriate arrangements in place for the supervision of staff who have contact with children and families.
Effective supervision provides support, coaching and training for the practitioner and promotes the interests of children. Supervision should foster a culture of mutual support, teamwork and continuous improvement, which encourages the confidential discussion of sensitive issues’. In work we have a member of the committee doing the supervision as it is a community based nursery and the staff and families are very close knit, the committee feeds back to the nursery manager, and the manager has to feed back to staff, then back to committee, so the supervision goes round in a full circle the supervision is done every 6 weeks. Vanessa George used her own personal mobile for taking photographs of children in her care as she abused them, then sending images through Facebook to her accomplice. Smith (2010) ‘She even showed parents and workmates adult porn on a mobile kept in her cleavage, which she secretly used to film herself molesting babies.
George called it her Fun Phone, The nursery manager knew of sexually explicit pictures of adults on George’s phone and the nursery supervisor had asked her to put this away’. In work we obtain parental permission for capturing images of children and we are sensitive about this. Once a photo of an individual child has been used for a display it is put with the child’s learning journey. In work we now have permission slips for taking photographs one is to use photography for children’s learning journeys within the setting and then you can ask further permission to use the image in the news letters, parent’s handbook. We are very rigorous that we only use the nursery’s cameras and staff do not bring in their own cameras or mobiles. Mobile phones now are very sophisticated. They have fantastic cameras on them. You can take photos and have them up on the Internet quickly. The Manager has to ensure that they have a clear and understandable policy in place which not only demonstrates to parents the value of such media, but also shares how the nursery will always ensure that such media is used appropriately, and pictures and videos stored safely and in line with Data Protection.
It is also important to have a clear policy for staff, for mobiles, cameras and a social networking policy and all staff have to sign and say they have read them. Working together to safeguard children (2013) ‘In order that organisations and practitioners collaborate effectively, it is vital that every individual working with children and families is aware of the role that they have to play and the role of other professionals. In addition, effective safeguarding requires clear local arrangements for collaboration between professionals and agencies’. The review noted a general reluctance on the part of agencies or services connected to the nursery to challenge. Ofsted’s request for reports was not completed within time scale, and there was poor response to the local early year’s services to improve the settings environment and planning. The review exposed a significant disparity between Ofsted’s view of Little Ted’s nursery and that of the Early Years Advisory Services according to Sakeld (2010) ’director of children’s services at Plymouth City Council, said: ‘It is very hard to understand from the parents’ point of view why Ofsted were saying (Little Ted’s) was good when local authority Early Years advisers were concerned about the quality of the setting.’
If all agencies worked together and shared their findings Little Ted’s would have been showing failings sooner by what the serious case review findings, according to Working together to safeguard children (2013) Early sharing of information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. At the other end of the continuum, sharing information can be essential to put in place effective child protection services. Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) have shown how poor information sharing has contributed to the deaths or serious injuries of children. A statement by the BBC (2010) Ofsted responded to the findings by saying: “Ofsted has already implemented a number of changes in the way we work as a result of this review and to address the recommendations made’. It said it had improved its complaints process and the way it shared information with local authorities, also Working together to safeguard children (2013) says ‘Section 13 of the Children Act 2004 requires each local authority to establish a Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) for their area and specifies the organisations and individuals (other than the local authority) that should be represented on LSCBs’.
2010, Serious Case Review, Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board BBC NEWS (2010) Little Ted’s was ‘ideal’ place for Vanessa George abuse [Online] November 2010 Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-11682161 [Accessed 9th April 2014] Babernie, R. (2004) Relationships, Risk and Repair: Early intervention with vulnerable babies and families [Online] 2011 Available at: ‘http://www.medicine.manchester.ac.uk/mentalhealth/research/mentalhealth/womensmentalhealth/events/manchesterwomensconference2011/presentations/robinbalbernie.pdf [Accessed 9th April 2014] DCSF. (2010). The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Volume 2: Care, Planning, Placement and Case Review. Nottingham: DCSF Publications [Online] March 2010 Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DCSF-00185-2010.pdf [Accessed 9th April 2014] Department for Education ( March 2014) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage HM Government. (2013). Working Together to Safeguard Children, A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. DCSF Publications Morris,S. (2010) How
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