A Child Protection Seminar: Safeguarding Children & Young People in International Schools

The first priority for any family when choosing a school is the physical, emotional and pscyhological safety of their children. OIS has two representatives attending this weekend the seminar hosted by the Nagoya International School. There are around 50 educators participating in the workshop led by a consultant from Breakthrough: Leadership Beyond Limits. The goal for the weekend is to develop policies/guidelines for our school to support all stakeholders in keeping our children safe and happy.  This is set in the context of recent tragic incidents in international schools of child abuse and alleged child abuse. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of educators abuse children, either sexually, physically or emotionally, and schools have a responsibility to make sure we prevent and deal with abuse. The event is sponsored by the Japan Council of International Schools (JCIS) and the other part of the workshop is for us to produce JCIS-wide child protection guidelines.

The facilitator was Dr. Lois Engelbrecht, founder and board member of the Center for the Prevention of Child Sex Abuse, Quezon City, Philippines.  She has outstanding expertise in international social services and child protection advocacy and program development working with local programs and international schools in Malaysia, Viet Nam, India, China. She is the wife of the director of the Lincoln School in Ghana, Dennis Larkin. (see video above for an introduction to the topic)

The big takeaway for me on day one was the importance of having explicit child protection guidelines for our community. In our small group discussion, we compared it to having an expensive security system for your home. Thieves avoid homes that are difficult to break into and will look for homes without a security system. Schools that do not have published guidelines or background checks may be vulnerable to abusers.

The challenge is fitting this into an already busy curriculum.

The best resources we can use are as follows:

  1. Association of International Schools in Africa Child Protection Handbook
  2. United Nation’s  Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). The full text of the CRC can be found here.
  3. I read the English translation of Japanese law on the prevention of child abuse (Act No. 82 of May 24, 2000). Our school needs to have a good relationship with the local police, hospitals and prefectural officers that interpret national law.
  4. I also read the Ropes report from the American School in Japan about the incidents of child abuse and their subsequent handbook that was developed to prevent further incidents. So often adults in the community know of suspicious activity but fail to act upon it before it is too late.

I. School-based Child Protection Team – a group that heads the child protection work in the school.

  • train one person at the school to be the Child Protection Coordinator; best to be a host country national
  • other people on the team will be counselor, nurse, head of school, principal, teacher representative
  • First Meeting Agenda
    • make sure everyone signs the agreement
    • implement workshop/lesson with students, teachers and parents
  • Second Meeting
    • audit the year progress
  • School-based Child Response Team
    • group to deal with abuse allegations and incidents; ad hoc; add reporting teacher; no parents because of confidentiality

II. Child Protection Curriculum – teaching students how to protect themselves; the major challenge is fitting it in an already busy curriculum.

  • The Michigan Model for Health was used by the consultant to help the Association of International Schools in Africa group make their healthy child curriculum.
  • She recommends 5 lessons per year per grade in the elementary. Most of it deals with touching and progresses to being assertive in relationships. For older students, there are 4 concepts per grade level  (identify safe/unsafe situations, access to trusted persons, act to stay safe, value self and community)
  • Working with parents – share school policy, personal safety curriculum, handling disclosure, where to go for help and networking with other parents; this is not sexual education, but parents need to be included.

III. Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT) – It is important for an international school to think about what to do if there is a serious case of child abuse before one occurs. The consultant suggests to form a group of local authorities that will deal with cases of child abuse called the MDT. This group is composed of law enforcement, mental health expert, lawyer, social welfare personnel, school and medical personnel. This helps to build trust with local authorities. In many countries, there is a much distrust between the local authorities and the expensive, private foreign school. In Japan this is less so because the country is very well developed and there is a strong rule of law. I think the issue is to help the local authorities to understand the unique characteristics of our expatriate community.

At OIS we have an advantage of being connected to local authorities through the Kwansei Gakuin foundation. When issues come up, the foundation has the resources to help us. With a history of 126 years and serving over 24,000 students, they probably have had to deal with issues that a small international school may not have previously.

Another good thing for schools to do is to think about what kinds of cases they can…

Another idea is for the nurse to take photos of bruises. It is also good for the school nurse to be trained in forensic interviewing and investigation. This is to protect the school.

  1. the school handle alone?
    1. low level bullying, academic pressure, relationship problems with children and parents
  2. refer out for counseling yet continues to work with the child and family?
    1.   mental health, depression, parental substance abuse; mother is traveling to much; one-off discipline physical abuse incident
  3. refer for medical and/or legal attention?
    1. sex abuse, serious physical abuse,

 IV Handling Disclosure – There is a second traumatic event for a child in disclosing the abuse. The consultant referred to the work of Dr. Roland Summit at UCLA on abuse accommodation syndrome. The first thing to do when a child comes to you is to believe them, even if the story seems crazy. There is usually something behind the story and most children do not lie. The adult also needs to be calm and to get enough information to see if there is reasonable evidence to further investigate. (believe, calm, support) This is a tricky

“If it is a problem with your safety, I can’t keep this confidential.” You need to immediately assess the safety of the child and if the problem is at home, then the child cannot go home.

Another good idea is to collect many case studies and have the Child Protection Team (CPT) go through them.

Day Three

It is encouraging to hear that the child protection expert said it is OK for an administrator to go with your “gut feeling” when dealing with observations of possible warning signs of offenders or signs of abuse. We did an role play of talking to a male teacher who is looking at the female students inappropriately. It brought up a very good discussion. Maybe if international schools would have been more trained in child protection, cases like in Karachi or London could have been prevented.

I also see the importance of having a code of conduct or professional expectations. It makes it easier to identify inappropriate behavior or recommendations. I spent most of the day in my group working on a JCIS set of guidelines.

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