Safeguarding is fundamental to the daily life of a school, its staff and pupils. In the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic, this sentence has even more meaning.

In this article, Liz Godman, one of B11’s Senior Consultants and safeguarding lead, gives her views on the culture of safeguarding and why we are all responsible for keeping the next generation safe and from harm.

What is a culture of safeguarding?

The culture of safeguarding is hard to define, but I believe it describes the way a ‘setting’ approaches safeguarding.

First and foremost, it is about making sure that all of us provide a safe environment in which children can learn. Having a curriculum to promote safety and the correct documents, policies, procedures and records is also very important. Additionally, staff knowledge of the indicators of abuse and neglect is critical. Without these elements, safeguarding will be ineffective, just as it will if we fail to act on early signs of abuse and neglect, do not share information, or do not listen to what children tell us. Even if children, young people and adults say they feel safe, we must keep asking ourselves whether they are safe. The truth is that we do not know, so we must take every step to develop a culture that is as safe as possible.

Who is at risk?

It is well known there are certain groups who are particularly vulnerable. These include children returning from care, missing from education, who are homeless or experiencing poverty, and children and young people with cognition and learning or social emotional and mental health needs. As well as making these groups vulnerable to harm, these factors may also be the result of harm.

Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that the children of affluent professional parents are also at risk, sometimes out of naivety and an assumption that ‘it will not happen here or to us’.

Awareness and vigilance

We must not spread fear or become suspicious of everybody, but awareness and vigilance are crucial, along with the recognition that it could happen to anyone. Therefore, we should take the right actions before, when and after anything happens and find age-appropriate and area-appropriate ways to raise the awareness of children and their families to issues such as child sexual exploitation, radicalisation and county lines.

A knowledge of what is going on in the wider community is essential. This is contextual safeguarding or considering wider environmental factors which may present a threat to children’s safety and welfare. It is well documented that perpetrators will target children in more affluent areas because they often have the money, for example, to buy drugs. If in affluent areas some children don’t have the money, they are also susceptible because they would like the possessions their peers have. There are subsequently those who are vulnerable because they are the victims of affluent neglect who have everything, except the attention and affection they crave.

Domestic abuse

A far harder topic to raise with colleagues and families as part of general awareness – rather than just when it is known to be happening – is domestic abuse. People sometimes talk about domestic violence, but domestic abuse is much wider and more subtle than this. The insidious elements, such as emotional abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour, usually have a more damaging and longer-term effect.

Adults who have experienced these things as children may feel at the time that ‘this is not right’ but may assume that this is what happens to all children and that it is a normal part of being a child in a family. They may tell the other parent but get the response that ‘you must have deserved it’ or this is simply ‘how the parent in question is’ and that ‘they have to live with it’. They may show no obvious signs as a child in school, often viewed as a model pupil (because they know only too well the consequences of stepping out of line). Only much later may the adult recognise what has happened to them and what impact it has had on many aspects of their lives such as feeling they are to blame, having low self-worth and finding it hard to make trusting relationships.

We often exhort children to tell someone if they have concerns, whether that is someone in school or by phoning a charitable organisation, and that is quite right. However, we should be aware that children will not always disclose information to us because we must tell them that we may not be able to keep whatever they tell us confidential. Only recently, some children said to me that they would not always tell someone, because that person might raise it with their parents whose response might be out of proportion. Another child swiftly added, ‘especially if your parents are the problem’.

I know of adults, who as children were abused and took a considered and conscious decision to not say anything to anybody. This was not because of shame or fear of not being believed, but because they had worked out that the consequences of telling would jeopardise their sense of loyalty to the abuser and would be too damaging to the continued existence of their family.

Where does this get us in the context of developing a ‘culture of safeguarding’?

We are all responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. To discharge this responsibility, we must be aware, vigilant, well-informed and listen to what children and young people say, remembering above everything else that all safeguarding concerns ‘could happen here.’


Fundamentally, we must ensure that:

  • We create safe settings for children and young people through robust safeguarding practices.
  • Any staff working in the school environment, whether full-time or voluntarily, do not pose a risk to children.
  • All staff are trained and knowledgeable with regards to policies, practices and how to respond to concerns.
  • We educate children and young people about online safety.
  • We maintain a setting in which children feel confident to discuss issues they may have with any member of staff.


Support and guidance

Please visit–2 for statutory guidance.

For guidance on COVID-19 in an educational setting, please visit



  1. Keeping Children Safe in Schools (KCSIE 2019)
  2. Government consultation on KCSIE 2020


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