Welcome to NSPCC Learning, a series of podcasts that cover a range of child protection issues to inform, create debate, and tell you all about the work we do to keep children safe. At the heart of every podcast is the child's voice, and how what they tell us, informs the work we do.
Hi and welcome to the latest NSPCC Learning podcast. This week’s episode is an overview of our PANTS campaign, which aims to raise awareness and change behaviour.
Now messages, such as road safety and stranger danger, have been told to children for decades. But how do we talk about abuse, and in particular sexual abuse, to children that doesn’t cause them to worry or feel that it’s their responsibility to keep themselves safe?
The NSPCC recognises that this can be really difficult for parents, carers and professionals, but also that it’s an important conversation to have - and that's what our PANTS campaign is all about - providing the tools to parents so that they can have simple, age-appropriate conversations with their child or children.
I spoke to Ally Sultana who is one of six Local Campaigns Managers for the NSPCC. We talked about how the campaign has evolved since it was launched in 2012, how Ally works with communities, parents and professionals to raise awareness of the campaign and how PANTS is used in nurseries and schools and we also asked what children think of PANTS.
And, for those that don’t know, PANTS stands for:
Privates are Privates
Always remember your body belongs to you
No means no
Talk about secrets that upset you
Speak up, someone can help
And since recording this podcast, I have found out that PANTS is an acrostic not an acronym – which is how we refer to it in the podcast. So, apologies to those that know the difference!
PANTS was created in 2012 - soon after the Jimmy Saville scandal broke. I began by asking Ally to tell me a little bit more about why the campaign was devised.
Lots of parents, professionals, carers were contacting the NSPCC Helpline and telling us that they were concerned because every time they opened up the newspaper or put on the telly, they were hearing about what Jimmy Saville had done and it made them concerned about their own children and they wanted to know how they could keep their children safe from sexual abuse. So, we felt a responsibility to respond to that and that's how the campaign was born.
It is a community-based initiative. Obviously, with you… working with the community, being a safeguarding communities manager, do you work with specific communities on the PANTS campaign?
Yes, as a Local Campaigns Manager, I work with lots of different communities on the PANTS campaign. We work with, for example, local safeguarding boards, we work with schools, we work with local community groups and we involve parents in our campaigns.
And the idea is that we embed PANTS into normal, everyday conversations. We know that parents and carers and professionals out there who work with children can find it somewhat challenging to have these conversations or not know how to start a conversation.
The PANTS acrostic is there for them to begin a conversation about staying safe, just like any other safety message. We talked to children about crossing the road, we talk to them about stranger danger, but what parents sometimes are surprised about is that 90% of children who are sexually abused are being abused by somebody they know. So, it's really important that we get this message out to parents and carers and for children to feel comfortable in speaking out and staying safe.
Sure. And it is a difficult thing to approach, isn't it – with children? You talked before about prevention, things about stranger danger and crossing the road – that’s quite an easy thing to talk about. This, no-one wants to think that children are sexually abused, do they? It's a fact of life. It's a sad fact of life, but it's a fact of life that it is. This is why this is so important.
So from your experience having worked within the community, have people welcomed this? Is it because it's a really good way in to be able to talk about what is considered to be quite a tricky conversation?
Yeah, well, as you said, it is a tricky conversation and nobody wants to believe or think about it happening to their child. But it is a reality that it does happen and what we want to do is prevent it from happening. And parents are very welcoming of the campaign for that reason. Sometimes they can have a little bit of anxiety about “oh, what does it mean?” or “my child is doing this at school” or “they've mentioned PANTS, what does it mean?”.
So, what we tend to do in our local campaigns is we deliver briefing sessions for parents as well to help them understand what the PANTS acrostic stands for, why it's important that we do this and also that it's really easy for them to weave it into a natural conversation that they're having with their child.
Sometimes when we deliver a briefing session, in my experience, I can see that some parents are quite anxious. They're sitting in the room and they’re waiting for me to get started and they're a little bit anxious but by the end of it, they're really welcoming of the campaign, they want to take away the materials, they're very supportive of the conversations happening in school. And a lot of them have said that this is needed and it's going to help them to have these conversations at home as well. Because it's that parent-school relationship as well, isn't it? They want to know what's happening in school so they can reinforce those messages at home in a consistent way. And we want to be able to help them with that.
Can we talk a little bit about where PANTS came from or at least the idea behind that?
Yes. The initial idea came from the European Underwear Rule and that's how the PANTS campaign evolved really. It was used as a safety message in Europe for a while and we took it onboard and evolved it. And since then, the campaign as evolved and developed further.
So not only do we have a guidance for parents now, we have a guidance for foster carers. And again, this is out of ask from the local community. Foster carers have approached us and said, “well, you've got one for parents, what about us? Because we have children in our care for a very short time a lot of the time and we want to ensure that we're helping them and giving them safety messages”.
We worked with Fostering Network who helped us develop a guidance for foster carers. So that's easily accessible on the website, the NSPCC website as well. We have a parents' guidance, we have a foster carers' guidance, we have a guidance for parents who have children with special educational needs or disabilities. We have a schools' resource as well that is PHSE approved - so schools can download all the materials online. They can use the lesson plans, they can use the guidance and they can help children to remember the PANTS messages in a way that's accessible to them and they find friendly and colourful.
And we're always developing new material and that's why we work with local communities to ensure that the materials that we have are accessible to them, they're meaningful and they can easily take them away and have these conversations. We do also have guidance for parents who speak other languages as well, particularly Eastern European languages such as Polish and they are also available.
Recently we launched the early years guidance as well. The early years guidance is a way for early year settings such as nurseries and other private nurseries and children's centres to start those PANTS conversations in a way that's age-appropriate. So, they could put posters up for the parents to see, they can weave messages into, for example, toilet training and teach children that private parts are private in a way that's accessible to them. They won't find it, you know, complicated or anything really.
Again, we work with early years settings to develop the resource and make it appropriate. And that's downloadable online and settings can be quite creative in how they use it really and the same with the school’s pack. They know the children best. They know their attention spans. And so, it's a guidance for them to be creative with uses appropriate.
So, what's the age range? We've just talked about early years, so I take it we're talking… is it kind of three, four? Or is it a bit younger than that even?
Yeah it could be… as soon as a child starts speaking really or starts nursery. Initially the guidance for was for children five and above and then we developed the additional guidance for children that are younger recently. So, it's up to the parent really whenever they feel comfortable that they can have these conversations with their children. And what we suggest is that the earlier that we have these conversations the better. Children generally remember something that we are either going to repeat or they come across again in different ways. So, the earlier that we have these conversations, the better and these conversations can grow and develop as they get older.
It might be that we start off with PANTS conversations around private parts are private and children might ask questions or as they get older, they might start to ask questions about relationships and bodies and growing up. And that's a really easy way for then parents to add to that conversation and kind of...
As the child grows and develops, it sounds like this suite of resources around PANTS grows and develops with them, so it's really evolved since 2012. Are there any plans for more things in the pipeline for the development?
Potentially, yes. Since well, the last year or so, we've had the Pantosaurus video and again, that's accessible online and on YouTube. It's a really friendly way, it's a really friendly video of a dinosaur – Pantosaurus - and he is singing the Pantosaurus PANTS song and it's a really easy way for children to remember that.
I do know recently there has been somebody, one of my colleagues, another Local Campaigns Manager, has been working on a Portuguese translation of that through local asks - requests from the local community. So, there's that.
We're always developing and reviewing our materials as well. We want to ensure that they are accessible and we are, again, responding to local need, whereby local schools have said to us that they want to help children with special educational needs and disabilities to remember the PANTS acrostic as well.
We're looking at different ways that we can do that and ensure that some of the most vulnerable children are receiving those messages and parents of those venerable children are receiving those messages too.
Have we got any feedback about what children think about the PANTS campaign?
We have indeed actually, yes. We've talked to children particularly in schools and they really love it. They really love the PANTS campaign. They think it's colourful. They love the dinosaur.
Children have been very welcoming of the PANTS campaign. They remember it, they sing along to the song. And, you know, some of them made their own dances along to the song. So, we're really pleased as to how they're responding to it and we always want to make sure that these messages are accessible to them.
Can we talk a little bit about the impact? What impact has this made? You know, you said it started in 2012, so can you give us any idea about any feedback you've had on that?
Of course. We certainly know that we've helped over 600,000 children through talking PANTS. Recently for a local campaign that's relevant to me is that we delivered a PANTS campaign in Walsall last year and we got through to over 6,000 children in Walsall from that one campaign. Through parents having conversations, through schools in particular that were really welcoming of the campaign as well.
A lot of them delivered assemblies, delivered the lesson plans, showed the Pantosaurus video - so it was a good way of showing that message. But what we also want to emphasise is that it's not the child's responsibility to stay safe. It is up to adults to keep children safe. But what we want to encourage is that children feel safe to talk to somebody about anything that's bothering them or if they feel uncomfortable and to give them the confidence to speak out.
So Ally, when's a good time for parents to possibly have conversation with their children about PANTS?
That's a very good question. It's all about weaving it into daily life. So, for example, it could be when they're getting changed, it could be bath time, it could be if they're going swimming and they could be like, well, whenever you're wearing your swimming costume or pants, those are your private parts, and it's all about breaking it down.
So, it's not about “come and sit here, I want to talk to you about PANTS today”, it's very much about weaving it into daily conversation. It could be that there's something happening on the TV or the radio, they're getting changed, they're going shopping, they're sitting at the back of the car, for example. Even bedtime is a good time. They're getting changed for bed, they're probably using the bathroom, they're potentially reading a story and there's a lot stories that they can use as well to help have these conversations around PANTS.
I do know that there is a reading list online on the NSPCC website when you go onto the PANTS pages that is age-appropriate. It breaks it down as to what books you can use and for which age group to help introduce the PANTS rules. And again, this is really handy for schools as well to use in their story time, for example.
And so yeah, it's all about weaving the PANTS messages into daily life. I do know, for anybody that watches Hollyoaks, they did cover the PANTS messages in there. I think it was aimed at parents providing help around how to have the conversation with their children. And that was a good example of it in real life - how you would have this conversation.
But if any parents are having any difficulties or challenges with this, we are here to help as well. You can contact the NSPCC Helpline. You can contact us via email as well and we're happy to answer any questions or any anxieties that parents might have around this.
Equally, if there's teachers or teaching staff out there that want to use the messages or are a little bit nervous about doing so, we're happy to talk to them and answer any questions and make sure that they've got everything they need.
When we deliver a local PANTS campaign, for example, in Walsall, we work with the schools there and we worked with the early years settings there to ensure that they were confident using some of those materials. And we talked to them about how they can embed it into the curriculum really. There's lots of great clear curriculum links as well there. So, there's lots of materials that parents and professionals can use and we are here to help.
I know they'll be a reticence about, we spoke about this a little bit earlier, about talking to children about the subject matter of sexual abuse. So why is it important that we talk to child about that so young?
It is important because we want to prevent sexual abuse and we know because the taboo and the secrecy around sexual abuse, many people don't talk about it. And even into adulthood, they don't talk about it. So, we want to encourage children to speak out. Even if they're approached by somebody, if they're out and about, because we talk about other things, don't we? We talk about stranger danger and that kind of thing, so it's really important that we have these conversations to enable, to prevent this type of abuse from happening.
And also, children go online now too. It's not all about stranger danger or you know if they’re out on a short break or something like that through the school or otherwise. They have access to people and people have access to them online as well. It's really important that we talk about these things to ensure that our children are safe and they can go to somebody if they are, you know, being approached online or somebody asks them to send a picture of themselves or they sign up to something that they shouldn't have signed up to, that it's still okay to tell somebody. Because of the secrecy and the taboo, we want to ensure that we normalise these conversations and it's just another safety message.
Like you said before, it's not the onus on the child, is it? Because it's being fed through via parents and community workers and teachers. The responsibility is not with the child, it's the adults' responsibility.
Absolutely. Yes, it's really important to emphasise that it's the adults’ responsibility. We want to empower children and we want to give them confidence to talk about issues that are affecting them or that they're uncomfortable with.
Even bullying, if you have a conversation with a child around PANTS and for them to feel that that their body belongs to them and it's okay to talk to somebody, you know, then even if they're being bullied at school, they will feel like they can go to somebody and open up about it. So, it can affect them in lots of ways and it will give them the confidence to do so because we know so many children suffer for a long time before they even talk to anybody, if ever they do.
You mentioned Pantosaurus. Why was a dinosaur chosen for that?
We’re very conscious of the sensitivities around sexual abuse and we're always trying to make PANTS assets as friendly and child-friendly as possible. So for the campaign, creating a pants-wearing dinosaur called Pantosaurus felt like a great way to make it as appealing to children and to young children especially without making it feel too grown up or scary.
We know that Pantosaurus is really well received, so we've got a life-sized Pantosaurus that goes out to different events wherever there's a PANTS campaign and he's very much welcomed. And it helps children to remember the messages really just like as they do with if they're watching cartoons and that kind of thing. So yeah, Pantosaurus is meant to be a friendly character that children can relate to.
So Ally unfortunately, figures tell us that recorded sexual abuse against children continues to be high. Why do you think this might be so?
That could be for a number of reasons. It could be that people are feeling more confident to speak out is one. So maybe through the campaigning activities, through the local media, people are feeling more confident to speak out. And that is a good thing. We want people to be able to speak out.
Also, recently, we know the way that police forces record this abuse is different now. The information, the statistics, that we're able to get from them are more clear and concise and that could be one other reason. Again, the Internet might add another aspect to it because one person might have access to so many children online as well. So that could be some of the reasons. But what we want to be able to do is prevent the abuse from happening through initiatives like the PANTS campaign and eradicate this abuse.
What advice would you give to children that have experienced sexual abuse? Where should they… how should they reach out? Who should they speak to?
It's really important that they do reach out and it's really important that they should talk to somebody. Childline is available for young people up to the ages of 19 even and they are welcome to contact Childline. It's a friendly service, it's a confidential service and we are able to be accessed 24 hours a day. And there's different ways that children can access Childline. They can either call us - the traditional way, they can text us and they can email us as well.
So, we want to ensure that there is a safe space. We want to tell children that there is a safe space for them if they want to talk about it. And we do encourage them to talk about it because sexual abuse can affect children and adults in so many ways - physically and psychologically - and it's important that they get the support that they need as soon as possible.
Great, thanks Ally. And so where should parents and professional - so teachers, community workers - where should they go to find out more about talk PANTS?
The first or probably easiest point of access is the NSPCC website. All the materials are online. They can download them, they can have a look at them, they can play the videos, they can access the activity packs, they can even download a game called Pantosaurus that helps parents and children remember the messages. That's the first point of contact.
If they have any other questions or they're not sure about how to use the resources or how to start a conversation or they're just a little bit anxious about it, they can certainly contact the NSPCC Helpline. Either they can email us, they can call us and we are happy to help and make sure that they feel comfortable in using the resources.
Sounds great. Ally, thank you very much for talking PANTS with us today.
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