Over the 4-5 March 2021 the NSPCC hosted our first ever virtual safeguarding conference, bringing together safeguarding professionals from a range of different sectors for two days of inspirational and informative talks. Here are the highlights.
The first day of the conference began with a welcome message from NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless. In his speech, Peter introduced the new strategic vision for the NSPCC, with an even greater focus on working together so everyone can play their part in preventing child abuse and neglect, supporting children so they can speak out so abuse doesn’t shape their future, as well as a commitment to work hard to prevent online abuse and hold technology companies and government to account.
The first keynote speaker of the day was Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families. She began her speech by thanking social workers across the UK for the vital work they’ve done to support children and families over the last year. Her speech looked at the opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to build a platform for societal change, and the positive effects this might have on child safety and wellbeing.
“We have an opportunity to reset our value base as a society, as citizens within it, and to recognise the central role of family, and the communities within which families live, in providing the stability and security much-needed in children’s lives.”
- Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families
Clinical psychologist Dr Carmen Chan then delivered a session about the science behind developmental trauma. She touched on the lasting impact that trauma can have on a young person, and stressed the importance of all the different support systems – family, healthcare, schools and social care – working together to effectively help children to recover from early trauma.
The next session was a panel discussion between psychologist Barbara Wren, mental health service director Lisa Cooper and Her Honour Judge Carole Atkinson, the Designated Family Judge for East London. The panel used personal stories to outline the emotional impact of working in child protection, and provided a powerful reminder of how important it is to listen to children and young people when making decisions that will impact their lives.
Conference attendees then had the option of joining five different breakout groups. Topics covered by the different groups included: infant mental health and its impact on child development, preventing and responding to peer-on-peer sexual abuse, and the experiences of LGBTQ+ children and young people online.
After lunch Jack Sloan, headteacher at Hanover Primary School in Islington, delivered a talk on the benefits of child-led learning for early years and primary-aged pupils. Pupils feel much happier at school as a result of a more playful approach to learning, with staff finding they have more space and time to build relationships with pupils and better meet the needs of children who have experienced trauma.
The day closed with a discussion on the impact that digital technologies have on young people’s lives, followed by a session from Dez Holmes, the Director of Research in Practice, about what recent research says about adolescent safeguarding. She delved into some of the challenges faced by adolescents trying to access children’s services, and some of the current barriers to transitional and adolescent safeguarding.
Day two of How Safe 2021 began with a breakfast session chaired by broadcaster Cherry Healey, looking at perinatal mental health. Cherry was joined by a panel featuring Sally Hogg, Head of Policy and Campaigning at The Parent-Infant Foundation, television presenter Nigel Clarke, gynaecologist Dr. Brooke Vandermolen and presenter and broadcaster Nush Cope.
Up to 1 in 5 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers in the UK experience mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth1, but not many receive the support they need. The panel shared their own experiences of pregnancy and the support they received, as well as suggesting what changes they’d like to see made to ensure new parents receive better support in the future.
The panel highlighted the need for all new parents to receive adequate mental health support when they need it, where they need it. The NSPCC is calling on governments across the UK to improve the access to specialist perinatal mental health services and ensure that every child is given a fair start in life.
The second session of the morning came from Lianna McDonald, the Executive Director for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Lianna spoke about the work her organisation has been doing to reduce the availability of child sexual abuse material online. Approaches included the development of ‘Project Arachnid’ – technology that uses web crawlers to find and remove child sexual abuse images from the internet – and the creation of a new child rights framework.
Dame Vera Baird, The Victim’s Commissioner for England and Wales, then delivered an informative session on recognising and responding to the impact of domestic abuse on children. Vera is responsible for championing the interests of crime victims and witnesses, and reviewing the operation of the Victims Code of Practice. She spoke in great detail about the work she has done in the past, and has plans to do in the future, to influence policy changes and provide better support to young people who have experienced domestic abuse.
“For every victory, there’s a next step”
- Dame Vera Baird, Victim's Commissioner for England and Wales
Once again conference attendees could then choose to attend different breakout sessions. Topics ranged from guidance on responding to disclosures to the impact of poverty on safeguarding children.
After lunch Professor Marian Brandon delivered a keynote speech highlighting some of the learnings from the latest triennial analysis of serious case reviews. The review, titled “Complexity and Challenge”, looks at serious case reviews from 2014-2017 and seeks to identify learning that can better improve the prevention of harm and protection of children in the future. Marian outlined three key areas of learning: the importance of professionalism and compassionate practice; the need for effective supervision and reflective practice; and the need to develop systems and structures that support effective inter-agency working and information sharing.
"I know if I had someone to turn to in my earlier years when I was very young, not only would I have benefited, but the countless people around me wouldn’t have been damaged either”
- David Tait, NSPCC ambassador
The conference was closed out by NSPCC ambassador David Tait, in interview with journalist and broadcaster Kate Silverton. David spoke about his own experiences of child abuse, and how those experiences shaped his life. He also talked about his continued support for the NSPCC in helping thousands of children and young people who experience abuse, with particular reference to Childline and The Lighthouse, a multi-agency service for children and young people who have experience sexual abuse.
Thank you so much to everyone who attended the conference and took part in the discussions, and to all the speakers who shared their insight and expertise on a range of safeguarding and child protection topics.
ReferencesAnnette Bauer et al. (2016) The costs of perinatal mental health problems (PDF) London: LSE & Centre for Mental Health.