Contextual Safeguarding and Child Protection: Rewriting The Rules
The opening chapter of Carlene Firmin’s book, Contextual Safeguarding and Child Protection: Rewriting The Rules, outlines the life experience of a 13 year old female, “Sara”, who is a victim of child sexual exploitation. Here is her story, as quoted in Firmin’s book (p. 11, 2021):
“Cos (sic) I know what these boys are like if they don’t get what they want they’ll beat you up or get girls to beat you up and they’ll switch for no apparent reason… if you say no they consider it as being rude and they don’t like getting to talk like that , and if you are rude to them then they’ll beat you up and I’ve seen how they beat people up, how everyone’s scared of them….. I said no for something very little and I’ve been beaten up and bottled and I realised if I did say no what would happen…I was pressurised and scared and I knew deep down I didn’t want it cos I was still young and didn’t have a choice.”
Firmin (2021) goes on to describe how Sara’s life choices were dictated and limited by the social rules she felt bound to follow. She was compliant when faced with a sexual assault; she knew there was little point in restraining the demands of the boys around her and; she was afraid of the consequences that she would endure on a path of defiance (Firmin 2021).
Our Child Protection Duty as Adults
As a safeguarding lead one of the most shocking aspects of Sara’s shocking story was that she was abused in her community, surrounded by adults who were there to protect her, but their presence had no impact on her safety.
Sara’s story and the work of Firmin and Lloyd led us to ask the final fundamental question in the creation of the student voice tool, do we provide young people with the opportunity to have a say in how their communities function?
In essence, Sara needed a “brave space” to express her voice and have the opportunity to access the safety that all children have the right to experience.
Ultimately, society has a clear and present responsibility to provide such a space for young people, giving them a say in how their communities function.
By doing so we may have the opportunity to understand the social rules that provide the context for acts that compromise child protection and lead to the abuse that is openly taking place in our communities and to which we may be oblivious…
Written by Jason Tait, Director of Pastoral Care and Designated Safeguarding Lead at TASIS The American School in England and Co-Founder of The Student Voice