“If abuse is not reported, the pattern is likely to continue elsewhere. Time and time again, we have heard of offenders who were working in schools and their colleagues had suspicions, but they were not brave enough to raise them.”
Jane Larsson the Executive Director of the Council of International Schools (CIS) emphasized the seriousness of repeated abuse cases. “The offenders then leave, join other schools and continue their pattern of behaviour without being detected.”
The International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) has made great headway in highlighting the issue of child protection in schools and educating the international school community.
The Executive Director of the Council of International Schools (CIS), Jane Larsson and the CEO of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), Colin Bell will be leading a thought provoking two-day strand on the importance and responsibilities of Child Safeguarding at Asia-Pacific International Schools Conference (AISC).
Below, Jane Larsson talks about how international school communities are able to tackle child safeguarding challenges.
AISC : How vulnerable is the international school community? How can international school communities tackle these challenges?
Jane : The ease of mobility that international teaching provides, coupled with weak recruitment practices and underdeveloped legal systems in some countries, can make international school communities prime targets for child abusers.
To address these challenges, the ITFCP formed a School Evaluation Committee to collect, review and assess current external processes, standards and indicators used to regulate, evaluate and monitor school child protection practices, and determine what measures should be in place.
The Committee conducted extensive research, reviewing existing requirements of school evaluation, accreditation and inspection agencies operating within national and international contexts. They found a lack of comprehensive standards for international schools in regards to child safeguarding.
Following two years of consultation, a set of comprehensive standards have now been agreed by Accreditation and Inspection bodies globally. The standards cover crisis management, staff selection, detecting and reporting abuse, education and support for leaders, teachers and students about behavior and boundaries, implementation of policies, and collaboration with the local community.
AISC : What are the biggest challenges of implementing child protection programmes in schools?
Jane : In order to meet the new standards, educators must first understand what child abuse is and their role in identifying it and preventing it.
All of us on the Task Force are mindful that we can’t simply proceed to enforce new standards, we have a moral obligation to provide resources and training to school communities to first create awareness and understanding so they can develop and implement policies and practices as they prepare to meet the standards.
Another challenge is that international schools serve highly diverse communities. The cultural norms and expectations for dealing with abuse vary significantly. 75% of the educators who participated in the 2015 survey identified cultural difference as the primary barrier that prevents students and their families from discussing and reporting abuse.
AISC : Can you share how CIS and the ITFCP “educate the educators” to raise their awareness of effective child safeguarding?
Jane : The inclusive nature of international school communities can deter educators from reporting their suspicions of abuse. Open and honest discussion is needed. Too often, a ‘lid’ is put on sexual abuse and fear becomes a barrier to reporting it. Educators are worried that their suspicions are wrong, that they’re going to damage a colleague’s career, or the school’s reputation, or that the school will be shut down.
We also discovered that many of the heads of our schools don’t know the laws of the countries where they work, nor have they met with local police, regulatory or support agencies.
International schools are inclusive communities, but they cannot be islands. We are encouraging leaders of international schools to form connections with local experts, law enforcers and others who would be ready and willing to help, to let the experts do their jobs to investigate suspected or known abuse.
If abuse is not reported, the pattern is likely to continue elsewhere. Time and time again, we have heard of offenders who were working in schools and their colleagues had suspicions, but they were not brave enough to raise them. The offenders then leave, join other schools and continue their pattern of behavior without being detected.
The ITFCP has made great headway in highlighting the issue of child protection in schools and educating the international school community, but the topic still needs more recognition. I speak on the work of the Task Force up to four times a year and yet I am still surprised by the number of educators who don’t attend to learn more. It is a difficult topic for many people, but we need to address our discomfort and educate ourselves on this issue.
Read the last interview with Jane Larsson :
The International Task Force on Child Protection helps support child safeguarding at international schools