Child safeguarding at schools is not an easy subject to discuss or debate. However with new studies having been undertaken there is increased support and information available to school leaders and teachers at international schools.

The Executive Director of the Council of International Schools aisc20161012_jane(CIS), Jane Larsson and the CEO of the Council of British International Schools, Colin Bell will be leading a thought provoking presentation on Child Safeguarding at Asia-Pacific International Schools Conference (AISC).

Staged on the 9th and 10th December in Hong Kong the subject of Child Safeguarding is one of the three main streams. The other two streams are Early Years Learning and The Importance of Student Well-Being.

Recently AISC had an interview with Jane Larsson who as one of the Founding Members of the International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) reviewed the findings and challenges of implementing child protection programmes in schools.

AISC : How common is child or sexual abuse in international schools?

Jane : There are no statistics available which detail abuse by educatorsaisc20161012_child in international schools. Studies conducted around the world report that the rate of abuse and exploitation (by the age of 18) impacts between 1 in 10 children, and as high as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys according to various national studies.

According to the Child Sexual Abuse Statistics, the prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported; experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities. Child Sexual Abuse is also not uniformly defined, so statistics may vary.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau report Child Maltreatment 2010 found that 9.2% of victimized children were sexually assaulted.

Studies by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, show that:

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13

AISC : Why is this measure important and what are the limitations of the data?

Jane : The data did not reflect the total number of sexual offences committed against children, but it does provide an important picture of the amount of sexual abuse committed against children that comes to the attention of the police and then is recorded as an offence.

The latest figures from National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children indicate that there were 38,575 recorded offences against children in 2014/15.

The focus of police-recorded crime statistics is on offences, rather than on victims of crime. This can make it hard to establish the total number of sexual offences committed against children as offence types cover different age groups, with the majority relating to children aged under 16 only.

Police-recorded crime statistics suffer from under-reporting and therefore do not reflect the actual number of offences committed. Trends may reflect increased public awareness and changes in policing rather than an increase in incidence.

AISC : What are the causes of child abuse or exploitation that international schools usually neglect?

Jane : As reflected in the statistics, abuse is widely under-reported. aisc20161012_child2We’ve discovered that many educators are unaware of its prevalence and don’t recognize the signs of abuse.

A survey of 716 international educators conducted by the ITFCP in 2015 revealed that almost half of the respondents lack confidence in their abilities to detect abuse and that 90% believe annual training should be required and provided.

We are now encouraging multiple organizations and individuals to offer training for international schools, knowing that the need is so great. As we’ve become more knowledgeable about the prevalence and signs of child abuse, we realize that everyone needs to develop understanding and participate in training.

Our school communities have to be ever vigilant, not only about hiring teachers but indeed thinking about and recognizing what could be problematic behaviors of adults or students in our school communities… and then addressing it.

Of special consideration for educators are estimates that 70% of this abuse occurs between children. “What is problematic sexual behavior in children?”  This is a topic I’ve asked experts to include when training educators to help them identify the signs and manage the risks.

In the next article, Jane will continue to share how vulnerable the international school community is and how international school communities can tackle these challenges.

The International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) was formed in April 2014 to help international school communities address child protection challenges. Now a coalition of 90+ volunteers, the task force includes leaders of international education organisations, school leaders, counsellors and teachers, working collaboratively across professions with law enforcement officials and the medical community.

Asia-Pacific International Schools Conference (AISC) is the annual event for international school leaders and educators in the Asia Pacific Region.

Over 400 delegates will be coming together to explore and debate topical education issues chosen by educators at international schools in the region. This year AISC will feature three special themes: child safeguarding, authentic pedagogy in the early years and the importance of student and teacher’s well-being.

Reviewing and updating child safeguarding policies, providing teacher training and resources, looking into sample forms and protocols, are all issues that will be discussed at AISC.

The expected outcome for AISC Stream A delegates will be to have all of the current best practice and information in order to write or update their schools’ policies surrounding the issues, assess their schools’ child safeguarding effectiveness and identify strategies for improvement throughout two days of workshops.

Read the next article : “Educate the educators”- How the International Task Force on Child Protection raises the awareness of effective child safeguarding