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Department for Education fails to integrate Mental Health into Safeguarding Policy

The Department for Education are consulting on changes to the main safeguarding policy used by schools and colleges, ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ (KCSIE), The aim is to make clear that safeguarding and promoting children’s mental health is a whole school and college responsibility and that systems should be in place to ensure this. However, they fall significantly short from what schools tell us they need.

What are the changes? 

In the current KCSIE policy ‘Mental Health’ is mentioned 5 times, across 110 pages. These mainly refer to being alert to needs and working with mental health services.

The changes proposed for 2020 include the addition of a mental health section  in part 1 of the KCSIE policy. This is the part which sets out what staff in schools and colleges should know and do and  explains their safeguarding responsibilities. The main points are listed below:

  • All staff should be aware that mental health problems can be an indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation.
  • Only appropriately trained professionals should attempt to make a diagnosis of a mental health problem.
  • Staff are well placed to observe children day-to-day and identify those whose behaviour suggests that they may be experiencing a mental health problem or be at risk of developing one.
  • Where children have suffered abuse and neglect, or other potentially traumatic experiences, this can have a lasting impact throughout childhood and into adulthood.
  • It is important that staff are aware of how these children’s experiences, and their high prevalence of special educational needs and mental health needs, can impact on their behaviour and education.
  • If staff have a mental health concern about a child that is also a safeguarding concern, immediate action should be taken, following their child protection policy and speaking to the designated safeguarding lead or a deputy.

In addition, there is a new section, ‘children requiring mental health support’ which is in part 2 of KCSIE. This sets out the arrangements for the management of safeguarding. The main points:

  • Schools and colleges have an important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.
  • Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure they have clear systems and processes in place for identifying possible mental health problems, including routes to escalate and clear referral and accountability systems.
  • Schools and colleges can access a range of advice to help them identify children in need of extra mental health support, this includes working with external agencies.

What does Minds Ahead think about this? 

This guidance falls short. In a country where more young people die by suicide than any other cause, we need a policy which helps schools and colleges to be more alert and responsive to these needs. The proposals have hardly any regard to serious mental health concerns such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders – the issues that too many schools and colleges are dealing with everyday.

We will feed these comments back to the DfE in the hope that they provide guidance to schools and colleges which is more in line with the mental health problems experienced by children and young people.

N.B. This new policy will go live later in 2020 (probably September) and so schools and colleges should continue to use the current 2019 KCSIE policy until then.

Written by Dean Johnstone