Safeguarding in Schools: Making the Case

Educators have long understood that to succeed academically, students’ non-academic needs—whether physical, mental, social or emotional—must first be met. Proactively responding to students’ needs is equally critical. Without a proactive strategy for managing non-academic concerns, school systems may not intervene until a student’s case reaches crisis level—and by then, it can be too late. This blog is part of a 4-part series that will examine strategic safeguarding in schools.

In the United Kingdom, one such case prompted the Department of Education to release statutory guidance for Safeguarding—keeping children safe—in schools. 


Tragedy leads to systemic change 

Four-year-old Daniel Pelka attended a small primary school in the West Midland region of England. In 2012, the young elementary student died of an acute head injury—after his mother and stepfather had starved, neglected and abused him. In 2013, they were both convicted of murder. 

How did this level of neglect and abuse go unnoticed?  

While individual teachers expressed concern over Daniel’s behaviour, his challenges were misinterpreted and dismissed as ‘low-level’ issues. Because the school lacked a process for tracking and managing non-academic concerns, staff failed to see the entire picture of what was happening at home.  

In response to this unnecessary tragedy, Safeguarding as a practice was implemented in all K-12 settings in England—setting schools up to proactively engage, manage and address the challenges, crises and traumas students show up with every day.   

Safeguarding addresses schools’ fundamental responsibility to protect children from harm, support their development and take action when it's needed.  

Learn more about Daniel Pelka’s story: 


Proactively, equitably support students’ needs 

Safeguarding is the practice of proactively addressing the non-academic challenges students face every day—such as bullying, economic hardship, racism, abuse, trauma and hunger.  

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Safeguarding in schools is essential for keeping children safe. In the U.K., schools achieve Safeguarding compliance by having the following in place: 

  • Whole-school Safeguarding policies and procedures 
  • Staff and volunteers confident in identifying and raising concerns 
  • Leadership confident in responding to and referring concerns and working with other agencies to protect children 
  • Teaching resources to promote student wellbeing 

Effective Safeguarding practice enables educators to identify problems before they arise, efficiently deal with concerns, proactively build a network of intentional supports, track efforts and progress and systemically protect students.  


Safeguarding in U.S. schools 

Meeting students’ non-academic needs is not a new idea for U.S. schools. However, the pandemic has accelerated the need for high-quality support. 

In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health.  

Specifically, the three organizations advocated for additional federal funding to improve access to and quality of care across the continuum of mental health promotion, prevention and treatment—systematic procedures that most U.S. schools lack. To heed the call, districts will need to ensure they have a process in place for documenting students’ needs, referring out to services and collaboratively managing responses. 

In its Return to School Roadmap, U.S. Department of Education prioritizes the health and safety of students, staff and families, including their social-emotional and mental wellbeing, before addressing students’ academic needs. Steps for schools and districts include: 

  • Communicate frequently with families – in their home language – and work to build their confidence that children will be safe in-person 
  • Encourage and provide access to vaccinations for eligible students and staff 
  • Implement COVID-19 testing in schools 
  • Assess social, emotional, mental health needs of students and staff 
  • Invest in effective strategies to address the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.  
  • Provide professional development for educators and staff to address these needs 
  • Invest in school counselors and mental health professionals in schools 
  • Ensure restorative, equitable, and inclusive approaches to school discipline 

The practice of Safeguarding and tools for supporting it have been well-refined over the past decade. To date, over 4,500 schools have adopted Safeguarding to track, manage and respond to non-academic needs. 

With the pandemic shedding additional light on the non-academic needs of students and staff, the time is now for school and district leaders to establish effective Safeguarding practices to ensure proactive, needed support. 


In our next post, learn more about Safeguarding in schools, including best practices for K-12 education leaders 

Posted Date

5th January 2022

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