Child Protection Guidelines
Child Protection Guidelines taken from 2018-19 Safety and Security Manual.
Approved by the Board
B. CHILD PROTECTION GUIDELINES
B.1 International schools
International schools are evolving, dynamic and generally highly diverse eco-systems; this is particularly true of the ISO community, which consists of a well-balanced mixture of Burkinabe families, long-term residents of many other nationalities, and shorter-stay expatriate families. While the many different family and cultural environments from which ISO students hail all have their specific characteristics and face their own challenges, it is precisely the point of children’s rights (and indeed human rights in general) that they are universal, regardless of nationality or social background.
For our students (but not necessarily always their parents), a school like ISO itself tends to create a kind of “third culture” environment, a hybrid that does not wholly correspond to that of any one national background or social class, but draws on elements of a very wide variety of backgrounds. Exposure to multiple and sometimes conflicting cultures and value systems can create confusion about behavioral expectations; the typically precocious maturity and sophistication of international school students in some areas may thus be balanced by naiveté and immaturity in other domains.
It is important that staff understand the particular challenges and vulnerabilities associated with life as an international school student. When things are going well, and the family constitutes a safe and nurturing environment, the life of such a student can be highly privileged and rewarding. Where that environment has broken down, that aura of privilege can turn into a liability.
A child experiencing abuse or neglect would normally first seek support from a parent, who would take the responsibility of mobilizing the relevant help and support services. However, it is sadly well documented that most child abuse is perpetrated by someone that the child knows, loves, and trusts. In such circumstances, reaching out to the professional resources needed can be a daunting prospect for a parent to whom the child has turned for help, who him- or herself feels isolated, alone with a child in need while still living in close proximity to the abuser, and struggling with the sadness and fear that situation has caused. Such parents may themselves be reluctant or scared to seek help, or not know how to go about doing so.
Schools have a special institutional role in society as protectors of children. They must ensure that all children in their care are afforded a safe and secure environment in which to grow and develop. Educators, having the opportunity to observe and interact with children over time, are in a unique position to identify children who are in need of help and protection. As such, educators have a professional and ethical obligation to identify children who are in need of help and protection, and to take steps to ensure that the children and families concerned avail themselves of the services needed to remedy any situation that constitutes child abuse or neglect.
B.2 ISO’s child protection principles
Child abuse and neglect are concerns throughout the world. Such behavior constitutes a violation of children’s rights and a major impediment to their education and to their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing and development. ISO’ philosophy is based on, and takes as its starting point, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which our host country, Burkina Faso, is a signatory.
Child abuse can be defined as any form of physical, emotional and/or sexual mistreatment, or withholding or failing to provide care, that causes physical or emotional harm to a child. All the following types of child abuse involve the misuse of power and/or a breach of trust:
− Emotional abuse is a chronic attack on a child’s self-esteem by a person in a position of trust or authority. Verbal abuse, rejection, degradation, isolation, humiliation, manipulation, terrorization, exposure to acts of family violence, corruption and exploitation are all forms of emotional abuse.
− Physical abuse occurs when a person in a position of trust or authority purposefully injures or threatens to injure a child or youth or deliberately withholds the basic necessities of life, eg clothing, shelter, healthy diet, education, good hygiene, medical and dental care, adequate rest, a safe environment, supervision, moral guidance and discipline, exercise and fresh air
− Neglect is chronic failure to provide (through inattention) the same basic necessities of life.
− Sexual abuse occurs when a younger or less powerful person is used by an older or more powerful person for sexual gratification. Sexual abuse can be contact (holding in a sexual manner, touching or forcing to touch sexual body parts, penetration) or non-contact (exposure to sexual talk, sexual body parts, live sex acts or photographic or video pornography).
All ISO staff who have reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered, or is at significant risk of suffering, abuse or neglect are required to report their observations to the school’s child protection team (CPT). The ISO CPT is a standing body comprising the school counselor, the elementary and upper school principals, and a resource person appointed annually by the Director. The CPT is responsible for assessing and following up all suspected or alleged cases of abuse or neglect reported by staff, and for recommending an appropriate course of action to the Director. In egregious cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, such action includes reporting the matter to the competent local (and where relevant consular) authorities.
Any and all situations involving alleged or actual child abuse and neglect are managed in strict confidentiality; such information is highly sensitive, need-to-know, and shared only with those whose involvement is absolutely necessary to protect the child concerned.
Should allegations of child abuse be made against a member of staff, ISO will conduct a full investigation in line with Standard Operating Procedures developed for this purpose, at all times keeping the safety of the child concerned as its highest priority, but taking meticulous care to observe due process (including the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven). If the investigation establishes that the allegations warrant action, the matter will immediately be referred to the competent local (and where relevant consular) authorities.
ISO is determined to provide a safe haven for students who may be experiencing abuse or neglect in any aspect of their lives. Each year the school will:
- distribute these child protection guidelines to all parents and applicant families
- provide age-appropriate instruction on child protection issues to all students
- provide appropriate child protection training for all relevant staff
- mainstream child protection into its hiring practices
- review the content and implementation of the guidelines for compliance and effectiveness.
For detailed information on the UN Convention on the Rights of Child see:
B.3 Suspected child abuse or neglect: the role of teachers and staff
Teachers and staff are not professional investigators or psychiatrists. Their role is not to propose solutions or resolve difficult situations but to observe and where appropriate to listen in confidence to disclosures of abuse or neglect. If a staff member believes it is warranted, or is in any doubt, they must refer the matter to the CPT, which will recommend a course of action to the Director to ensure that the student concerned gets the help required.
B.3.1 Recognizing the signs of abuse
Children who have experienced abuse may exhibit behavioral changes such as disrupted eating or sleeping habits, no longer enjoying activities they used to like, becoming more restless and agitated – or more withdrawn – than usual. Victims of abuse often hide their feelings, blame themselves, keep it secret, and rationalize the abuse by telling themselves it was not that bad or it won’t happen again. Some seek attention through aggressive, self-destructive or highly sexual behavior, while others seek escape through alcohol or drugs, or run away. Some victims contemplate, attempt or commit suicide.
B.3.2 Suicide prevention
Child protection also includes suicide prevention. Adolescent suicide can be prevented if potential trigger events such as the loss of a parent or sibling or the break-up of the family or other relationships are noted, and at-risk behavior is recognized and addressed in a timely and sensitive manner.
Schools have no choice but to talk about suicide with its students. If a suicide occurs and the school does not respond, there is a danger that the suicide will “speak for itself.” Steps must be taken to help students talk about what they are feeling to prevent the risk of further suicides from increasing. The loss of a friend or loved one to suicide increases the risk of a suicide among close friends and family by eight. Ignoring a suicide invites panic and desperation that may in turn lead to irrational decisions. More detail on counselling procedures in the aftermath of a traumatic event is given in annex II.5.
B.3.3 Potential warning signs
Behavior patterns among disturbed children – whether they have suffered a great personal loss or some other traumatic event, or are the victims of depression or abuse vary from individual to individual, but all to a greater or lesser extent manifest themselves as an apparent change in personality, involving indicators such as:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Uncharacteristic, forced behavior
- Altered eating or sleep patterns
- Changed relationship with peers
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disregard for appearance
- Drop in grades and attendance at school
- Fascination with weapons, violence & death
- Self-destructive behavior; self-mutilation
- Sustained melancholy or listlessness
- Inability to express feeling or emotion
- Chronic health problems; psychosomatic illnesses
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Sexual promiscuity
- Social isolation
- Agitation and acute restlessness
B.3.4 Dealing with a disclosure of abuse or neglect: dos and don’ts
If a student asks to speak with you in confidence, find a neutral setting where you can have quiet and few interruptions and the student feels comfortable – for example a walk out in the open, or in a classroom with the door open with both parties visible from the outside.
Do not let the student swear you to secrecy before commencing disclosure. You may need to make a report, which will be seen as a breach of trust if you have promised not to say anything. Explain that you will have to tell other people in order to get proper help; that these people are bound by strict confidentiality rules and an overriding obligation to protect children in this situation.
Other than that, confirm that you will respect and protect the student’s confidence. Share what has been disclosed to you with the CPT, but do not volunteer information to other staff.
Do not lead the student in the telling or put words into his/her mouth. Just listen, letting him/her explain in his/her own words. Don’t exert pressure on the student to give more detail.
Respond calmly and matter-of-factly. Even if the story that the student tells you is difficult to hear, it is important not to register disgust or alarm.
Do not make judgmental or disparaging comments about the alleged abuser; those responsible for child abuse are frequently someone the child loves or to whom he/she is close.
Do not promise the student that things will get better, or undertake to confront the alleged abuser. Write up the key elements of the conversation, sticking to the facts and avoiding interpretation.
If the student does not want to go home, it should be considered an emergency situation. Do not take the student home with you. Contact the CPT immediately.
B.3.5 Taking action: the Child Protection Team (CPT)
Staff members who are concerned – as a result of either observation or disclosure – that a student may be suffering abuse or neglect or constitute a suicide risk, contact the CPT, which meets to assess the situation, gather information, and determine what action to recommend to the Director. The staff member reporting the concern may be included in the CPT’s discussion but is not usually directly involved in any subsequent intervention or crisis plan implementation.
Most cases of suspected abuse, neglect or at-risk behavior are, with the Director’s approval, handled directly by the CPT. Such cases include relationship problems with peers, parenting issues such as discipline at home, student-parent relationships in general, and mental health issues such as depression and low self-esteem. In these cases, the CPT meets the students, families and other individuals immediately concerned to discuss the issue and to assess the situation and the options. A plan is developed with parents, which may comprise:
- immediate action;
- referral to external therapeutic or other professional expertise;
- assignment of a CPT member to monitor the student;
- communication to the relevant staff on the action taken;
- documentation of the school’s actions.
Where more serious mental health issues are concerned the CPT makes a formal recommendation to refer the case to appropriate external expertise. Examples of such cases notably include severe depression, psychosis, dissociation, and suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.
Cases of physical or sexual abuse, or neglect severe enough to compromise the child’s safety, are reported to the competent local authorities, and where appropriate to the relevant consulate.
B.4 ISO child protection code
The public and private conduct of faculty, staff, employees, students, and volunteers acting on behalf of ISO can inspire and motivate those with whom they interact, or can cause great harm if inappropriate. We will, at all times, be aware of the responsibilities that accompany our work, and we will provide a safe environment for our students. We will intervene when there is evidence, or reasonable cause to suspect, that a child in our care is the subject of any form of abuse or neglect. All cases of suspected abuse or neglect will be reported as directed in ISO’s child protection guidelines. All child protection matters will be treated in strict confidentiality.
We will be aware of our own and other persons’ vulnerability, especially when working alone with our students; we will be constantly aware that we are responsible for maintaining clear, unthreatening and appropriate physical, emotional, and sexual boundaries in such interactions. We will avoid any covert or overt sexual behavior in respect of those for whom we have responsibility, including behavior that constitutes or may be perceived to constitute harassment by means of seductive, suggestive, abusive or exploitative speech or gestures (including physical contact).
ISO personnel and volunteers are strictly and absolutely prohibited from physically disciplining a student, at any time or in any way. We will exercise prudence and discretion before touching another person, especially a student; we will be aware of how physical touch will be perceived or received, and consider whether touching would be an appropriate expression of greeting, care, concern, or celebration. Physical contact with children can be misconstrued both by the recipient and by those who observe it; it should occur only when completely nonsexual and otherwise appropriate, and must never take place in private. One-on-one meetings with a student will be held in a public area, in a room where the interaction can be (is) observed, or in a room with the door left open; a colleague or supervisor will wherever possible be notified in advance about such meetings. School nurse, doctor and counselors will use their professional judgment to determine if full privacy is needed when meeting / diagnosing a student.
Teachers, staff, employees, and volunteers may not possess, distribute, use or be under the influence of alcohol, tobacco, solvents, controlled substances or drugs other than prescription medication when on the ISO campus (during school hours) or when working with children generally. We may not possess or distribute inappropriate reading or video material to students, and we may not accept gifts from, or give gifts to, them without their parents’/guardians’ approval.
All communication between ISO staff (including volunteers) and students will be transparent, and strictly limited to the professional role of the personnel concerned. Email exchanges between students and persons acting on behalf of the school will be made using a school email address. Electronic communication that takes place over a school network or platform may be subject to periodic monitoring. Faculty, staff, and volunteers will use online communications, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and text messaging, to communicate with students solely in respect of bona fide school activities.
See annex I.1 for the standard child protection undertaking signed by all ISO staff members. See annexes I.2 and I.3 for standard letter on child protection addressed to all ISO parents.