Safeguarding needs strong boundaries

As any parent or teacher knows boundaries are an important part of keeping children safe. They are also an important part of children feeling safe. Children, from toddlers to teens need to know that adults who have their best interests at heart will maintain boundaries for them to ensure their safety, no matter how much they rail against them. As children grow it is equally important that they are involved in setting and keeping their own boundaries so that they are able to keep themselves safe both mentally and physically. This must be done sensitively, making it clear to children that they have an absolute right to their own boundaries whilst being equally clear that if somebody does transgress these boundaries that it is never their fault. The perpetrators of abuse are always at fault, never the victims.

When teaching Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) there are a variety of boundaries to be maintained. The boundary between teacher and students, students’ personal boundaries, boundaries around outside agencies visiting schools or youth groups and ensuring they are properly vetted, boundaries around materials ensuring that only age-appropriate resources are used.

Age appropriate and sensitive RSE is an important part of safeguarding children. However, if delivered incorrectly, it can do the opposite. Ideologically driven and age-inappropriate materials have the potential to erode children’s boundaries rather than enforcing them.

RSE must be factual and for the benefit of the children it is being delivered to. It must be remembered that in any many cases there will be at least one child in the class who has been or is currently being sexually abused. The likelihood is that these students will not have disclosed their abuse. Some will not even realise that what they have experienced IS abuse. This realisation may come during a lesson. These students must always be the primary consideration.

Normally we don’t encourage adults to discuss sex with children. Adults initiating sexualised chat with children breaks down boundaries and is a form of grooming. We must be very careful that when we give children much needed information on sex and relationships that boundaries are not crossed. Children have a right to information such as what changes they can expect during puberty, reproduction and contraception, protection against STIs, what the law is around consent and how the age of consent is in place to protect them from predatory adults. They need to know what their rights are. They need to know that they have the right to say No. However, some sex education programs have crossed a line as Safe Schools Alliance has detailed here

Children have the absolute right to receive accurate information regarding biology, their rights and the law and to be reassured that it is absolutely normal to be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or to have no interest at all. They also have the absolute right to maintain their own boundaries with regards to who they discuss sexual pleasure with. Adults generally maintain boundaries around discussing their sexual likes and dislikes only with their intimate partners and closest friends. Most would not appreciate being instructed to discuss ‘sexual pleasure’ with their colleagues and boss. So, whilst it is important to reassure children that sex should not be an unpleasant or painful experience (especially as some will have already received damaging messages from porn) it is imperative that appropriate boundaries are maintained.

An important part of safeguarding is being alert to grooming. Those working with children will be aware that those with nefarious intentions will not only groom children but will first groom the adults, who should be protecting them, in order to get to children. We must all be aware that grooming works not just on an individual basis but on a societal basis too. Grooming can happen, not just in person, but via materials too. RSE materials must be assessed using our safeguarding knowledge. Are the materials empowering children or are they lowering their boundaries? Who do the materials benefit? Do they benefit the children being taught or do they benefit predators who wish to lower children’s boundaries?

Tanya Carter will be speaking at our webinar on Sat, 19 March 2022, from 10:30 – 13:00 GMT. Book your tickets here.