If your commute to work has been noticeably speedier over the last couple of weeks, you will know it can only mean one thing - SUMMER HOLIDAYS.
Whilst you may be relaxing in the calmness of the roads, quite the opposite effect takes place when working in safeguarding.
It is clear that when children come out of the structure and routine of education, this can become a stressful time for them and their parents/guardians alike. This effect is magnified when the child or the family is considered vulnerable.
It may come as no surprise that many types of abuse increase during this time. Here’s how you can do your bit and help safeguard children from some of the most common types of abuse such as FGM, forced marriage, neglect, online abuse and gang-related abuse.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a type of ‘honour-based violence’ and is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It's also known as female circumcision or cutting.
Religion, social or culture are all given as reasons for FGM. However, FGM is child abuse. It's dangerous and it is a criminal offence.
In the UK, it is estimated that up to 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). Girls are at particular risk of FGM during the summer holidays (Metropolitan Police) when the break from school means they have time to undergo, and recover from, FGM.
Forced marriage is also a type of honour-based violence and is illegal in the UK. Forced Marriages are not the same as ‘arranged marriages’ where people have a choice about whether they will marry or not. Forced marriages often happen in secret and can be planned by parents, family or religious leaders and can involve physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Signs to look out for:
- A family arranging a long break abroad during the summer holidays
- Unexpected, repeated or prolonged absence from school
- Academic work suffering
- A child may ask a teacher or another adult for help if she suspects FGM is going to happen or she may run away from home or miss school
Indicators FGM may have taken place:
- Have difficulty walking, standing or sitting
- Spend longer in the bathroom or toilet
- Appear withdrawn, anxious or depressed
- Have unusual behaviour after an absence from school or college
- Be particularly reluctant to undergo normal medical examinations
- Ask for help, but may not be explicit about the problem due to embarrassment or fear
If you think that a child may be at risk of female genital mutilation or if you suspect that FGM has already happened, even if it's not recently, you must seek help and advice.
From NSPCC figures, throughout 2017/18, there were a total of 7,277 children referred to authorities due to concerns about them being left to fend for themselves, but the charity claims calls peak in August, during the summer holidays.
An ‘Eyes Open campaign’ has been launched in Scotland – which aims to raise awareness that people can play an important role to keep children safe from harm in the holidays, when young people will spend more time unsupervised.
It is estimated that up to 10% of all children in Britain are neglected; failing to receive basic needs such as:
- Clean clothes
- Safety and security
Long holidays can lead to an increase in problems faced by neglected children, as they lose the routine, structure and regular meals provided by schools in term time.
Keep in mind, neglect is the most common form of child abuse, children suffering from neglect may have:
- Poor appearance and hygiene
- Health and development problems
- Housing and family issues
During the holidays, young people will often use social media to keep in touch with their peers and stay updated. However, this can mean children are exposed to online abuse.
Online abuse is any form of abuse that happens through the use of the internet, this could include social networks/chat sites or online gaming. Online abuse can include a range of serious issues such as cyberbullying, grooming, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or emotional abuse.
It is not clear how many young people are affected by online abuse as children don’t often tell anyone due to them feeling embarrassed or guilty, they also may not know who to turn to. Another serious issue is they may not actually feel like they are being abused.
Signs a child may be experiencing abuse online:
- Spending a lot more or a lot less time online, texting, gaming or using social media
- Seem withdrawn, upset or outraged after using their mobile/computer
- Are secretive about who they’re talking to and what they’re doing
- Increased activity on their device/computer
The holidays may be a good opportunity for professionals/parents to find out which apps are their favourites and to talk them through the dangers of the online world.
- Children must be at least 13 to use most popular social networking sites
- Every device/network will have the option of strict privacy settings that can be used to prevent accounts and information being found by the wrong people
- 1 in 3 internet users are children
The Childhood Trust recently published findings revealing that more than half of children in London from disadvantaged backgrounds have witnessed violence during previous holidays, with many fearful of experiencing the same in the coming holidays.
When the structure of education is removed, the charity warns that as well as being ‘susceptible to violence and abuse’ young people also face an increased risk of being involved ‘in anti-social activities due to boredom and lack of fulfilment’ or potentially being exploited by gangs.
Young people involved in gangs may be victims of violence or pressured into doing things like stealing or carrying illegal goods. Remember, for gangs, children are useful ‘foot soldiers’ they are cheap and easily controlled and intimidated. They also find it a lot easier to slip under the Police’s radar.
Things to look out for:
- Change in the way they dress/their style
- Poor behaviour
- Change in the way they talk/language they use
- Changes in academic performance
- Carrying weapons
- Unexplained injuries or goods/possessions they wouldn’t normally be able to afford
- Staying out later than usual
School holidays can be a fantastic time for many young people, but we must bear in mind that not every young person has the same experience. If we are all aware of the signs and are more vigilant when it comes to changes in young people, we can help reduce the risk of abuse on a large scale.
If you’re concerned about a young person, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, alternatively, if a child is in immediate danger, contact the Police 999.
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