Who is safeguarding the safeguarders? Study reveals school safeguarding staff are STILL suffering distress – yet are less likely than ever to seek support

                     30% of DSLs (Designated Safeguarding Leads) in schools admit suffering distress or upset as a result of carrying out their roles

                     DSL safeguarding distress similar to 2020 pandemic levels

                     Yet there is a 25% decline in DSLs seeking support compared with two years ago

New research released today for Mental Health Awareness Week, has revealed two years on from the pandemic starting, teachers and staff responsible for safeguarding are STILL suffering high levels of distress as a result of carrying out their role. However, they are less likely than ever to seek personal support to help address the issue.  

According to the data, released by Smoothwall, a leading digital safeguarding technology provider, nearly a third (30%) of those responsible for safeguarding in a school have experienced or seen something that has caused personal distress, such as upsetting images or content.

DSLs within private schools (20%) fare significantly better than those in state schools (31%). However, the levels of distress experienced by those responsible for safeguarding as a whole remains largely in line with comparative data from 2020 (33%).

Despite levels remaining high, there has been a significant decline in the number of DSLs seeking professional support, such as counselling, or personal help from colleagues or peers. In fact, when compared with two years ago, DSLs are 25% less likely to seek support of any kind, posing the question: who is safeguarding those with a responsibility to safeguard?

Safeguarding can be an extremely challenging role with seemingly ‘invisible’ issues such as students accessing harmful online material often flying under the radar and being difficult to spot. The research underlines this with 1-in-10 DSLs admitting they feel unable to spot mental health issues amongst children in their care.

Kat Howard, safeguarding expert at Smoothwall, said: “Those staff with a safeguarding responsibility are absolutely committed to providing the very best care and support for their students, and the fear of missing a vulnerable child can cause significant stress in itself. However, the experience of witnessing atrocious content, sexual imagery, online student chats with potential perpetrators and more through their day-to-day roles is not pleasant and over time can affect their wellbeing and mental health too.

 “Safeguarding issues are also widespread. Our own digital monitoring data shows that every 12 minutes, a child was found to have been involved in a serious sexual incident, and every 22 minutes, a child was involved in a serious cyberbullying, or violent incident.

“As such, it’s critically important we provide those with a responsibility for safeguarding, not only the right tools and technology to be able to do their job more efficiently and spot issues before they escalate, but also to recognise and provide the appropriate emotional and mental health support for those carrying out this crucially important job.”

Against this context, an active monitoring solution can provide DSLs with valuable support and reassurance in identifying those most at risk. Digital devices within a school are constantly monitored to check for signs of risk in children, quickly. 

Serious risks such as a suicide, grooming or a gang meeting can all be picked up in real-time if a child has used their keyboard to view content, message someone, look for information, type out their feelings – even if they delete it immediately or never press ‘send’ or ‘enter’. This approach can support the valuable ‘eyes and ears’ approach to safeguarding, that relies on teacher’s years of experience in intuition.

For more information on Smoothwall, or to access a full report into the research, visit https://www.smoothwall.com/