Supervising Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) in primary and secondary schools: focus on child sexual abuse
Project Summary & Aims
This trial aims to establish the impact of providing a supervising social worker to provide supervision to Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) in primary and secondary schools. The programme has a specific focus on child sexual abuse (CSA), through the provision of specific training in this area.
Addressing child sexual abuse has become an issue of increasing concern; in 2021, Ofsted conducted a review of practices and policies in schools relating to child sexual abuse; recommendations included the provision of greater support for DSLs (such as protected time in timetables) as well as national training. While the programme has a specific focus on child sexual abuse, the supervision will still cover any potential issues raised in relation to Children’s Social Care (CSC).
DSLs are responsible for safeguarding and child protection in schools, and are expected to: manage referrals; act as a liaison with safeguarding partners including local authority case managers, head teachers and other school staff; undergo specialist training; raise awareness; and maintain child protection files.
Although the role can involve having to make difficult decisions about vulnerable children in often complex circumstances, anecdotally at least, the provision of formal supervision for DSLs can be limited.
The aims of the intervention are to:
- Improve knowledge and understanding of CSC processes and issues among DSLs, resulting in reductions in inappropriate contacts to CSC
- Improve DSLs’ knowledge and understanding in respect of identifying and responding to potential indicators of child sexual abuse
- Reduce DSL stress and anxiety, resulting in reduced rates of DSL burnout and turnover.
This programme builds on and extends the initial pilot programme delivered to primary schools in Bolton in the school year 2019-20. Related work evaluating similar programmes of DSL supervision in secondary schools is ongoing; comprising individual supervision in secondary schools in LAs in Greater Manchester, and two further trials operating in parallel to this study providing individual supervision in primary schools and group supervision in secondary schools respectively. However, this is the first version of the programme to have a specific focus on child sexual abuse, and grew out of increasing evidence of sexual abuse in schools, including Ofsted’s rapid review completed in June 2021 which found “how prevalent sexual harassment and online sexual abuse are for children and young people” and recommended support for DSLs. In this current study, the supervision sessions are being supplemented by specific training for both supervising social workers and DSLs in addressing child sexual abuse.
These programmes were developed in recognition of the fact that the DSL role can be stressful. Qualitative evidence from the Bolon primary school pilot indicates that DSLs receiving the programme welcomed the support this offered with some reporting of increased confidence and improvements in mental wellbeing.
This project follows a similar intervention delivery to the individual primary school and secondary school programmes; primary schools will receive one-to-one supervision and secondary schools will receive group supervision. The group supervision model is being implemented in this scale up as we found through the GMCA randomised control trial that one-to-one supervision does not address their needs appropriately as there are usually more than one DSL within a secondary school due to the larger size of most secondary schools.
In this project, support on sexual abuse is facilitated through specific training for both supervising social workers and DSLs around child sexual abuse, with training and materials developed and delivered by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse.
The evaluation comprises a randomised controlled trial, along with an implementation and process evaluation and analysis of costs.
The two-arm randomised control trial will take place across nine Local Authorities. Participating schools in this programme will be randomised (at Local Authority level) to either receive DSL supervision through this programme or to continue as ‘business as usual’. Approximately 757 schools will be participating in this project across the 2021/2022 academic year and approximately 298,000 children attend these 757 schools. The final evaluation report will be submitted in November 2022.
The overarching purpose of the implementation and process evaluation (IPE) is to show how the intervention is delivered and implemented in different Local Authorities and schools, the factors that inform this, and any perceived impact on DSL practices. In this way, the process evaluation aims to bring greater clarity to the quantitative research findings and to understand the reasons behind them. It also gathers practitioners’ views on how the intervention might be improved, to inform any future delivery and rollout.
Each participating Local Authority will recruit supervising social workers to work with and supervise the DSL’s based in the intervention arm of schools to support children and families more effectively and improve the appropriateness and quality of contacts to children’s social care. Supervision to DSL’s will be provided in the form of one-to-one sessions, taking place every four weeks. Data for the cost evaluation will be collected from the participating local authorities and schools.