We recently interviewed Tessa Herbert, former Head of Marketing for the NSPCC. Having worked for this UK charity for almost seven years, she was able to share some insights into child welfare and safeguarding.
Q. Can you tell us about the NSPCC?
NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) is a UK charity that was founded in 1884. Its purpose has always been single-minded: to end cruelty to children. We believe that it is possible to prevent it from happening in all its guises, by growing awareness and educating the public to recognise early signs and take action, by offering preventative services to at risk families, and by changing the law. We also work with children who have experienced abuse, to help them recover.
Q. Why is it important to have charities like this in operation?
First and most important because children and families need us. We are not a replacement for social services, we do what they haven’t got the resource to do – research, test and learn about what works best to prevent abuse. Then social services can adapt their services accordingly. If we (and other charities like us) didn’t do that, no one would. We also have a powerful voice. Everyone knows who we are and when we speak people usually listen. So we can campaign for change in a way that government organisations simply can’t. And we’re entirely independent of government, so not curtailed in our views or actions by government mandates and grants. We can hold them to account when we need to.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge during Covid-19?
The rise in demand for our services. When the pandemic hit so many at risk children became invisible to all the agencies that were there to try and protect them – schools, doctors, social services. We know there was a significant rise in domestic violence and that’s just what was reported. At the same time we lost most of our fundraising income as all events were cancelled, direct debits were cancelled as people were worried about their jobs, and the future was uncertain for us all. Getting our services out there as quickly as possible (particularly our helpline) for people who were worried about the safety of a child, while losing most of our fundraising income at the same time, was a huge challenge.
Q. In your experience, what are the most common signs of abuse to look out for?
Many signs can be difficult to spot, and there are several different types of abuse which have different indicators. Any sudden and sustained change in a child’s behaviour should be cause for concern. Most often a child will seem very withdrawn, find it difficult to bond with people or flinch from physical contact. If they are dirty or obviously hungry this would be an indicator for neglect. Using inappropriate language or having knowledge of sexual issues way beyond their age is another sign.
Q. What kind of work do you do with schools?
We run a programme for primary schools (4-11) called ‘Speak out. Stay safe’. This runs as a series of assemblies for the different key stages, running the children through the different forms of abuse and what to do if they are being hurt by anyone. We also run some more intense workshops with the older children to delve deeper into relevant issues like online safety. We also offer education professionals a wide range of training (face to face and virtual) to enable them to better spot the signs of abuse and take the right action to help.
Q. What is your advice to anyone who might be experiencing abuse?
To find an adult they trust and talk to them. However scary it feels, that adult will listen, they will tell you it’s not your fault, and they will help. And if the person being abused hasn’t got an adult they can talk to, there are helplines (such as Childline) which are usually free and you can be anonymous.
Q. Can you share any wellbeing practices that you (and your family) have adopted?
Exercise on my own or as a family, even just a walk. This has certainly helped us cope with the last year and anxieties it brought. And making sure we talk openly about these issues.
Q. Any more words of wisdom?
The most important thing any parent can do is talk to their children about these things. And one conversation about online safety with your child is not the job done, you have to keep doing it, keep up with their world, check in regularly and make sure they’re not worried about anything. Every preventative service we offer, and every recovery service, is about talking.