Children’s safeguarding should always be the number one priority for all school staff, but with pupils mostly working from home for the majority of the last year, schools have had to redefine their safeguarding practices.

For episode 5 of our podcast series 10 with Zen, we talked with Hayley Cameron (Education Safeguarding Manager) and Jo Cassey (Managing Director) from Cognus about safeguarding during the pandemic. Cognus work in partnership with the London Borough of Sutton, and provide education services to schools and specialist education providers for the Sutton area and further afield.


How the pandemic has impacted safeguarding

“We suddenly weren’t at liberty to visit a house, or visit a school or education setting.”

Jo Cassey

Summary: With so many children not attending school at the start of the pandemic, leaders had to quickly rethink their safeguarding strategies. “We suddenly weren’t at liberty to visit a house, or visit a school or education setting”, Jo explained.

Key insights: Staff were concerned about vulnerable children who were not being seen. Jo detailed how the Cognus team looked to the agencies they work with: “We were having to really lean into all of the agencies that we work with, and had to consider how we quickly safely and effectively share intelligence and share data in order to support and – this is the important bit – have eyes and ears on the families. (…) This has helped us to identify the effective partnerships that we have got.”

Opportunities: The pandemic has given schools and education organisations the opportunity to work more closely with professionals supporting children’s safeguarding. These include GPs, and staff who work in children’s social care, housing benefits and the voluntary sector. This newfound stronger relationship with public sector colleagues, combined with a strengthened relationship between agencies, has meant more people working together towards a common goal of safeguarding, as Hayley explained. “You can see a real joint approach, more information is being shared. There are shared, common goals and everyone wants to get this right.”


Safeguarding with video chat

“We need to make families feel comfortable with reaching out to us.”

Hayley Cameron

Summary: The impact of the pandemic meant some of the protective factors for children’s safeguarding has needed a change in approach. Ordinarily, children would have face-to-face contact with their peers, but since COVID schools have been relying on software like Zoom and FaceTime to facilitate these relationships which are crucial to effective safeguarding.

Key insights:[Before COVID] some people didn’t pick up their phone, and you sit there and think, right, I’ll try again. And then if you haven’t heard, then you start to worry. And your mind starts to imagine all kinds of things. (…) We need to try and piece all of the information together and make the families feel comfortable with reaching out to us.”

Opportunities: The wide range of secure video chat services now available helps us do exactly that: make families feel comfortable with reaching out. “We started to make more use of Google Meets, Zoom and other different platforms that families felt comfortable with using, and I think that was really, really important”, Hayley explained. “They need to feel confident that they can actually come back and tell us what it really is like for them.”


What can be done to make a difference as children return to school?

“We need to make sure that our teachers, TAs and everybody that supports our young people has the appropriate space and time to reflect to be able to share.”

Jo Cassey

Summary: Hayley emphasised the importance of empathy and understanding children’s emotional needs. Jo mentioned that because of the increased demands on the education workforce since the pandemic, it’s important for everyone who supports young people to have space and time to reflect so they can safeguard as effectively as possible.

Key insights: “It goes back to mentalisation”, Hayley explained, “and having that ability to step back and really try and see and understand what’s been going on for somebody else. signposting is always going to be really important - it’s been brilliant throughout the pandemic, but that will continue.”

Jo went on to explain that “because of the significant demands on our education workforce, we need to make sure that our teachers, TAs and everybody that supports our young people has the appropriate space and time to reflect to be able to share”.

Opportunities: Facilitating both Jo and Hayley’s points can be done in a wide range of ways. To Hayley’s point, here is a resource from University College London outlining how to create a safe space in the classroom so that children feel more comfortable being honest and open.

Jo emphasised that colleagues can support each other emotionally to ensure they are better equipped to prioritise children’s safeguarding needs. She explained that this can help to “create a safe space so that people are able just offload.”


We’d like to thank Jo, Hayley and Helen for taking part. For more insight on children’s safeguarding from Jo and Hayley, view our Effective Children’s Safeguarding During COVID-19 webinar from last month.