What makes a children’s champion?

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Who you gonna call?

Last month England’s Department for Education launched a new phase in their Together, we can tackle child abuse campaign. They say this is in response to a YouGov poll that “more than a quarter (26 per cent) of adults surveyed said they had worried about the welfare, neglect or abuse of a child, of which over two-fifths (42 per cent) did not report their suspicions to someone with child protection responsibilities” (DfE, 2018). The campaign aims are threefold: to increase public awareness of different types of child abuse and neglect; providing information on what to look out for; and to provide information on how and why people should report their concerns.

As people who strive to be advocates for young children, we understand the importance of passing information on to relevant professionals when we are worried about something in relation to their safety or well-being. When we came across this campaign it made us think back to our first blog post of 2018, in which we resolved to speak up more for children when we notice things that just aren’t right. We hope that the campaign might support others in speaking up for children and recognising why it’s an important thing to do. Essentially, we believe that everyone should be a children’s champion – someone who acts as an advocate for young children and their rights.

This sentiment is something that Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi agrees with, arguing that “keeping children safe from harm is everyone’s responsibility.” This is echoed in an Ofsted (2011) report about recognising the voice of the child for effective child protection. One of the main messages from the report is the importance of “listening to adults who speak on behalf of the child” (2011, p.8). It shares an example of a member of the public who acted as a children’s champion and understood that safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility:

“A two-year-old boy was taken by his mother to a supermarket. A member of staff in the supermarket noticed that the child was severely emaciated and that the mother was buying food suitable for a child aged only three to six months. Recognising the uniform of the boy’s sibling, the staff member passed on the concerns to the school. Staff at the school identified the family and conveyed the information to children’s social care. The boy was found to be suffering from severe malnutrition and developmental delay. These concerns had not previously been noticed by the agencies involved with the family.”

This supermarket employee should be commended for taking responsibility to keep children safe, and they aren’t the only one. Some of our readers, particularly those in the USA, might be familiar with this news article from 2017 in which a flight attendant had concerns about a teenage girl accompanying an older man on a flight. Her intuition and discrete action enabled the girl to inform the flight attendant that she was unsafe; in fact, she was a victim of human trafficking.

We want to highlight that, just as the Together, we can tackle child abuse campaign suggests, looking out for children (and taking appropriate action when things don’t seem right) is everyone’s responsibility. But we’d be interested in hearing your views. What do you think makes a children’s champion? And what other strategies do you think might encourage the general public to take action when they have concerns?

3 thoughts on “What makes a children’s champion?

  1. It is incredibly difficult. Reporting a concern could lead to a completely innocent family being investigated. You would really have to know what to look for. Could I feel sorry for the child who is being shouted at in the supermarket? Absolutely, and I have heard people use disgraceful language towards their children, but I don’t know what kind of day they have had. There is a line that is drawn, I think if there is cause for concern than it should be reported, however just because I don’t swear at children does that mean I should call social services about someone who does? I know how difficult being a parent is, I have been the one receiving those looks in a supermarket while my three month old was hysterical because he was hungry and my two year old was also hysterical because he couldn’t carry the pizza. I wanted to get everything paid for and back to the car where I could feed my baby and calm my toddler down, to onlookers I was a mum ignoring her hysterically crying children. Should someone have phoned social services? No. It was five minutes of the entire day that they had seen me for. It is very difficult to judge someone on that. The signs have to be very clear, how often are they? And if it is a stranger in the street what are you supposed to do? Take photos? How do you report someone without asking for their name and address?

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    • Carina, what an insightful comment. You’ve raised some really interesting points, both about the practicalities of reporting (e.g. how can you get sufficient details about them) and about how representative a tiny snapshot might be of someone’s life. I hope that this doesn’t put you off reporting in cases where you really think it might be necessary though. Thank you for your response.

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      • I think bigger campaigns could be made… or helplines to made more available. As it stands, I don’t know where to start other than to phone the local police station.
        I think common sense would tell most people what to report and what to put down to a daily event of life with a toddler.
        If I knew it was abuse, nothing would stop me reporting it.

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