All posts by April

BIG LOTTERY FUNDING…Protective Factors: helping children and young people, with challenging behaviour, better engage and participate in education.

lottery england logoSiarad Da has received funding from the Big Lottery to carry out a research project looking at ‘protective factors‘ in children and young people experiencing school exclusion due to violent or aggressive behaviour in the classroom.


Working in partnership with Cardiff  Universities and Dr Michiel de Vries Robbé of the Van der Hoeven Clinic (clinic for forensic psychiatry in the Netherlands), the project uses the  SAPROF-YV tool (Structured Assessment of Protective Factors for violence risk – Youth Version).  


SAPROF-YV is used internationally in criminal justice and forensic psychiatric teams.  Studies using SAPROF-YV are taking place in several countries, including: America, Australia, Singapore and The Netherlands.  In England and Wales there are studies being led by Youth Justice, CAMHS and Universities.


This project will, for the first time, use SAPROF-YV in an education setting; specifically with Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) provision.


The co-author of the tool, Dr Michiel de Vries Robbé, worked with Dr April May Kitchener in the planning of this innovative study.  The study aims to introduce SAPROF-YV as a tool to help identify interventions to help support children and young people who have been excluded from mainstream school to better engage with education.


SAPROF-YV Protective Factors
  • Resilience items: social competence / coping / self-control / perseverance
  • Motivational items: future orientation / motivation for treatment / attitude towards agreements and conditions / medication / school / leisure activities
  • Relational items: carers / peers / other supportive relationships
  • External items: pedagogical climate / professional care / court order

The 16 protective factors of the SAPROF-YV are all dynamic and have the ability to change as necessary. They focus on a child or young person’s strengths and life experiences and support.   Including the SAPROF-YV protective factors in the planning process of supporting and guiding these children and young people will stimulate positive management and support initiatives.




Risk Factors increase the likelihood that a young person will become violent. Risk factors, however, are not direct causes of youth violence; rather, risk factors contribute to youth violence.


Protective Factors buffer young people from the risks of becoming violent. These factors exist at various levels.


Please contact us if you would like more information about this study

‘Super-parenting’ improves children’s autism

A long-term study (Pickles et al, 2016), published in the Lancelet, show that supporting parents and carers to improve their communication skills can dramatically improve their child’s autism. Experts said the results from the study were ‘…hugely cheering…’

The study only focused on those children with severe autism: those children often unable to ‘talk’ to their parents or carers. The study worked with 152 families shortly after the children were diagnosed as autistic, around the age of three. Normally their symptoms would get worse with age.

In the half of the families given the usual therapies, 50% were severely autistic at the beginning of the study, that percentage increased to 63% after six years. However, those families that received the training showed the opposite: 55% of the children were severely autistic at the beginning but 46% after six years.

As part of the training delivered, parents and carers watched films of themselves playing with their child while a therapist gave precise tips for helping their child communicate. They were then shown examples of the easily-missed moments when the autistic child subtly moved to play with their parents.

Communication specialists then worked with the parents and carers giving them the skills to get the most out of these brief moments.

A parent, who had taken part in the study, commented that ‘… you notice things you wouldn’t notice in real time…things like waiting, giving plenty of time to communicate and commenting rather than questioning…’ (Gallagher 2016)

However, it is important to remember ‘this is not a ‘cure’. Children who demonstrated improvements will still show symptoms, but improving how we communicate will improve the social skills of the child diagnosed with Autism.

Siarad Da works with families living with, and professionals working with, children and young people who have autistic spectrum traits, but who are talking to those around them. Too often this means that their disabilities are not seen or heard, resulting in mis-diagnoses, or having no diagnoses but labels such as challenging and difficult. Many of whom becoming involved with the criminal justice system and experiencing school and social exclusion.

Siarad Da training focuses on developing understanding and the skills needed to address the communication needs of this group. Click here for training opportunities.


• Full Lancelet Article: Pickles et al, (2016),
• Gallagher (2016)

Teacher stress, child sexual abuse and sources of support

Unlike many other professions, teachers are exposed daily to emotionally provocative and distressing situations with limited options for self-regulation.  When a student is blowing a gasket, they are usually given the option of taking time out, or leaving the classroom to cool off.  A teacher cannot do this, teachers must stay in the room.  Whatever the circumstance or however unpleasant or distressing the situation teachers must stay in charge, take the higher ground and rise above the provocation or distress.  This is enormously draining, emotionally and mentally.  Left unaddressed, this chronic stress will produce deadly outcomes.


The ill effects of stressed teachers on learning are equally obvious.  Learning is very difficult if the classroom is not managed well and behaviour is hard to manage when a teacher is struggling to stand up – literally and metaphorically.  Poorly managed behaviour is a recipe for disruption in the classroom.  Learning is repeatedly interrupted, stilted or stopped altogether…it is also important to remember that teachers are managing large numbers of students at a time.


In an article for The Guardian (2013), Richard Adams reported that according to the Health and Safety Executive, teaching and education professions report 2,340 cases of work-related stress for every 100,000 employees each year, with only nursing having a worse record. In support of this, in an article for the TES magazine (2012), Jo Knowsley recounted The Teacher Support Network (a teacher helpline) was recording rising numbers of calls reporting anxiety and depression, and  has claimed that ‘…teachers are 40% more likely to commit suicide than the average for all other occupations…’  (accessible at:


In this context I decided to survey a sample of teachers about what caused them stress generally and, in particular, the effects of dealing with allegations or cases of child sexual abuse (CSA).


Survey of Teachers

A short, exploratory survey was sent out, via Survey Monkey, asking education staff questions about school ‘staff well-bring polices and the help available to them after being informed of a students they support being victims of sexual abuse or if a student discloses sexual abuse to them.  The survey was sent via email to twelve former colleagues, two primary and 10 secondary staff, with the request to complete and forward the link to other education staff. In the end 42 teaching staff responded comprising:


  • 13 primary mainstream school staff
  • 25 secondary mainstream school staff
  • 1 primary special education
  • 2 secondary special education
  • 1 secondary school governor
I was not expecting such a good response rate but perhaps this reflected a need to unburden feelings. As one respondents wrote:  ‘…in the journey of a teacher, accountability and stress are constant travel companions…’


General Stress

Eleven respondents (26%) described how they see teaching as the best job in the world.  One primary school teacher, for example, stated, ‘…watching your students’ blossom is the greatest reward for the hours spent preparing lessons, marking and meetings…’  However, feedback also described how the pressure of targets, league tables and exam results diluted the magic that is the very nature of a good teaching.


Balancing work and life was the biggest challenge facing teachers, and respondents felt they needed help when head teachers, local authorities, school inspectors and other professional bodies’ placed unrealistic targets and expectations on them, denying them time to reflect and develop. As one respondent commented ‘…good teachers are happy, (but) they can’t be happy if they have no space or time to reflect and learn…’


Over 90%  of respondents (39), which included all the secondary school staff described how schools were too target-driven leaving them drowning in ‘accountability’ –  ‘…accountable to the students, parents, head teachers, the government, and at times to the media…’ This respondent when on to describe how accountability was not the problem, but the high-stakes accountability, when everything they say or do not say, do or do not do and what they see or do not see are under the microscope of reputation.  Both primary and secondary school respondents described how ‘accountability’ is being used to cloak victimisation, writing that often teachers felt accountability just seemed to be about blame.  It was thus felt that anxiety about bench marking of schools and School Inspection ratings drive head teachers to berate rather than provide support. As one respondent commented: ‘….wellbeing is a massive issue not just for teachers, but for everyone in education…”. 


Feedback suggested that teachers felt largely unsupported in their education role, with even less availability of support to promote their own well-being for anything outside this role, including any emotional damage suffered whilst caring for their students. One respondent stating‘…the added value stuff is not valued at all…


Dealing with cases of child sexual abuse

95% of respondents (40 staff) reported their school had no formal procedures or school policy in place that discussed how to support staff after a CSA disclosure. The remaining two said they did not know if their school had such guidance:


  ‘…it’s happened about twice since I’ve been in the school when a child has disclosed sexual abuse, it’s a very small staff team so we support each other, there is nothing in writing…’ (primary)
–   ‘…there is lots of information about who the Child Protection staff member is and what we should or should not do if a student does disclose something but nothing about how we personally deal with the shock of being chosen by a child to disclose to…’ (secondary)
  ‘…when I was in my second year of teaching I experienced such a situation, my head was very supportive, but that was because she was an experienced head I think… there was nothing formal in place… I was just lucky…’ (primary)
  ‘…I was really affected when a male student disclosed to me… I felt helpless … the worst bit for me was no-one told me how to help him in the class…he was desperate to continue with his final year…I was told not to make demands on him for coursework…I was told we could apply to the examination board for extraneous circumstances… but the student told me I was treating him different and he wanted staff to expect his best…‘ (secondary)



The one School Governor respondent asked whether other respondents did have ‘staff-wellbeing’ information, in their schools that highlighted how to support staff after a disclosure, if so, would I access a copy and forward it to them. As yet, I have not managed to access such a policy. All respondents had received general child protection training that included CSA as a type of abuse, and the procedures they needed to follow in the case of a disclosure, but none described training that was CSA specific or covered issues of staff support:


  ‘…I am not aware of any training that looks only at child sexual abuse…’ (primary)
  ‘…its part and parcel of the CP training we get…but nothing about coping after…’ (secondary special)
  ‘…the CP training I did said nothing about how staff would feel or where to look for support if you needed it…’ (secondary)
  ‘…I think we would benefit from gaining knowledge about all aspects of sexual abuse… it’s not only adults who abuse… in my last school I worked with more than one student who had abused others…’ 
Just one respondent reported they had received CSA specialist training, but the respondent did not indicate what the training had included, such as information about processes for staff to follow after a disclosure to access support available to staff.


All of the respondents (100%) believed that support should be available to staff after a CSA disclosure, their comments including


–   ‘…disclosure is about making sure the child is safe, but I think some sort of preparation about how a disclosure can impact on you emotionally and would be very useful…’ (secondary)
  ‘…as a CP lead in a school I would appreciate guidance on this…’ (primary)
  ‘…it should be from a specialist practitioner…someone who understands this area…’
  ‘…not everyone would need or want it…staff could complete a sort of risk assessment to indicate they needed support or not…’ (secondary)
  ‘…you hear about things happening, you read about them but a child actually disclosing to you is not something that we experience everyday… I know I would find it quite traumatic… there should be something out there…’ (primary)


A Case Example

One respondent described an incident in a secondary school.  The teacher had e-mailed the male deputy-head (Child Protection Lead) early in the day asking for an emergency meeting to discuss a case of CSA, with no response.  Later she sent a student to the office of the deputy-head asking him to urgently contact the teacher, but still no response.  The teacher had a full timetable so not able to leave the classroom and no free time to go search for the deputy head. As soon as lunch break came she went in search of the deputy-head.  When the teacher secured an opportunity to speak to the deputy-head she described a conversation that had taken place between her and a student about CSA incidents at home.  The deputy informed the teacher that he was timetabled to teach so she needed to ‘hold on’ to the child until he could organise cover for himself.   Whilst supporting the student the teacher missed the start of her final lesson and a lunch-time planned meeting with another family.  The consequences for her were not support from senior staff for a teacher who cared and held the hand of a distressed child nor time to gather her thoughts and emotions but a reprimand from her head of department for not organising cover for her lesson and a compliant from secretarial staff who had to ‘entertain’ the family because she did not turn up for the meeting, although the meeting was rearranged for immediately after school which she attended.


Conclusions and Reflections

Teachers working with children and young people have a critical role in protecting them and creating an environment where they feel safe.   There are times when that safe environment enables a child ‘to tell’. Child protection training warns us about changes in behaviours and other signs to look out for that may indicate a child is in need of our protection; such training also informs what steps to follow to make sure a disclosure is reported correctly.  However, currently, it appears that present training offers little on the likely impact of CSA disclosure on staff and what support they can expect.


It is widely accepted that teachers face stresses, linked to managing student behaviour and meeting student progress targets.  Awareness of those stresses places a duty of care on education management. However there should also be strategies in place to provide support when cases of child abuse, including CSA, occur.


Recognising the impact disclosure can have on education staff should place a similar ‘duty of care’ on managers.  However, based on the findings from this small survey, such support seems to be in short supply and, currently, there are no other research findings which might lead to managers paying more attention to the needs of education who struggle emotionally after a student’s CSA disclosure.


Feedback from this survey suggests:

  • Education staff are affected by CSA disclosure
  • Training programmes should discuss how CSA disclosure can impact on a teacher emotionally
  • Specialist support should be available to education staff after a student has made a CSA disclosure
  • Further research in this area is needed.
Dr April May Kitchener
Director, Siarad Da


Richard Adams Wednesday 1 May 2013 Guardian: Head teacher killed herself after six months in job, coroner rules


Times Educational Supplement 1 June, 2012, Jo Knowsley, Stressed? Coping? Increasing numbers of teachers aren’t and see only one, desperate way out. What can be done to protect the mental health of the UK’s educators?


 Useful Links

 The following links lead to documents in the public domain:…/Teachers-TV-Stress

The role of education in work with children and young people with harmful sexual behaviours: A personal reflection from the Welsh frontline

Delivering training recently to a mixed group of student teachers, nurses and social workers, all at the very start of their careers, I was reminded of the youthful energy and drive I felt beginning my own career. That career has seen me in many roles; a residential social worker, a youth worker, but mostly in teaching roles in a variety of settings, almost always working with children and young people (C&YP) with the most challenging and offending behaviour.


Throughout the workshop there were hand-outs, questions and, I hope, some informative answers. I watched them with their heads down, pens in hand taking notes and wondered if they were getting the message that it was crucial to keep talking and listening to each other in their subsequent careers, as they were in this workshop, to avoid joining professional ‘gangs’.  I wanted to convey the notion that they may qualify as teachers, nurses or social workers but they should not forget you all started from the same place, the drive to make a difference to the lives of children and young people.


At varies times during my own career I have experienced ‘professional gang’ mentality, breeding mistrust, ignorance, isolation and misunderstanding. There’s an African Proverb: It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child, but as professionals I think that we often forget this, resulting in the child’s needs falling between the boundaries of ‘professional gangs’.  I have been fortunate enough to have worked in many organisations including social services, the youth service, HM Prisons, education and residential therapeutic settings so have learnt to appreciate ‘all sides’ of the professional ‘divides’.  I have found it relatively easy to break down barriers and worked hard to bridge the ‘gaps’ between different professional perspectives. As I climbed my professional ladder, finally reached the dizzy height of headship I think I had developed solid skills in ‘partnership working’.


During my career, I also began to work with increasing numbers of students with harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). My expertise as a specialist in managing behaviour and working with offenders with communication and language disabilities fitted well when working with this population.  I found myself supporting C&YP with HSB as victims and offenders during police interviews and providing advice to juries, barristers and judges. However, when I began working in this area ‘professional gang’ mentality raised its head again.  My first experience was when a vulnerable student came to me and disclosed a non-consensual incident with a student who had recently arrived with us.  As designated Child Protection member of staff I followed the required procedures only to discover that the new student had a history of sexually harmful behaviour.  The new student’s social worker informed me that, after discussion with her Team Leader, it had been felt this information should not be shared with education.  The consequences of not sharing this information were clear: no risk management strategies had been put in place resulting in two students not have their needs met.


Discussions with my immediate education colleagues revealed that leaving education out of the professional information loop was common practice.  Subsequently, as Welsh Secretary for the National Organisations for Pupil Referral Units I asked around about members’ experiences, their feedback, from both England and Wales, echoed what I had already heard.  Moreover, while some did report good partnership working they suggested these positive experiences were based on the good practice of individual professionals, rather than such practice being embedded in agencies.  This reflected my own experience – I had been privileged to meet just two excellent practitioners who had inclusive practice and were keen to work with education.


A recent publication by HM Inspectorate of Probation (2013) raised concerns about the reluctant relationship between managing agencies and schools working with C&YP with HSB.  The Inspection found that some workers were reluctant to share information with education and ‘…rarely included in multi-agency strategy discussions or subsequent meetings…’ (page 6)


The Report did not offer concrete reasons or justification why managing agencies were reluctant to share information with schools but an opportunity to explore this came during 2013 NOTA National Conference at Cardiff when I was allowed to conduct an informal survey of delegates attending the conference on why managing agencies were reluctant to work with schools.


Four main themes came out of the feedback:

1.  Concerns that schools over react;

2.  A reluctance to share information due to issues of confidentiality;

3.  Perceptions about education professionals’ lack of understanding of this area of work:

4.  The lack of a lead person in a school with whom to coordinate.


I was shocked by the lack of confidence in my professional colleagues.  How could we changes those perceptions?  Linking with the Welsh Government (WG) I carried out a short consultation, making contact with a sample of managing agencies and organisations.  This led to two consultation workshops during the 2013 WG Pupil Referral Unit Conference. I reported back to WG that managing agencies were clear that schools should have a greater role and the education professionals I surveyed were strongly of the view that, as the professional group that spends most time with C&YP, they do have something to contribute.  Education professionals acknowledge they needed specialised training and guidance but they were also clear that for the most vulnerable, for example those with communication and language difficulties and learning disabilities, managing agencies could learn and develop skills from education.  The time seems ripe for the development of professional alliances, which make best use of differing professional expertise.


It is no secret that C&YP and adults with language and communication difficulties and those with learning disabilities are over represented in the criminal justice system, particularly amongst those with HSB.  There is also a higher percentage of reoffending in this population.  I would suggest that the inability to participate fully in the programmes and services focusing on their behaviour and offences because of these difficulties is a major factor in the reoffending rate.  The inability to capitalise on ‘the help out there’ in order to change their behaviour can be missed by those professionals who undertake risk management roles.  Without the appropriate skills and knowledge to recognise language and communication difficulties and the impact learning disabilities, professionals are working with this vulnerable population with ‘their hands tied.


I am fortunate to still have that drive to improve opportunities for this population and the passion to try and make a difference as I did at the start of my career.  This passion has now led to the creation of ‘Siarad Da’ (simple translation – speak/talk good), a non-profit making organisation existing to help non specialist professionals to develop their dialogue and make their communication count.

Siarad Da’s main objectives are:

1.    to improve engagement in education, training and employment;

2.    to improve the knowledge and skills of all professionals working with offenders and those at risk of offending;

3.    to improve fairness and equality in the criminal justice system;

4.    to empower professionals to meet the needs of vulnerable clients;

5.    to promote equality and human rights for those at risk of social exclusion.


The organisation website went live in late April – please take a look!


HM Inspectorate of Probation (2013) Examining Multi-Agency Responses to Children and Young People who sexually offend, London, HMIP


Youth Offending & Communication Difficulties – The BOX: hindrance or help?

I recently attended The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) launch of THE BOX.   It was marketed as a ‘screening tool‘ for Criminal Justice Service (CJS) professionals working with offenders with speech, language and communication difficulties (SLCD).

However, during the launch presenters described how some clients, who having worked with their CJS professional to complete THE BOX, and results suggest some SLCD, would not need to be referred to a Speech and Language Therapist  (SLT).  It was stated that  their needs could be met by CJS professionals who have attended THE BOX training.

I was not alone in my discomfort of such a statement.  From my perspective, a retired head teacher who has argued for the rights of vulnerable children and young people involved with the CJS, such a message raised concerns in me for both professional and client.

I understand the pressures and expectations placed on those working with this demanding population and the smallest mistake can spiral out of control.  CJS professionals face many demands in their role.  Expecting them to make judgements about who should or who should not have access to a SLT is outside their professional training and expertise and has potential for serious consequences.

Assessments and advice from registered SLTs are essential for both defence professionals, presenting needs of clients, and those professionals responsible for the risk management of offenders.

These concerns were made to the presenters, but the response was that the courts respected  judgments made by CJS professionals – there is no question that the courts should not respect judgements and report findings offered by CJS.  However, it is important to remember that Court Reports  CJS professionals present are made up of assessments and advice from professionals and experts who know best a client’s skills and needs e.g. specialist teachers, specialist doctors, social workers and SLTs.

If a client appears to have health difficulties an appropriately qualified medical professional is required to make an assessment.  The health difficulty could impact on their ability to be interviewed or attend court without specific support in place, this information would be fed into any Court Report.

When a client works through THE BOX with a CJS professional and results suggest SLCD, the same principle should apply.  SLT’s are the appropriately qualified professionals to make the required assessment.  Information and advice from that assessment will be fed into any Court Report presented by CJS professionals.  The assessment will advise whether a client’s difficulties will impact on their ability to fully engage in interviews, court procedures or any intervention programme without specific support.

………..any tool that helps CJS professionals to support and manage clients is welcomed……….but beware………..take all  safety precautions and only use the tools you are qualified to ………..