Meet volunteers visiting schools to help keep our children safe from abuse
PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 June 2018
Would your child know what to do if they were being abused?
During the past year alone, more than 42,000 youngsters in east London have learnt about how to protect themselves and where they can get help should they ever need it thanks to a scheme from the NSPCC.
The Speak Out, Stay Safe project is staffed by volunteers who go into primary schools to deliver age-appropriate assemblies highlighting the different forms of abuse.
In the 2016/17 academic year, the most recent for which figures are available, 14 schools in Redbridge were visited, along with 15 in Newham and 13 in Tower Hamlets.
Eleven Barking and Dagenham schools also received visits, along with six in Havering.
Children can suffer abuse in many ways – from physical and sexual abuse to neglect and emotional abuse.
And in an age when children are often more competent at using the internet than their parents, there is the new threat of online abuse as well.
NSPCC schools service manager Janet Hinton said that the ultimate aim was to visit every primary school in the country every three years.
She said: “It is vital that children feel able to come forward to disclose abuse but some children don’t speak out because they may not realise that what they or someone they know is suffering from is a form of abuse.
“By visiting every school every three years, we hope to prevent children from experiencing abuse, one generation at a time.”
But making that a reality requires a group of dedicated volunteers.
Prue Pittalis has visited schools across east London once a week for the past two years, accompanied by the charity’s mascot Buddy.
She emphasised the importance of the scheme, saying: “It may be that those topics and subjects would not have been covered unless we had delivered the service.”
Prue, 54, said that having someone outside of the school coming in is important for children who may be suffering abuse.
“Although the teachers know the children, the children may not feel they want to speak to their teacher about their problems but when the NSPCC comes in they feel stronger and more confident to speak out,” she said.
“Even if only one child comes forward it could bring change for them and that means it’s all been worthwhile.”
Fellow volunteer Daniel O’Mara, 32, started in the role last year.
He said: “There have been a couple of scenarios where children have made a disclosure about being abused as a result of the assembly and workshops.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment because it’s horrific to think you were presenting to a child who has been going through a serious issue but then equally because we visited the school, they were able to speak out.”
The dad-of-one called the need for schools to sign up to the service a “no brainer”, adding: “Abuse happens everywhere and every child, no matter what their background, needs to hear these important messages so they can learn who to speak to and how to get help.”
Vanessa Bradford has been a Speak Out, Stay Safe volunteer in east London since the scheme began in 2011, and called it “empowering”.
She said: “Abuse has always been, and always will be around but changes in technology means abuse can take many different forms.
“The NSPCC schools service makes children aware of all the different ways they could be abused and how they should trust their feelings if they think something is wrong and seek help.”
The 54-year-old juggles her volunteering around her work in catering and as a cover teacher and said that the feedback from the schools she visits is “always good”.
She added: “Sometimes I think the schools don’t realise how important it is until we actually visit.”
For information about how to volunteer or to request a visit to your school, visit nspcc.org.uk/schools