As each school year ends, parents ask a question that would’ve been unthinkable a generation ago- is my child safer because they’re not going to school?
You’d expect all schools to be a safe environment for children- but it’s often the contrary. An estimated 246 million children experience violence in their classrooms- be it physical, emotional, or sexual. Add school shootings to the equation, and it’s easy to see why parents are so concerned.
Violence against students can have long-lasting consequences. It hinders learning, affects self-esteem, decreases school attendance, and lowers academic achievements. Some children, especially those from marginalized groups, may be forced to quit their education altogether.
7 Impactful Ways to Improve School Safety
That said, back-to-school does not have to mean back-to-worrying. While child abuse prevention is a complex, multi-layered topic, there are certain ways to ensure a safe school experience for children. Let’s walk you through what they are.
1. Set Up a Robust Security System
Strategic security measures are central to school safety. Research from the Department of Justice shows more than 98% of schools have some type of security technology to protect students against internal/external threats.
An effective school security network comprises numerous tools, including intrusion detection, mechanical hardware, panic buttons, and adequate signage. Although these tools work fine on their own, it’s best to use them together.
That’s not all. To further fortify your security system, you can:
- Install surveillance cameras inside and outside the building. This way, you’ll have a clear view of anyone who walks the halls- whether it’s students, staff, guardians, or anyone else. Additionally, the mere presence of these cameras can deter criminal behavior.
- If possible, have someone stand guard in places where you can’t install a security camera.
- Look into your lighting, especially for places more prone to slips, falls, or violence.
- Put up fences to ward off intruders and prevent students from getting lost, wandering off, or being lured off school grounds.
2. Practice Safety Drills
They say practice makes perfect- and this couldn’t be truer for safety drills. Have students practice emergency protocols to prepare them for the worst. Remember to stress the importance of remaining calm and following instructions closely.
Running through your safety drills will also help you fix any underlying issues in your strategy. The last thing you want is a faulty escape plan putting students’ lives at risk. Include alternate evacuation routes (consider ‘blocking off’ a commonly used exit path), use other assembly areas, and give lessons on first aid to cover all your bases.
3. Keep Students in the Loop
You might think keeping intelligence from students is a good way to protect them, but this isn’t always true. Children deserve agency, meaning it’s vital to let them in on what’s happening. Plus, they can be a valuable source of information and ideas.
Empower children to actively participate in as many aspects of emergency response as possible- such as reporting possible dangers, assisting others during the rescue, and keeping their parents calm.
4. Practice Communication
Sharing timely and accurate information with the school community can allow quick reactions to an incident. Your campus Emergency Notification System (ENS) is a great way to alert and instruct students/staff/parents in the event of a catastrophe.
We recommend you have multiple personnel trained in emergency communication, so they can deliver directions when the time comes. Additionally, be sure to use the system routinely. A good time to practice is before, during, and after emergency drills.
5. Listen to Students
Consider this, a student is injured on the playground and seeks support from a teacher, only to receive little response. How likely is the student to seek help again?
Supporting victims who come forward is the first step to preventing future incidents. Make sure the students feel comfortable sharing their trauma and get the help they need.
Another excellent way to stop violent issues from escalating is to offer conflict resolution. Educate students on how to accommodate, avoid, compromise, collaborate, and compete. And if need be, hold a conversation with each student to understand the root of the problem.
Certain at-risk students may exhibit warning signs like emotional/behavioral issues, truancy, low academic performance, and drug abuse. Create an individualized plan and provide additional guidance for them. With extra resources or monitoring, you can turn such students away from a life of crime and violence.
6. Investigate and Take Action
Far too often, parents and educators overlook obvious signs of child abuse, leaving large holes in their child abuse prevention plan. You must investigate safety incidents efficiently by:
- Responding quickly: Acknowledge reports once they come in and launch an immediate investigation.
- Picking the right investigator: Depending on the incident/complaint, you may have to bring in someone detached from the situation.
- Documenting everything: Keep a record of every occurrence, from the first tip to the final report.
- Preserving the scene: Be sure to keep the scene intact until investigators arrive. You don’t want to lose any physical or digital evidence.
- Conducting interviews: Interview the victim, perpetrator, and witnesses.
- Delivering repercussions: Punish the perpetrators in keeping with their crimes.
- Following up: See if the problem needs any further action.
7. Discuss Emergency Plans and Concerns During Staff Meetings
Child abuse prevention is not a one-and-done deal. Over time, you may need to update or reshuffle your policies to match changing circumstances. That’s why it’s imperative to include emergency response and child abuse concerns on your staff meeting agenda at least twice a year.
Spend time reinforcing procedures, addressing new issues, and learning from old mistakes. While this doesn’t sound much on paper, it’s useful when used correctly. The goal is to keep the conversation around child abuse awareness going strong.
The Bottom Line
As an educator, improving school safety should rank high on your list of priorities. It’s up to school authorities to protect the children under their care and help them thrive in a guarded, happy, and secure environment. These seven tips are only a few of the many ways schools can work towards building safer learning environments for kids.
Although child abuse is a sad reality, we can fight to keep our children safe. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you can do your bit to help stop child abuse. For more information on child abuse prevention, contact us today.
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