We strive for taking responsibility for our own and others’ safety in several areas of life – whether it is defined by law, society, or our own set of values. But there is an area which never had such definite, united principles – and that area is child protection in schools..
Mandatory liability insurance, roadworthiness test, vaccines, regular screening tests, right-hand rule, chimney inspection – such safety measures may be listed for eternity. We all know them well and try our best to abide by them.
Schools also have their own mandatory safety regulations. Today, it is impossible to establish an official school in Hungary without conforming to regulations by disaster management and ÁNTSZ, without having a fire control plan, house rules, SZMSZ, pedagogical program, etc. One thing, however, is not specified by law: a school does not need to have child protection principles. Yet.
Hintalovon Child Rights Foundation was established in 2015 to represent children living in Hungary. The foundation deals with areas such as child protection from violence, children’s right to education, and child participation (meaning that children should be able to participate in affairs concerning them). They offer legal assistance to at least 200 children per year and see the same pattern in every case: help arrives late because the environment looks away, expresses doubt, or sweeps the problem under the rug.
One of the most efficient tools of child protection is a community. A supporting community which can provide a safe environment and does not look away when someone ends up in a vulnerable situation. The protection of children is the common cause for adults in their environment, therefore it is important that every member of the school community (meaning every “school citizen” who comes into contact with the children) shares the same principles.
Child protection means an extensive operational culture. The creation of such a culture is serious work in the life of an institution. It has been 5 years since the harassment case at Pannonhalma Archabbey was brought to light. This is when Pannonhalma Archabbey began to actively develop its own child protection system which was presented at the child rights symposium jointly organized with Hintalovon. More than 500 people attended the conference titled “A csendtől a szóig” (From Silence to Words) from parochial, secular, state-controlled, and foundation-controlled schools and institutions. This shows that regardless of the type of institution, worldview, or authority, child protection is a common cause which receives more and more attention.
What does child protection mean in the life of an institution? This is not simply a new regulation beside SZMSZ, the pedagogical program, and the house rules, nor is it another set of documents; this is the living law and organizational culture itself. A well-implemented, extensive regulation protects everyone who ends up in a vulnerable situation within the school. It not only focuses on protecting students, but it also shows that empathy, mutual respect, and acceptance are present among the teaching staff as well – since it is adults who create the cultural environment for children to take after.
Since this system reaches all segments of the school and holds true for everyone, it is important upon creation that everyone concerned know their rights and duties to uphold. We must not forget that the creation of such regulations may also generate fear in both children and adults, therefore it must be extremely transparent, accessible and understandable for everyone. One of the most important elements of the safety net is the independent protection group that victims may turn to with confidence, whose task is to listen and assure them that they can stand up and speak. In case of bullying, this group mediates, helps in group processing, and of course notifies official child protection if the case demands it.
However, child protection starts before there is trouble. Protection includes prevention and the preparation of every participant in the school environment. It is essential to define exactly what counts as bullying or sexual/physical/emotional/online abuse in order for parents to take their children’s signs seriously, and – as dr. Szilvia Gyurkó said during the conference – not end up in “belief debates”, meaning that we should avoid games of distrust.
We must also realize the significance of sensitization and how much power it wields if children know in time when to ask for help. If they follow their instincts, speak when they feel unwell, dare to step out of unpleasant situations, choose to speak instead of staying silent about being hurt.
The sources for the article are the presentations by Dr. Albin Juhász-Laczik and dr. Szilvia Gyurkó held during the child rights symposium titled “A csendtől a szóig” (From Silence to Words) on October 15th, organized jointly by Pannonhalma Archabbey and Hintalovon Child Rights Foundation. Video footage of the whole conference is accessible HERE.