Working as an area co-ordinator for the school service is a dream job for me. I originally trained as a primary school teacher, working in primary schools for nine years before joining the NSPCC.
Very early on in my career I developed a passionate interest in personal, social, health and emotional education for children – I have always felt this area of the curriculum is hugely important. Children simply can’t navigate through the highs, lows and challenges of growing up without support, guidance and advice. This is why I think the work of the NSPCC, particularly the Speak out, Stay safe campaign, is so vital to our young people.
The Speak out, Stay safe assemblies and workshops are about giving primary school aged children the tools they need to relieve themselves of worries, fears and unsafe situations.
The NSPCC’s team of staff and volunteers (plus our big, squishy speech-bubble mascot Buddy!) work in schools all over Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire, as well as across the UK, delivering infant and junior school assemblies, as well as workshops for year 5 and 6 pupils.
Our message is that no child should ever feel like they have to bottle up a worry or a fear, but should talk to a ‘trusted adult’ – someone they know will look after them and keep them safe –so that they can get the help they need and their difficult situation can begin to change.
In schools, we ask children why they may feel worried – responses range from a fear of the dark, to loss of a family member, falling out with a friend or even SATS.
The talks are delivered to children in age-appropriate terms about the different forms of child abuse – physical, mental, sexual, neglect and bullying.
We explain that abuse is never OK, it’s never a child’s fault and that every child has the right to speak out and get help whenever they need it.
There are many trusted adults that children may choose to talk to, and we introduce the NSPCC’s Childline as one of them, explaining that it’s a free, confidential service that any child can call, at any time, for any reason.
Our year 5 and 6 assemblies go a little more in depth to suit the children’s age and understanding. We talk internet safety, appropriate and inappropriate touching, when secrets are not OK, age-related content in films and games, and so much more.
It’s great to see children become increasingly confident to discuss ‘tricky’ topics such as sexual abuse. We don’t mind giggles – we explain it’s normal to feel a little embarrassed when we discuss the private parts of the body.
Children learn the whole of their body belongs to them and that they have a choice about what happens to it. It’s a really empowering message that I hope every child carries with them long after we have visited.
As a mother myself, I know there can be a strong instinct to keep our children blissfully unaware of the dangers and worries that we hope they will never have to face. But children are like sponges – they pick up information from their friends, from us, from the media – they deserve to be able to understand the risks and know what to do if they ever feel worried, unhappy or unsafe.
We always encourage children to go home and talk about what they have learned, and also provide schools with resources to share with parents and carers before and after our visit.
I like to think we are opening up conversations that parents or children may have been hesitant or embarrassed to start themselves.
I feel proud to work for the NSPCC, knowing that we are empowering children with the tools they need to stay safe. I also feel hugely grateful to the families and schools who welcome our visits, as well as the amazing team of volunteers who dedicate so much time, expertise and energy to our cause – without their skills in delivering our programme, our service couldn’t exist.
Sheila Simpson is one of the dedicated volunteers from Cheltenham. This is what she said about volunteering with the programme:
“I was aware from my counselling work of the impact that a difficult childhood has on people throughout their lives, and was amazed at how often individuals didn’t really realise what happened to them wasn’t normal, especially with neglect.
I decided to look into voluntary work with children. The Speak out, Stay safe programme wasn’t something I knew existed until I saw it on the website, but it’s the perfect fit. The role can ensure children know when they are being abused and what to do about it.
It’s a difficult subject but the presentations and scripts are set up really well for the different age groups. They might have a little giggle at first, but after that they take it very seriously.
Sometimes you get children speak to you and it can be upsetting, but it’s very rewarding to see all the little faces looking at you and taking in what you are saying. You can see the affect you are having and that they are getting the message.
I feel like I make a contribution to children feeling happier and safer. Most calls to Childline happen in the early teenage years, which is because they don’t know what is happening to them before that. I enjoy educating the children on the services available should they need them.”
Fellow volunteer Wendy Page, who delivers assemblies and workshops in the Cotswolds, added:
“I spent 20 years in business before I changed my career in 2013, which gave me more flexibility and time, and I wanted to give something back to the local community.
The NSPCC had always been a charity I admired for the work they do in safeguarding and supporting children.
I was signed off as a volunteer in July 2014 and have been delivering assemblies and workshops regularly since then.
I absolutely love visiting the schools and spending time with the children. The resources we use are age-appropriate and brilliantly written – the children are always so enthusiastic to get involved and they all love meeting our mascot Buddy.
Speaking out and staying safe is such an important message for all children. I believe that children should understand about bullying and the different forms of abuse, as well as how to stay safe online, how to protect themselves, and most importantly where to get help when they need it.
It’s informative and empowering for the children and I’m extremely proud to be a part of it.”
A Guest Blog by Lizzie Coburn, NSPCC schools service co-ordinator for Gloucestershire
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