The summer holidays bring around so many opportunities for fun and relaxation away from the school setting and for children being with their families and loved ones. However, for some children and families, it can also bring a range of risks or opportunity for harm.
Schools can play a vital role in preparing for summer holiday risks to children by taking proactive measures and promoting ongoing safety awareness. When schools actively engage with stakeholders such as parents/guardians, their students, and school staff, by educating and providing resources, it can contribute to a safer summer holiday experience for all.
Some risks to consider over the summer holidays could include:
- Online safety risks- children may spend more time online and it is crucial for children, parents/guardians, and staff to have an understanding around the dangers of being online including cyber bullying, grooming, radicalisation and the importance of privacy and safe practices.
- Accidents and injuries- children will engage in more outdoor activities including seeing friends, play activities, and sports. This can increase the likelihood of falls and accidents occurring. It is important to supervise younger children but to also encourage safety practices to older children so that they can keep themselves safe.
- Lack of supervision and routines- Some children may be at risk of engaging in risky behaviours due to a lack of presence from parents and guardians who may be working or looking after younger siblings. There has been a rise of concerns around risks such as county lines due to the cost-of-living crisis and it may be difficult for families to pay for day trips, holidays, and activities. Parents and guardians may have additional responsibilities therefore children may be left without appropriate supervision so children may be staying with other families or family friends where additional risks can lie. Families may also be taking holidays abroad or away from home where travel hazards may occur.
- Mental health and wellbeing concerns- children may spend more time alone or online and be exposed to harmful content or feel isolated or left out. A lack of routine or structure can also impact negatively on a child’s wellbeing or mental health, especially for those who may be neurodiverse or routine dependent.
- Child abuse- children may be at increased risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation within the summer break. Children may have less access to food and support or may be exposed to abuse from family members or strangers. There are many contextual settings where children can be exploited and abused within their communities or by influential people who they are spending time with. Female children may be at risk of being taken abroad for female genital mutilation practices therefore it is essential that people are educated around this and know how to report a concern at the earliest opportunity.
- Additional physical concerns can also arise such as heat-related illnesses and water-related incidents.
Before schools break for summer it is important to support and further educate parents and guardians to reflect on some of the potential risks and to ensure necessary precautions can be taken.
Children may also present as withdrawn or anxious about the summer break and this may be a cause for concern that should always be raised to the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead. It may be that some additional low-level support can sometimes prevent serious harm from occurring so staff should never underestimate the power of early help or prevention support. Recording information is an essential part of safeguarding and it is important to ensure that records are fully updated, and any referrals are completed in a timely manner. Given that some support services have longer waiting lists at present it may also be beneficial to ensure that appropriate avenues of support can be accessed should things worsen during the holidays so parents and guardians will know who they can contact.
Steps that staff can take to ensure summer safety is of the highest priority:
- Communication and education- Communicating with parents and guardians about potential risks and providing them with information on safety measures can be extremely beneficial. This information can be communicated via the school website, parent/carer emails, newsletters, information sessions, or sending home safety guidelines.
- Safety guidelines and briefings- The school should provide safety guides that cover various areas, for example, water safety, sun protection, travel safety, and online safety. It is important to include specific recommendations and precautions for parents and guardians to follow during the summer holidays.
- Staff training- Training sessions for school staff will enhance their awareness of potential risks and the appropriate responses required. This may include refreshers for first aid, safeguarding, how to recognise signs of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, and understanding safety protocols for things such as outdoor activities. It will also be beneficial for staff to understand some of the additional risks for children and young people in a contextual or cultural safeguarding respect, to consider dangers such as FGM, county lines, child sexual exploitation, radicalisation, and online safety.
- Collaboration- Encourage parents and guardians to share their summer plans or concerns about the summer holidays. This information can support schools and staff to identify potential risks and develop relevant advice or resources. It is also beneficial to engage with local authorities and third sector organisations to deliver information and awareness sessions that can also help educate parents/guardians, children, and staff on safety strategies.
- Summer schools and activities: When providing summer activities, schools must ensure that adequate safety measures, risk assessments, and policies are in place. Schools must also ensure appropriate staff-to-student ratios, and establish guidelines for supervision, transportation, and emergency procedures.
- Sharing resources- Develop or update any signposting directory information for parents and guardians and children if applicable. Contacts may include emergency services, local support services or activities, educational materials that discuss safety and safeguarding, and update any website information.
Things to consider following the summer:
When children return following the summer break, schools and staff should consider organising debriefing sessions or discussions to address any incidents or issues that occurred during the holidays. This allows for reflection, shared learning, and prevention strategies for the future.
- Re-establishing routines- Children may have become used to a more relaxed schedule during the summer so staff should focus on re-establishing daily routines, including absence and punctuality, class schedules, and other structured activities. It may be difficult in some instances therefore it is important to engage with parents and guardians to ensure any relevant information about the holidays or any incidents of concern have been shared.
- Concerning or suspicious student and parent/guardian behaviour- Children or parents/guardians may directly disclose concerns however this may also occur through indirect behaviours, making ambiguous statements, or changes in behaviour. These things may insinuate that something is wrong or that something may have occurred however it is important to gather evidence for concerns to be heard or reported. Always liaise with your school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead in the first instance and remember that recording of information is crucial to track and monitor concerns.
- Health and wellbeing issues- Staff should be attentive to the physical and mental wellbeing of children as they return from the holidays. They should monitor for signs of any health issues, address any concerns, and provide appropriate support or referrals if required.
- Changes of information- It is essential to update records with any changes in contact information, emergency contacts, medical conditions, or allergies. Staff should ensure that they have the most up-to-date and accurate information to provide proper care and support.
By working together with parents and guardians, school staff can maintain open lines of communication and ensuring a collaborative approach to support student wellbeing.
Although the back-to-school rush will be busy, staff should always take some time to reflect on summer risks and current presentations. If any safety incidents or issues occurred during the summer holidays involving students, staff should review and learn from them, and this may be something that the Designated Safeguarding Lead is tasked with as part of the lessons learnt approach. This should include addressing any lessons learned, revising protocols if necessary, and discussing preventive measures for similar incidents in the future.