It’s Monday morning and I’m trying to dress my non verbal ten year old while he screams at me and makes it abundantly clear that he isn’t wearing uniform today and he doesn’t want to go to school. I persevere, despite his protests, and remind him gently that ‘today is Monday. First school, then home’. I know he understands but he still clearly doesn’t want to go.
His transport arrives and with a LOT of persuasion he finally accepts the inevitable and off he goes to school.
Half an hour later here I am sitting drinking a cup of tea and secretly congratulating myself that I made it through another Monday morning and I got my son to school despite his protest.
But then, with my warm cuppa still in hand, I read this online and I gasp audibly.
What if my non verbal son was trying to tell me something wasn’t right this morning and I didn’t listen?
This story hit home because I know of the school, but even more personally I know one of the families. The cover pic above was a picture that appeared on my social media the day it happened. I cried the day I saw that pic, and years later reading what actually went on to cause the bruises, I am crying again. That child could have been mine…same age, same diagnosis, same location, both non verbal. I have used the photograph with full permission from the family, who quite rightly, want people to see the damage that was caused.
While the full story isn’t mine to tell what I can say is that even with obvious injuries, parents who were proactive and highly concerned, and professionals keen to support, it has taken four years to get this case to the point where the teacher has been struck off for six months. When the child came home from school looking like he did above both parents immediately knew something serious was going on, but when your child can’t communicate and doesn’t have the cognitive understanding or social ability to know when something isn’t right where do you start?
For years my friend faced every school morning the same way I did, and she too would remind her son ‘first school, then home.’ We are both, sadly, used to seeing our son’s struggle and we believe professionals and schools when they tell us ‘everything is fine’ and ‘our children are just wanting to stay home because it’s an easy option’, or ‘they are struggling with the transition or sensory difficulties’.
There was far more damage done than bruises to my friend’s son’s face. Four years later he is still on medication for anxiety and it took over two years to get him him to go into school happy again. It’s taken multiple amazing teachers and support assistants to undo the damage one teacher caused. The damage to the trust of the parents will last forever.
The abuse didn’t start the day the child came home covered in bruises. For months the child screamed and withdrew and refused school yet, just like I did this morning, they encouraged and persuaded their child to go anyway. The guilt of that can not be measured.
The authority may have apologised to the family but it has taken four years to get any sort of justice, though a six month suspension doesn’t feel like justice for what they went through. In that four years the family had no idea of the true extent of what went on until the case came to the general teaching council for consideration. Not only could their own child not communicate the full account, but those that could have told them chose not to until they finally heard in a courtroom four years after the event.
Children like my friend’s son, and my own son, are among the most vulnerable in society. They are transported to schools miles from home, unable to say if they are injured or even shouted at. When they have challenging behaviour we are told ‘it’s all part of their condition’ and when they don’t appear to want to go to school we are told to push them, cajole them and persuade them.
But what if something isn’t right and your child can’t tell you? What if your intuition tells you things are not all they seem?
My intuition told me this morning that my son had just enjoyed a weekend at home eating his favourite foods and watching what he wanted on YouTube and he didn’t want that to end. Despite my gut telling me he is ok at school there will always be that nagging feeling that perhaps everything isn’t as I hope it is.
I don’t ever share stories like this because I am not an advocate of spreading fear However, this goes way beyond that. There are lessons here for everyone.
1. Schools who are privileged to have our most vulnerable children need to make sure they have everything in place to safeguard them. Staff who whistleblow must be given protection. As parents we need to know there are adults who genuinely care for our babies.
2. Parents need to trust their own intuition. If something seems ‘off’ never dismiss it.
3. Parents must be listened to…by everyone. There is too much at stake not to.
4. Schools, authorities and investigators must stop hiding the truth from parents.
5. As a society we need to take the responsibility seriously for making sure the most vulnerable, especially those who can not communicate, are looked after. If you witness abuse report it, always.
I made some silly excuse today to drive the 14 miles to my sons school to unexpectedly call in. I just needed to do so for my peace of mind. I peeked into the class where he was smiling, engaged in an activity he was enjoying and the room was highly staffed.
He’s fine, but so many others aren’t.
If you have concerns that your child is being abused in any way, wether in school or anywhere else, speak up. Contact professionals involved with your child, contact the police, gather evidence and information and inform the management of the school immediately. Have everything in writing and find organisations who can support you.
It’s vital that cases like this are talked about ,though it must be stressed that things have now changed in the school concerned and the vast majority of people working with children like my son, and my friend’s son, are amazing and kind.
Sadly as a parent to a childI with high support needs who is non verbal I will always have that worry:
What if something isn’t right and my child can’t tell me?
With thanks to the family involved for their bravery in allowing their story to be shared.