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Acknowledging the Stress of Safeguarding Students

4 minute read
By Smoothwall

DSLs play one of the most vital roles in keeping children safe online. As the challenges they face become increasingly complex and the scope of their role expands, Smoothwall asks: Who’s safeguarding the safeguarders?

Feeling the stress of safeguarding? You’re not alone

Smoothwall surveyed over 1,000 DSLs and headteachers about the pressures they face and where they find support. We’re sharing our findings to highlight the distress experienced by safeguarders and what can be done to help. 

The stress factors impacting DSLs

It’s no surprise to anyone in the education sector that safeguarding leads often experience high levels of stress. From admin pressures and time constraints, to the fear of missing a child at risk, their role can be incredibly demanding.

What can sometimes be overlooked, however, is the harm caused by the digital threats students now face, and the knock-on effect this has on those tasked with protecting them. Data from Smoothwall Monitor shows that children are frequently at risk of encountering various online threats, including:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Grooming
  • Terrorism
  • Cybersexual incidents

It’s imperative that we work to suppress these threats and empower children to thrive in their digital lives, but additional consideration needs to be given to the impact these events have on safeguarders. DSLs are repeatedly exposed to distressing online content and its impact on students in their care. In our survey, over a third of DSLs reported that they had experienced a distressing online event in the last 12 months. 

DSLs also have more regulatory responsibilities than ever before. In addition to being responsible for protecting children in a digital context, in line with the 2023 KCSIE updates, DSLs must now have a strong understanding of the specific filtering and monitoring processes in place at their school. 

How DSLs are managing stress

In our survey, DSLs also explained how they choose to deal with the most stressful parts of their role. The most common was speaking with colleagues, with 76% of DSLs confirming that they turn to their peers for direct support. 

But what about the types of support they would like to see? DSLs shared a range of ideas, including the adoption of an open-door culture within schools, which would enable them to share any concerns they have about their work. 

Another improvement DSLs proposed was for governors to seek out safeguarding training. This would give them a deeper understanding of a DSL’s responsibilities, as well as an insight into the pressures they are facing. While the benefits of such an initiative are clear, it may be difficult for schools to put into practice due to time and funding constraints. 

The role of technology in reducing stress for DSLs

For busy DSLs, safeguarding technology can play a key role in making invisible risks visible - transforming safeguarding while reducing workloads and stress levels. 

Technology-led digital monitoring, for example, can provide peace of mind for safeguarders as it establishes additional eyes and ears on students’ digital behaviours. This means DSLs can identify potential risks that may otherwise go unseen and extinguish them before incidents have a chance to develop.

Similarly, student wellbeing platforms produce invaluable insights for DSLs that can make it easier to fulfil the demands of their role. These mental health check-in tools give students a simple way to share how they’re feeling - revealing to safeguarders the overall state of pupil wellbeing and highlighting vulnerable individuals who require support.

Some platforms, like Smoothwall Pulse, provide pupils with the additional option to reach out to a preferred staff member for help. This approach allows more teachers to get involved in student wellbeing, taking some of the pressure off DSLs while fostering a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing. 

Who’s safeguarding the safeguarders?

To learn more about this important topic, download our free whitepaper, ‘Who’s Safeguarding the Safeguarders?’. Key takeaways include: 

  • Insight into the latest risks children are facing online

  • How to identify and address stress factors as a DSL

  • Practical steps to help improve safeguarding and reduce workloads



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