Earlier this week, the case of Mary Shipstone (7) was reported in the news. Mary was murdered by her estranged father when the location of the safe house both Mary and her mother were living in after fleeing Domestic Violence, was inadvertently disclosed to her father. Mary returned home from school to be confronted by her father who proceeded to shoot Mary in the head in front of her Mother, Lyndsey. After killing Mary, her father then turned the gun on himself.
A serious case review reported evidence that details of their previous addresses or identity were also made available to the father by various agencies/organisations.
Attempting to keep the location of your safe address after fleeing Domestic Violence, is a constant battle and perhaps even, nigh on impossible.
My daughters and I have been relocated 4 times by police as a result of being identified as being at high risk of murder due to Domestic Abuse. Some of the relocations have involved moving to different counties which in turn has resulted in different Police Forces and different Local Authorities being involved in our case. Each of the relocations have occurred due to the location of our safe address being disclosed to my ex-husband by agencies (Social Services, Court) involved in our case.
A recent safeguarding error by the girls’ school has caused concern over the possible disclosure of our current location. It is these errors that I wish to highlight in today’s blog, as there may be many other Domestic Violence victims who could potentially face similar issues.
Both my daughters attend the same High School. When we joined the school, a safeguarding meeting was held with the school’s Safeguarding Manager, a Police Officer, and myself in attendance. The Police Officer provided a list of safeguarding measures which needed to be strictly adhered to and these were agreed by all parties.
The school operates a computer program called ‘School Information Management System’ (SIMS) in which the personal details of each and every pupil, along with an ID photo is stored. All teachers and admin staff have access to this system. SIMS allows for each pupil to be placed into their Form Class on the system. A hard copy of each Form Class (including each pupil’s ID photo and name) is printed out and stuck on the wall of each Head of Year’s Office.
Last school year (2015/2016) my eldest daughter was in Year 11. On the last day of their lessons (June 2016, prior to writing their GCSE exams), the Head of Year took all the hard copies of the Form Class lists (which included photos and names of all the pupils), fanned them out on his desk, and took a ‘keepsake’ photo. He then uploaded this photo onto his personal, official Social Media Sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with a ‘goodbye and good luck’ caption. The photo was also uploaded across the School’s Official Social Media Sites. My daughter’s class happened to be the top list and her photo, as well as new name, were clearly visible in the ‘keepsake’ photo. The photo was uploaded in the afternoon, however we only became aware of its presence on Social Media after 5pm that day. By this time the school had closed and I had no way of speaking to anyone to have the photo removed. The photo remained on Social Media throughout the night, being shared countless times across all Social Media platforms by numerous school pupils.
I was only able to meet with the Safeguarding Manager the next morning at 9am. The photo was removed from the school teacher’s own social media sites as well as from the School’s official sites but, as previously mentioned, not before it had been shared by pupils countless times across a variety of Social Media Platforms.
Two weeks after this incident, my youngest daughter’s year were holding a charity fundraising event at school during lunch. Both the girls know they are not permitted to appear in any school photos. If they are aware that any photos are due to be taken they make sure to inform the person taking the photo that they cannot be included, and take every precaution to step well out of the shot. On this particular occasion, my youngest was not aware that anyone was taking photos. A teacher had come to take photos of the charity event in order for it to be publicised, however she had not informed anyone that photos would be taken and she didn’t announce that she was taking photos. As such, my daughter didn’t notice photos were being taken and she was included in some of the photos. After lunch, once the charity event had finished, the teacher uploaded the photos onto all of the school’s official Social Media sites. Once again, we only became aware of the photos on Social Media after 5pm. The photos were shared by numerous pupils as well as being shared by the charity who the funds were being raised for. Once more, I had to wait until 9am the next morning before I could request for the photos to be removed.
As a result of these two mistakes, additional safeguarding measures have now been put in place – 1) The girls have been introduced to the Social Media Manager in person so she is aware of who they are. Any photos that are due to be uploaded onto the school social media sites from now onwards will be scanned by her, if they contain any images of the girls they will be deleted prior to appearing on the site (this however only includes photos being uploaded onto the school’s main social media sites, it does not include photos posted by teachers onto their own individual, official sites). 2) I have been given the mobile number of the Assistant Safeguarding Manager so I have a way of contacting a school official out of hours should a photo appear on any of the school’s sites out of hours. This will allow for it to be deleted as soon as possible without having to wait for the school to reopen the next day.
Unfortunately, I have had to attend a further two meetings this past week with the school for additional safeguarding issues.
Every teacher throughout the school creates their own individual subject page on ‘Google Classroom’. On their page they post teaching notes, assignments, homework etc. pupils can also email their teacher through these pages to ask subject related questions. Each child is provided a unique login which is required to access ‘Google Classroom’.
My eldest daughter has now moved up to Sixth Form in the school. Whilst I appreciate that Sixth Form is seen as a completely separate unit, classes are still held within the same school buildings, by the same school teachers as before. They have the same Head Teacher and the Safeguarding Manager still covers Sixth Form.
As with most schools, at the start of the school year there is a fairly significant change of pupils in Sixth Form, with some pupils having left the school and new pupils from other local schools having arrived. As a result of the changes, one of my daughter’s subject teachers accessed the SIMS database and uploaded all the photos and names of the pupils in her class, created a document containing these photos and names, and posted this document on her Google Classroom page. Unfortunately some of the pupils took screenshots of the document with the photos and posted it to their own social media sites.
I again went into school to discuss this issue with the Head of Sixth Form (someone I had not previously met as my daughter has only just moved up into Sixth Form). I was astounded to discover that he was completely unaware of our safeguarding issues surrounding our Domestic Violence. Neither the Safeguarding Manager nor my daughter’s previous Head of Year had passed any of this information onto him. A complete breakdown of communication and vital information sharing.
As a result of this latest error, both girls ID photos have been removed from SIMS so as to avoid any further incidents.
Finally, yesterday my youngest daughter was informed that as part of their GCSE coursework assignments, some subjects will require to video pupils as evidence they have completed the work (in particular PE, English). Not every video will be sent off, however on completion of the work the exam board selects a random sample for moderation. The school is required to send the videos of the selected pupils off to the exam board. This of course poses a serious safeguarding issue for us – I have no way of knowing who will view that video (potentially the examiner could be an associate or friend of my ex, knowing he is still searching for us, our location could be provided to him via this route). I met with my daughter’s Head of Year yesterday to discuss this issue. As this is a new exam requirement starting this year (videos have not previously been required) she is not sure what preventative action can be taken and has promised to look into this issue for me. I await her feedback, I am hopeful that special circumstances can be invoked and either a moderator visit the school to view my daughter undertaking the coursework or that she be excluded from any sample group requiring videos.
To conclude, whilst all of these incidents occurring at school have been genuine ‘mistakes’, as can be seen in Mary Shipstone’s case, mistakes can have devastating and catastrophic consequences. The safeguarding of safe addresses for victims of Domestic Violence requires all agencies and organisations to work together cohesively. Every agency and organisation has a responsibility to have policies and procedures set in place to ensure that the costly mistake of inadvertently disclosing a victim’s safe address does not occur.