Online Safeguarding Software – Impero Guest Blog

Online safeguarding software will protect students both during lockdown and when schools reopen

Justin Reilly, CEO, safeguarding specialist, Impero

Working as a teacher and school advisor for most of my career, I have witnessed first-hand the essential safeguarding role teachers play. Teachers invest countless hours engaging with their students to form a bond of trust, and besides parents, teachers have the highest chance of identifying concerning patterns and warning signs early.

More than half of British schools log these concerns using paper-based filing systems. However, the national lockdown has laid bare the inadequacies of this system: teachers are unable to access their usual systems, meaning that new incidents are logged as isolated incidents (if at all) and kept offsite. Consequently, child protection referrals have dropped by more than 50 percent (as reported by The Guardian).

We must ensure that teachers are ‘safeguarding enabled’ as children’s wellbeing, and in some cases, lives, are at stake. To do so, we must turn from the filing cabinet to the cloud: we recently launched a free-forever online safeguarding solution for schools across the country, allowing them to report incidents, review records and easily collaborate with other professionals. The solution is called Back:drop, and it is available now. Crucially, it will provide staff with a continuous safeguarding record, so when schools reopen, teachers can start connecting the dots, spotting concerns and getting every child the help they may need.

What is Impero Back:drop?

At Impero, we were already in the late stages of developing the Back:drop software when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The associated lockdown made it clear that our technology needed to be made available to all schools as a matter of urgency.

Teachers and staff members, who are currently fulfilling most of their responsibilities from home using the internet, can connect to Back:drop from any web-connected device. Staff can easily log concerns, and they are then stored in the cloud where they can be reviewed by other staff, optionally shared with parents, and forwarded on to external agencies where necessary. Rather than leaning on emails or other unfit-for-purpose systems for safeguarding, this dedicated platform is secure, purpose-built, and accessible and staff can use it just as well while working from home as they can in the classroom.

Back:drop will remain free forever, providing a safe and robust alternative to paper slips, ensuring that no child is overlooked or neglected as a result of an administrative error.

Preventing self-harm and suicide

Safeguarding is more vital now than ever, but it cannot be conducted effectively if schools rely on inaccessible paper-based systems or scattered, decentralised stopgaps. Back:drop is free, secure and online, and we hope that schools adopt it to ensure that every child gets the help they need – both during the lockdown and once classrooms reopen.

Teacher’s reflection on UK Lockdown

Teaching during lockdown has produced some unique challenges. Whilst it has shown how flexible we can be in rapidly switching to online learning platforms, it has once again highlighted the issue of social inequality with regards to accessing education. Not every child has access to a tablet or laptop, and in many cases are sharing these devices with their siblings, both for education and for entertainment.

On a personal level, I have found this troubling. I, like I’m sure all teachers did, came into this job because I care about children. I want the best for them and for each child to realise their potential. Not seeing my class, engaging with them, making sure they are ok educationally and personally, fills me with anxiety. Are they ok? Am I doing my best for them? I have to bring myself back to understanding my spheres of influence, and by providing regular resources, entertaining content and by keeping in touch with parents via online platforms. I’m doing what I can. Which is all anyone can do in these unprecedented times.

My advice for parents of primary age children during lockdown is just read, read and read some more. Share your favourite stories from childhood. Use Newsround to keep up to date with the wider world. Go out into the garden, find some insects or flowers. Categorize these through similar features or use books and internet resources (if able) to identify them and learn about the world in your back garden. Follow some recipes and cook together. All of these activities teach valuable life skills including developing a wider vocabulary, practical math skills and the ability for children to work scientifically. More importantly, they are activities that bring you together, because now more than ever, being there for each other is the greatest thing we can do.

Some useful apps and online tools

  • Class Dojo (school-based chat system for enabling children to access work, and allow school communication with parents)
  • Read Theory (online system which contains lots and lots of reading comprehension through different text types and quiz-style comprehension questions)
  • Epic (website which has access to lots and lots of books to encourage reading for pleasure. Children have the opportunity to have the book read out loud to them by the website)
  • Times Table Rockstars (for various times tables-based activities and games, to make times tables fun)
  • Purple Mash (teachers can set various curriculum-based challenges that children can complete and respond to via the website)

Permission to Play

In this blog post here is permission for everyone to PLAY.

I imagine it will mostly be adults reading these posts, and I want to tell you that even as adults we can, we do, and we should play! It’s totally okay. In fact, research has shown the positive impact that play can have on our mental health and well-being. Taking the example of Drama therapy, where play is actively and positively promoted. This treatment approach provides a theatrical platform to express feelings, solve problems, and achieve therapeutic goals.

We’ve already read other blog posts about being creative and spending time in nature/gardening, which embody the idea of play. But there are so many other aspects of life where we are playing, and if we can see them as play, be mindful in our daily life of this, we can enjoy the feelings and positivity these activities give us.

Cooking as play – I’m not an amazing or dedicated cook but I love to play in the kitchen, I’ve tried making yogurt, various fermented things, jam, chutney, wine… When cooking I often just make it up and I was noticing this the other day. I was reminded of how play cooking and make mud-pies as a kid. Cooking my soup for yesterday’s lunch was just the same, a creative experiment. It’s just I was able to eat the soup. I encourage you to be mindful in the kitchen, have a play and enjoy the process, how it makes you feel and the results.

Lego, board games, fancy dress and hide and seek are all play that I enjoy as an adult. Singing, playing musical instruments and making up songs, the list of how to play is endless. The joy is expression, freedom and of wanting or choosing to do these things, being mindful of how they make you feel and doing those things that feel positive more often, allowing yourself that luxury and treat.

I particularly enjoying play acting and making up voices and words and languages. I don’t think I’m alone in this… And perhaps I’m exposing a well held secret of many households across the UK. As a kid my family would have silly made-up words and voices that we enjoyed using to make each other laugh and to cheer each other up, many random words also becoming normal parts of our vocabulary. This is something that I still do to this day, but recently realised how good and energised it made me feel. Also, a way to realise energy and relax. So, do voices. And play!

Here’s some great inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7c2JCfqMNk

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.

~ Kirby

Mindful Moving

Moving is something we all do and (if you’re anything like me) something we all do quite badly! Learning to move in a mindful way can be a source of great benefit for your body an also your mind. And it really is something we can all try.

Mindful movements are gentle stretches and strengthening exercises done very, very slowly with awareness of your breathing and the sensations in your body. It’s done with a “non-striving” attitude – meaning, it’s not a competition and you’re not trying to achieve a contortionist dream!

The idea of mindful movements is to bring awareness to your body as you move. It’s not exercise or a sport, but an exercise in noticing. Noticing enables you to have more awareness of your body in everyday life – bringing awareness to walking, bending, reaching and lifting.

When I first tried mindful movements, after a few practices I realised that I was almost completely subconsciously blocking awareness of my legs. It was a strange sensation but made sense having sustained leg injuries in my early 20s. This realisation was really helpful in bringing my mind to focus on reconnecting with them and kind of re-joining my whole body.

Mindful movements, is not strict it can be done in different ways – so for example, if you are in pain or feel pain in a movement you can alter the movements (so instead of standing, maybe sitting or lying down), or just skip that movement. For me I am just unable to the “Bodysway” – my ankles just don’t like it! Another option is to imagine carrying out the movement, without physically moving – which can be a really powerful feeling. Also, if like me you tend to push yourself too far at times notice this and adjust. Or if you are someone who may benefit from doing a little more, notice this and adjust.

The main ‘rule’ is to move with your breath, rather than tensing or holding your breath (like me, from giving this a go you may notice how much of your day you spend holding your breath!). Your breath should be smooth and rhythmical. As you undertake the movements, remain present with your body and how it feels, if your mind drifts (and it will!) just kindly and gently bring yourself back to your breathing and your body, and let any thoughts drift away like litter in a breeze (that part really does take practice, so go easy on yourself it takes time.)

Mindful movements can be done as a practiced routine each morning but bringing just a couple of these movements into your day is a good place to start. And you may well, already be doing versions of this. For example, the “arm-reach” is probably what you do when you get your bowl out of a cupboard at breakfast, just do this at a slower pace than usual and focus on your breath (in and out) and the movement. I like to do the “roll-down” when I’m putting the washing on the line, again slowing down my usual pace and focusing on my breath, how my body feels and how it’s moving. Goodness knows what the neighbours think! But who cares!

You can definitely find Mindful Movement videos on Youtube, so do give it a go – but please be gentle and mindful of what your body can do, and what it needs:

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.

~ Kirby

Creativity: Making Things

Being creative is something that we can all do.

Many people feel they aren’t creative, can’t draw perhaps, can’t even sew on a button or might even be a little fearful of expressing any kind of creativity. I would class myself as one of those people, I’m dreadful at drawing and really have to think about being creative and creating. But I’ve come to realise that that is totally fine and just a different way of being creative. We can’t all be Khalos and Picassos!

Creating is something that I have used over the years as an informal therapy, to be mindful and access a place of calm when feeling stuck, stressed, anxious or down. I have fond memories of making stuff as a kid with my mum, meticulously following the instructions from ITV’s Art Attack or watching my mum cross-stitch, mesmerised. As an adult I rediscovered crafts when my sister bought me a sewing magazine to keep me occupied during a long stint stuck in a hospital bed in my early 20s.

So, I want to encourage you to give creating a go and find what works for you and how you are creative. It might be colouring-in, doodling, knitting, painting, felting, decorating/DIY, sewing, origami, it could even be arranging things on a shelf, so it looks amazing. That really is a skill!

For me the process of sewing and making/constructing something from nothing is my go-to craft. Patchwork and rag-rugging are something that I really relish, both are long process so keep me focused, I get to recycle (another passion) and I also find the repetitive nature of sewing quite soothing and mindful. When it’s done, I also get a massive sense of achievement. The sense of achievement can be the most powerful aspect of creativity at a time when you may feel you aren’t getting a lot done or feel you have no control over anything else going on (in times like these I imagine we’re all feeling this way at times), which is why making and creating can be a really valuable pass time.

Here are some things that I’ve created in the past and recently

  • Patchwork wedding dress (this was a friend and family effort and incorporated fabrics from friends and family, it took me 5 years on and off = long process)
  • Rag rainbow wreath (my contribution to the street rainbows to celebrate key workers)
  • Empowering stitch (a stitch for a friend, the joy of creating for someone is also a big positive)

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.

~ Kirby

Welcome to Creativity Week: Interview with Illustrator Kim Thompson

Meet Nottingham-based Illustrator Kim.

Our Trainer Aja interviewed her for this week’s theme: Creativity and Mental Health. Watch her video below to find out more about Kim’s work, and what illustration and art mean to her mental health.

Where you can find Kim:
Instagram: kim_a_tron
Facebook: kimthompsonillustration

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf9gtcunR1Q]

Gardening timelapse

This week, our Trainer Aja has been getting out into her garden and she’s made a time-lapse video for us (with a special appearance from a rather cute cat). If you’re looking for visual inspiration for practicing what we’ve been preaching this week about gardening for wellbeing, take a peek:

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture

Social and therapeutic horticulture is the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills

 

Therapy and rehabilitation

Social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) can benefit people in a number of ways:

  • It can be part of a person’s rehabilitation process, to help them recover and ‘find their feet again’ after an illness or a difficult time in their lives
  • It can help people recover from a wide range of conditions
  • It can help people to learn new skills
  • It can help slow down the deterioration seen when someone has a degenerative illness.

People can benefit from horticultural therapy:

  • At a garden project, where they are referred and funded by their doctor, social worker or care professional. Others start at a project through their own initiative and their place may be funded by their family and friends.
  • Through gardening at home, perhaps by starting with a simple idea like planting a small container or window box, or growing some herbs on a sunny window sill.

~ Claire

Sources:

Guest blog: Sam Ward, Horticulture Lead at Flower Pod

Garden Therapy

Sam Ward is Horticulture Lead at Flower Pod, a cut flower garden in Nottinghamshire providing horticultural activities for adults with learning disabilities. The social enterprise is part of Reach, which supports people across the county.

It’s gone very quiet in the Flower Pod garden. Like lots of other organisations, we’ve had to close our gates to visitors. And this includes all our clients and volunteers who would normally be spending this time waking up the garden after winter, planting out lots of seedlings and starting to crop our first flowers of the season. But while this is a difficult time – especially for people with learning disabilities who can be among the most socially isolated in our communities –  we can at least carry on gardening. In fact, I’d say it’s essential to the mental health of the nation, and it’s brilliant that Harmless is dedicated this week’s blogs to gardening and nature.

One reason to be hopeful is that this pandemic has come at a time when gardens are bursting to life – and that means there’s plenty to do. So long as you are well and remain a safe distance from your neighbours, your garden can keep you healthy in mind, body and spirit. At Flower Pod we take advantage of this all year round as we provide Social and Therapeutic Horticulture – an approach to improving people’s wellbeing and confidence that is fast gaining support among healthcare professionals.

An important part of this approach is the idea that looking after gardens requires us to take careful notice of small things. Nurturing the first fragile shoot of a seedling, spotting daffodils that need dead-heading, the flight path of a bee as it works its way around the blossom. These are simple and physically undemanding things. But while we’re taking notice, focused and calm, the stresses and strains of the rest of the world are forgotten and we live in the moment. Taking notice is one of the five key ways to wellbeing that Harmless talk about in their training – and it just happens to be integral to gardening.

Gardening is also a long-term endeavour, making us think beyond the next few days or weeks – also helpful when the present might feel anxious. Taking care of plants (and the animals that rely on them) isn’t about immediate or one-off rewards. It requires us to be patient and understand that things will always change and might sometimes go wrong. This is never permanent because nature works in cycles. Many of the people who garden at Flower Pod can experience profound anxiety, and the ability to work on something where they can have a go and not worry about failure is so important to what we can offer them. My favourite quote from everyone’s favourite gardener, Monty Don (who has talked about his own struggles with mental ill health), says that ‘a garden is not a place – it’s a journey’.

So we encourage our gardeners to engage in the whole process of a plant’s life – from sowing the seed in the polytunnel in winter, to potting on, planting out, and cropping and using the flowers in our bouquets and confetti. This is a slow, forgiving and creative process which, with a bit a bit of support, anyone can access. Of course, that accessibility just got a bit harder. But we’re delivering activity packs to our clients right now so they can carry on gardening. It’s not just about stemming the boredom that lockdown is bringing with it. It will also give them something positive to focus on and to look ahead to the future – the sunflower seeds we sent out will be in flower later this year and hopefully when we re-open we’ll share in their enjoyment.

Of course, gardening might also involve physical exercise – another of the ways to wellbeing, and a good way to stay active while gyms and leisure centres are closed. Here are some thing you can be doing right now.

  • Plant potatoes – you can get seed potatoes from your local garden centre – many of them are providing delivery services
  • Weeding – leave weeds to feed the pollinators, then dig them up when you see seeds so they don’t take over
  • Deadhead faded flowers – most plants will keep flowering longer if you take off the old blooms
  • Sow sweet pea seeds – these are easy and you can grow them in a pot, with some pea sticks to climb up
  • Keep watering young plants – it’s been a dry April and seedlings are still growing roots to help themselves to a drink

While Flower Pod is closed, we’re posting mindful moments from the garden, short videos to help relax and distract anyone that needs it. See our Instagram @FlowerPod_Official or follow us on Facebook @FlowerPodSouthwell to see our #30seconds of spring and listen to the birdsong.

Sam and his colleagues have benefited from Harmless’s free Mental Health Awareness training for third sector workers in Nottinghamshire. You can find out more about this training and others on our Eventbrite page.

Noticing Nature – by Kirby

The first weekend of the lockdown was announced I spend the whole morning in the garden and for that time, everything was normal, everything was fine.

The main joy I get from being in the garden is not just gardening, although I sow seeds and do some planting, I am not often physically able to do much more, but it is being outside and noticing nature that helps. Watching the seasons, watching things grow and change.

The outdoors and being in nature, is something that has helped me a lot over the years. One of my main anxieties, stemming from a past trauma is going out and being outside, feel unsafe and in danger, mainly in the urban environment. My safe place is often my home, and in the past it has been a real wrench to leave at times, but slowly and gently (with support and encouragement from others) over the years I have used getting outside into nature, in the garden, to a local park, to a locals woods, field, river, hill as an escape and way to access a place of calm when feeling stuck, stressed, anxious or down. Memories of a childhood by the sea are also a way that I link back to an early safe place that was all nature, exploring, swimming in the waves, making dens and finding new creatures to marvel at.

According to new research, The University of East Anglia found that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits. Their research reveals that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are also more likely to report good overall health — according to global data involving more than 290 million people. It has also been found that even looking at photographs of plants and trees can have a positive impact on us! So it’s not just the vitamin D from the sun that is the going thing about being outside!

Although it would be lovely to go for a long walk through hills and vales, swim in the sea, paddle through waves and sand, the reality is that many of us can’t do this right now during the new normal of the lockdown. We’re not all lucky enough to live on the coast or in a national park, some of us don’t even have gardens but there’s a lot we can do to get closer to nature and feel some of that benefit. So here’s somethings to look out for and take time (a long look, not just a fleeting glimpse) to notice on your next walk round the block, or trip to the shops, or on your hours exercise a day or out of your window/in your garden/yard:

  • The new leaves in spring unfurling, the different colours and textures, have you noticed new leaves are soft and supple they feel?
  • Birds, pottering around, finding things for their nests, eating worms and seed, singing, chatting to each other, flying, swooping
  • The abundance of flowers, the different colours, shapes, forms and feels of them
  • How a blade of grass sounds in-between your thumbs, when you blow on it
  • The crunching of twigs under foot along a path
  • And if you’re lucky to have them – All of the creatures! Hedgehogs, worms, beetles, grass hoppers, flys, bees, bumble bees, frogs, tadpoles, toads, butterflies, moths, earwigs, millipedes, ladybirds…
  • The sounds of the wind, the water, waves, wings…

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.
~ Kirby