I tend to find discussion of safeguarding and child protection depressing. In my last job I helped voluntary organisations write child protection procedures and it was not a favourite part of the job. Nobody really wants to spend any part of their day talking about the terrible things that can and do happen to children, often in their own families.
So I wasn't looking forward to the 3 hours of Basic Safeguarding Training that I had to attend today. This training is mandatory for foster carers, so no matter how much experience you have, or how often you've attended the training before, you have to go every three years.
There was nothing new in the course. They've changed their assessment framework to a 'windscreen wiper' model rather than the old 'triangle' model, but it's basically the same idea.
I was coasting through it until we came to a scenario about a hypothetical teenage girl who becomes moody and argumentative and eventually yells that she wishes she were dead. Pretty typical teenage behaviour we all agreed in our group. But no. The course leader informed us that it was her opinion that a child protection referral should immediately be made and the girl should be referred to children's mental health services.
"Really?" I protested. "I must have yelled that I wish I were dead a hundred times when I was a teenager."
"Yes," said the course leader. "And for every thousand or so teenagers who say that, what if one of them actually tries to make it happen?"
The thought hung in the air uncomfortably for quite a few moments before we moved on. It has stayed with me for the rest of the day. So a news report tonight about a 10-year-old bullying victim who hanged himself hit me with immense force. One of the criticisms of the serious case review was that his threats to kill himself weren't taken seriously.
When you spend a fair proportion of your life involved in child protection issues, it's easy to become suspicious of every circumstance, to see the worst in every situation. Every adult becomes a potential threat, and every child is vulnerable. Sometimes it seems over the top, but on days like this I can't help thinking that it's not such a bad attitude.
If a thousand threats are investigated and 999 families are inconvenienced and upset, isn't it worth it if one child's life is saved?