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Safe Strong and Free Project

The Volant Charitable Trust has invested £60,000 in total via two large multi year grants to the Safe Strong and Free Project (SSF).

In 2013 a grant of £20,000 was awarded, followed by a three year grant in 2022 of £40,000.  The funds were used to help cover the cost of delivering age appropriate safety workshops for children in the Highlands, which focus on a range of thematic issues related to child safety including bullying, safety networks, substance abuse, sexual abuse, and health and wellbeing.

The workshops take place across private and publicly funded nurseries, and primary schools, delivered by the charity’s network of expert facilitators with the aim of acting as an early intervention programme to prevent child abuse and neglect from either happening at all or to help break the cycle.  These safety workshops complement the curriculum and are in alignment with Education Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence outcomes.  Following the end of year one monitoring report SSF have reported 5,000 children have accessed the workshops this academic year so far. 

The Safe, Strong and Free Project has been active in the field of child protection for 30 years. Recognising a gap in statutory service provision, the charity complements the work of the local education authority to ensure young children understand the safety risks they can face at home, in public, and online. SSF holds strategic partnerships with a number of important stakeholders at a regional and national level. The charity currently holds a service level agreement with Highland Council which states that SSF workshops will be delivered to every four year old in the local authority. Within the Council itself, SSF are also active on a child protection steering group. In addition, SSF work closely with Police Scotland, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and NHS Scotland. 

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for educational workshops on child protection has grown exponentially. According to recent NSPCC research, lockdown restrictions led children to be at an increased vulnerability to maltreatment during the pandemic with child deaths increasing from 89 to 119 (2019-2020).  At the same time, lockdown also saw a reduction in normal protective services and this has meant fewer babies and children have been identified as being at risk of neglect. 

The delivery of educational and awareness raising workshops not only ensure children at risk can be supported but pupils can also learn about what abuse can look like, how they can report it, and who they can trust when doing so. For teachers and caregivers, the programme will also help individuals to spot early signs of sexual and physical abuse, substance abuse in the home and bullying. The sessions are between 30-40 minutes and are held a week apart to prevent participants from becoming overwhelmed. Each child is given a storybook to take home after each workshop which include the key messages on a variety of topics: strangers, say No!, secrets, and addiction allowing families to reinforce key messages at home.  

This was especially important to the family in the powerful anonymous letter (pictured) sent to SSF which shows the long term impact these workshops can have. The workshops might not have an immediate impact but the key messages learned and reinforced at home has the potential to help a child many years later.  In this case, 5 years later.  The letter speaks for itself in terms of the benefits and importance of these workshops.