Meet the team: Safeguarding leads Claudine Nathan and Mattie Naseri

Date: 03 Jul 2023

In 2022, Dilworth became the first school in New Zealand to receive Child Wise accreditation. This was after a rigorous three-year journey to implement school-wide change. The process was led by Director of Student Services Claudine Nathan and Safeguarding Officer Mattie Naseri. The aim was to ensure that Dilworth has the right policies and procedures in place to safeguard students and teachers at all times.  

How did Dilworth’s safeguarding journey start?
Claudine: It started back in 2017 when we wanted to put in a place a robust child protection policy. We researched organisations that could guide us through good child safeguarding policy and practice and provide accreditation.

We quickly realised that this did not  really exist in New Zealand. Other countries like Canada, Australia and the UK are ahead of us with their safeguarding practices, so we looked offshore. In 2019, we engaged Child Wise Australia to guide and advise us.

What does Child Wise accreditation entail?
Claudine: Child Wise did a comprehensive review of our whole school. The Child Wise team looked at our policies, and conducted interviews with students, parents, staff, teaching staff, Heads of our different campuses, our Headmaster and Chaplain, and Chairman of the Board. They surveyed around 160 students and more than 100 parents and caregivers. It was more than safeguarding practice; it was actually a deep dive into the culture of our school.

Following this review, Child Wise gave us a report with recommendations. One of the first steps we took was to employ a Safeguarding Officer. We had external support too, with an embedded adviser from Child Wise. This was essential.

What does safeguarding look like at Dilworth?
Mattie: Safeguarding is about protecting people from harm or damage. It’s everyone’s responsibility. We have made school-wide changes and ensured students and parents are heavily involved.

We adhere to Child Wise’s ten National Principles (also known as Child Safe Standards), which cover areas like leadership, governance, and culture; children’s participation and empowerment; families’ and community involvement; staff education and training; and human resource management.  

In each of those areas, Dilworth has actioned significant changes to the way we operate. This has included creating child-friendly versions of key policies in consultation with students; developing an incident reporting model; revising our complaints process; establishing six different channels for students and parents to share feedback, and establishing parent advisory groups.

Tell us about student voice, an integral element of safeguarding.
Claudine: Student voice is captured in everything we do at Dilworth. It underpins all of our safeguarding processes to ensure that change is driven by students’ needs, wellbeing, safety, and care. A key element is providing our students with different platforms to voice their feelings and their opinions about decisions that affect them. We have put enormous focus in this area because we want students’ input and opinions to inform our decision making.

What does this look like in practice?
Mattie: we have open communication channels; with the aim of providing a collaborative space; and encouraging two-way communication rather than staff simply telling students how to do things. It is also key to have a robust complaints policy.

What channels are available for students to communicate with the school?   
Mattie: We have many. For example, student councils at each campus; academic and extra-curricular student-led committees in different areas, including arts, sport, culture, academic, hauora, faith and service, and boarding. Each committee meets fortnightly and comprises students at all year levels.

We also have STYMIE – a web-based reporting platform. It is completely anonymous and untraceable, which means that students can feel safe speaking up about anything. This has been a real success – students use it frequently to provide feedback on many aspects of school life, which really shows they’re feeling empowered to speak up. Many of the reports to STYMIE are about students looking out for their friends – for example if they feel someone is feeling a bit low.

There are also anonymous reporting boxes in the boarding houses, a dedicated email inbox, a complaints form on the website, and students can talk to staff directly if they have concerns.

What does safeguarding mean for staff?
Claudine: Safeguarding at Dilworth is not just about protecting students; it’s also about protecting our staff. Safeguarding is embedded in our recruitment processes, right from the outset of writing position descriptions through to the induction of new staff. We have mandatory safeguarding staff training at every level of our organisation, including for non-teaching staff and the Board.

We also have a Student Safety: Code of Conduct for Staff policy that lays expectations and behaviours out in black and white to protect everyone. While there are high staff expectations and many boundaries, this is our new normal, and staff really appreciate that this is for their safety, too.

How do your safeguarding practices align with Dilworth’s pastoral care team?
Claudine: We are all aligned in the view that safeguarding underpins everything we do. STYMIE reports are used to refer students for extra support. We have Mattie, our Safeguarding Officer and a registered psychologist and a counsellor on staff who provide additional channels for students to speak freely and confidentially. We have Isabella Dilworth Lodge, which provides temporary accommodation for students who need a break from boarding.

The safety net is comprehensive, and we are all working together.  

How are Dilworth parents involved in safeguarding?
Mattie: Like student voice, parent voice is incredibly important. We encourage parents to be fully involved in school life. We have a safeguarding parent group which inputs into safeguarding policies, and a number of cultural parent advisory groups. These are a direct result of the child safeguarding work.

How would you describe Dilworth’s approach to safeguarding today?
Mattie: We are serious about safeguarding and we are proactive in doing everything we can, the right way. We involve parents, we have robust policies and we follow process. Every report we get, no matter how minor it might sound, we respond to it quickly. We are not interested in shortcuts. We want Dilworth to be the safest school in NZ.

What next for safeguarding at Dilworth?
Claudine: Every three years, Dilworth will go through a reaccreditation process by an external agency such as Child Wise. Through our existing Child Wise accreditation, we will also have a mid-cycle review in March 2024. We are on a path of continuous improvement.

What next for safeguarding in New Zealand schools?
Claudine: We have schools contacting us frequently for advice in this space. We present at conferences and share our learning, which we regard as an important contribution to progressing child safeguarding practices across New Zealand.

Globally, safeguarding policy and practice is mandatory, but it is not yet standardised in New Zealand. I believe all schools in New Zealand will eventually go down this route.

How do you feel about all the work you’ve done?
Claudine: It’s been a challenging, rewarding and intense three-year journey and a great opportunity to lead change in an area that benefits students so much.

Mattie: I get to help with representing the voice for young people. It’s rewarding. In saying that, we are not finished yet. We are on this train and we have to keep going, there is always more work to do.