Beetham T & Callaghan J (2019) Safe Strong and Free Programme evaluation. Safe Strong and Free Highland. https://www.stir.ac.uk/media/stirling/services/faculties/social-sciences/research/documents/Report-SSF-2019-FINAL.pdf
This research was funded by Safe Strong and Free Highland. The Safe Strong and Free (SSF) project is an abuse prevention programme aimed at young children to reduce the vulnerability of young children to abuse and assault. The programme consists of a series of three workshops that are delivered to all pre-school children in all nurseries in the Highland area. The programme is partly funded by Highland Council. The workshops are interactive and include three topics: Bullying, Strangers and Secrets. In May 2017 SSF commissioned researchers at the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection (CCWP) to evaluate its programme. The primary aim of this evaluation is to consider the extent to which key messages conveyed during the workshops are learned and applied by the children who take part in the programme.
This research was undertaken between January 2018 to June 2019. In order to gain an in depth understanding of the impact of the workshops from a range of perspectives, this research comprised of multiple methods. Workshops were observed at nine nurseries in a range of urban and rural locations. A total of 14 workshops were observed throughout the duration of the evaluation. Children from three of these nurseries participated in a follow-up activity with the researcher to explore the extent to which they remembered they key workshop messages. We also observed everyday life in two nurseries three months after participating in the SSF workshops to see to what extent children put into practice the messages learnt during the workshops. We found that in general, children engage well with the workshops. They particularly enjoy the interactive activities. It can be difficult to maintain the engagement of some children especially when groups are larger, or there are more distractions in the environment. The skills and qualities of SSF project workers are a valuable asset and for the most-part, they are able to keep children engaged, interested and focused. Children seem to mostly understand key messages, but some appear confusing to some children. Reinforcement, repetition and embedding the key messages into the culture and routines of nurseries and schools is beneficial. It is also necessary to consider accessibility and inclusion for children who have disabilities, additional support needs or who are not under the care of their parents or have parents who are identify as LGBTQ+.
We also consulted with nursery staff and parents/carers. Nursery staff and parents/carers of children who participated in workshops were invited to complete a questionnaire or an online survey. Any parent/carer whose child participated in the workshops between 1997 to June 2018 were invited to complete the online survey. There were 90 respondents. Parents of all children who participated in a workshop throughout the duration of this evaluation, between January 2018 to June 2019 were invited to complete a questionnaire. There were 407 respondents. Parents whose child participated in a workshop that was observed during the first year of the evaluation were asked to complete a follow-up questionnaire. There were nine respondents. In addition, nursery staff completed a questionnaire. There were 134 respondents. We also interviewed 5 early years practitioners at two nurseries to explore their views regarding the SSF workshops in more depth. We found that the SSF workshops were highly valued by most respondents. Parents were grateful for the opportunity to discuss these topics with their children particularly topics they may find difficult to raise themselves. We found many examples of children putting into practice key messages, especially around bullying and strangers. Some children are confused by the secrets workshop, and some parents do not feel confident about talking about this with their children. For most children, most of the key messages seem to be understood well, though most participants felt
5 reinforcement and refresher workshops would be beneficial. Learning is therefore viewed as on-going and this is more possible if key messages are embedded into everyday lives of children. Parents and staff express a desire to be involved and help children learn. It is important that workshop materials and resources are accessible to nursery practitioners and parents in a way which suits them and is accessible to different abilities, including literacy and language needs.
After analysing data from the first year of this evaluation we found that one area for development was the inclusion of children with additional support needs in the workshops. SSF had piloted a workshop for children with additional support needs, and during the second year of this evaluation (September 2018 to June 2019) we evaluated the delivery of the pilot workshops at one school for children with additional support needs. To do this, we carried out observations of refresher workshops delivered to four children, and we interviewed parents of children (n=3) and school and SSF staff members (n=5). We found that most children were enthusiastic to participate in workshops and some remembered key messages and could repeat them. Visual and interactive resources were highly valued, as were the skills, qualities and flexibility of the SSF project worker. This work requires the project worker to adapt materials to each individual child, and communication needs are a central part of this. Parent and school involvement are key to embedding this learning, and the workshops acted as an opportunity for parents to increase their awareness through education about the vulnerabilities of their child. Whilst this was challenging for them, it was also appreciated.