Bridge Kenya’s Commitment to Child Safeguarding

Since the very beginning, Bridge International Academies (Bridge) has made the safety of its students its number one priority. There is nothing more important. The very first safeguarding training for Bridge Kenya teachers and school leaders took place in December 2008, before the first Bridge school even opened in 2009. Safeguarding has consistently been part of training and professional development for school staff ever since.

Every Bridge International Academies employee takes part in mandatory safeguarding training at the time of joining the organisation. This is followed up with regular safeguarding capacity building sessions. Moreover, a commitment to child safeguarding has always been included in every teacher contract. Safeguarding messaging is regularly sent out through the
Teacher Messaging Service which appears on all teacher tablets.

To maximise safety, there are a variety of reporting channels in operation in each and every school. There is a toll-free customer care line (0800 722 123), where all parents, teachers and students can report a safeguarding instance and choose to be recorded as an anonymous reporter. This number is printed out and is on the wall of all schools, on the school gates and on the academy information poster located in the school manager’s office.

It also appears on parents’ information fliers. There is also a whistleblowing email address, for those who find that more convenient: Safeguarding processes, policies and reporting lines are in the staff handbook with which
every teacher and school leader is provided. It makes clear that all staff must immediately report any safeguarding concern directly to the support office through any of the available channels or through attending the support office in person. If there is a safeguarding concern, usual management reporting lines do not apply.

In 2020, Tunza Child Safeguarding, Kenya’s leading safeguarding charity, conducted an independent review evaluating the impact of Bridge Kenya’s policies in practice – adhering to internationally recognised Keeping Children Safe Standards, recommended by UNICEF and Save the Children.

As Tunza makes clear, safeguarding across Kenya’s state education system is challenging. Its report says that in 2019, Kenya’s Teacher Service Commission, which registers and manages teachers in Government schools, said it had sacked 1,228 government teachers over the past seven years for having sexual relations with pupils.

“In Kenya, schools can become unsafe places where pupils become victims of sexual abuse,” states Tunza’s report. When it came to Bridge Kenya, the review findings were resoundingly positive, showcasing the strong emphasis Bridge has on safeguarding and marking Bridge as a sector leader with best practice.

It found Bridge’s consistent, comprehensive, and clearly defined policies were forward- looking in Kenya; the report went as far as to suggest that Bridge policies and procedures be shared and adopted on a national level. Due to this extensive work in prevention and training, as well as zero tolerance for abuse, incidence rates in Bridge schools were substantially lower compared to other schools in Kenya.

In addition, the report found Bridge Kenya’s holistic approach to safeguarding has led to a strong focus on teaching Life Skills. This teaches pupils to deal with risky behaviours and situations, many of which relate to child abuse risk factors. The subject is embedded in the Kenyan national curriculum but is often not prioritized in other schools as it is not a core examinable subject. Bridge has focused on life skills and other means of child empowerment and abuse prevention since its first school opened in 2009.

Despite such a positive review, Bridge Kenya can never rest on the issue of safeguarding. Any incidence of harm is too many. Where isolated cases have been found, we have always dealt with them swiftly and thoroughly and sought to improve our policies and practices still further.

As part of Tunza’s review, recommendations were made to improve Bridge Kenya’s already strong child safeguarding procedures even further. This included creating and teaching all pupils the ‘Magic number cheer’ where pupils are taught the customer care number by heart so they know how to report if they need to. Bridge also moved to ensure core “safe touch” lessons that teach pupils about abusive touch and their right to refuse and how to report abuse by any child or adult is taught are taught three times a year, instead of once.

Bridge also started having all school staff re-affirm their commitment to child safeguarding every year by signing the Child Champion Promise.

Bridge Kenya is a founding member of the Child Safeguarding Association in Kenya (CSAK) – an association dedicated to raising awareness about safeguarding. CSAK formed in 2022 through a visionary partnership between organisations with a shared vision to advance safeguarding awareness for children.

The objective of CSAK is tocreate a national platform that brings together like-minded organisations, in one voice, to form an association and champion matters of child safeguarding, leveraging on their unique experiences, networks and resources, to drive transformative change in Kenyan society.

Bridge International Academies continues to build on its commitment as a safeguarding leader, with regular policy and practice reviews. It always has put safeguarding first. It always will.