Child Welfare by Mrs. Smith

Posted on: 09/03/2018

The Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions of the word ‘welfare’:

‘Statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need’.

‘The health, happiness and fortunes of a person or group’.

Thankfully, we live in a country where much is made of the need to look after ‘child welfare’ by the government, by charities and by the press. There are, necessarily, guidelines issued to ensure that families, schools and other services make sure that the ‘basic physical and material well-being’ needs of children are met. There are objective measures which can be taken to check that this is happening and it is certainly happening here at St. Helen’s College. However, the second definition of welfare is equally interesting. How do we, as a school, know whether we are doing well at looking after the ‘happiness and fortunes of a person or group’? 

Today I saw a very sweet interaction on the steps outside of my office window at morning break time. There were five girls altogether, and one girl did not have a snack with her today. Two of her friends immediately offered to share their snacks with her, and the other two quickly followed suit. However, one then pointed out that they perhaps should not do this, in case the first girl had any allergies or wasn’t allowed to eat what the others had brought. A brief discussion ensued, before the first girl and one of her friends decided that they would visit the school office to let staff know that she was snack-less, and rather hungry.

Interested to see the outcome of this little vignette, I popped into the office in time to see the conversation between the girls and Miss Lang, our Welfare Officer. Miss Lang sympathised with the child who had forgotten her snack, and thanked her friend for accompanying her to the office. Having checked the child’s dietary requirements, Miss Lang then offered her a choice of the banana she had brought in for her own mid-morning snack, or a plain biscuit from the ‘staff stash’. The girl chose the banana, thanked Miss Lang and went away happy.

This story typifies, for me, what ‘welfare’ is about at St. Helen’s College. It is not just about the meeting of basic needs. It is about kindness, empathy and working together to ensure that children feel included, valued and loved. In another school, the girl might just have got through the morning without a snack. No permanent damage would have been done and her ‘basic physical well-being’ would not have been compromised. But here at St. Helen’s College, her welfare was actively promoted by her friends and by the staff. They imagined how she might feel at being the only one without a snack (hungry, a bit left out, a bit forgotten) and they worked hard to make sure that she did not feel those things. I feel sure that, if she were to forget her snack again, the same thing would happen. I think that Miss Lang would probably also telephone her parents to remind them, kindly, to help her to remember her snack in future – after all, Miss Lang’s personal fruit supply can only stretch so far!

This is at the heart of what makes St. Helen’s College a special place. Everyone in our ‘family’ looks out for each other; everyone is prepared to go that extra mile, sharing what they have and helping others to feel safe and cared for. We don’t just meet the ‘basic physical and material well-being needs’ of our children; by teaching and enacting the school’s values, we help every child to feel involved, looked after and glad to be with us. When a child feels involved, looked after and glad, they instinctively want to help others feel that way too. So they, and we, actively promote ‘the happiness and fortunes’ of our group.

Mrs. Smith