Effective Strategies for Safer Schools Police Officers to Connect with Young People

The role of Safer Schools Police Officers (SSOs) has become increasingly important in today's educational landscape. Beyond maintaining safety and security, SSOs have a unique opportunity to foster positive relationships with young people and address the underlying issues that may contribute to negative behaviours. Effective communication and active listening are crucial for SSOs to build trust, gain valuable insights into students' lives, and create a supportive environment for all. This article explores key strategies that SSPOs can employ to effectively listen to young people and understand their current issues.

1. Establish Trust and Rapport

Trust is the foundation of any meaningful relationship. SSOs can build trust with students by demonstrating genuine care and concern for their well-being. Engaging in informal conversations, attending school events, and participating in extracurricular activities can help create opportunities for interaction outside of a disciplinary context. Consistency, fairness, and respect are also essential for establishing a positive reputation and encouraging open communication.

2. Active Listening and Non-Judgmental Approach

Active listening involves more than just hearing words; it requires paying full attention to the speaker, observing their body language, and reflecting back on what they have said to ensure understanding. SSOs should avoid interrupting or offering unsolicited advice. Instead, they should focus on creating a safe space for students to express themselves without fear of judgment or repercussions (Of course, the police have a duty to record crime so if a crime is disclosed then a SSO must do something about it and record the facts - they cannot keep certain things quiet). This can be achieved by maintaining a neutral tone, using open-ended questions, and acknowledging the validity of their feelings.

3. Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness

The student population in many schools is diverse, with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and family structures. SSOs should be aware of these differences and strive to understand how they might affect students' perspectives and experiences. This includes being mindful of language barriers, religious practices, and cultural norms. By demonstrating cultural sensitivity, SSOs can create a more inclusive environment and foster better communication with all students.

4. Utilising Peer Support and Mentoring Programs

Peer support and mentoring programs can be valuable resources for SSOs. These programs often involve trained student leaders who can act as a bridge between the police and their peers. Peer mentors can help identify issues that may be affecting their classmates and provide insights into student culture and trends. SSOs can collaborate with peer mentors to develop targeted interventions and prevention programs that address the specific needs of the student population.

5. Engaging with Parents and Guardians

Parental involvement plays a crucial role in a child's development and well-being. SSOs should make an effort to establish open lines of communication with parents and guardians, sharing information about school safety initiatives and resources available to families. Regular parent-teacher conferences, newsletters, and social media updates can be effective ways to keep parents informed and engaged. By partnering with parents, SSOs can gain a deeper understanding of students' home lives and any challenges they may be facing outside of school.

6. Addressing Mental Health Concerns

Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent among young people, and SSOs should be equipped to recognize the signs of distress and provide appropriate support. This may involve collaborating with school counsellors, social workers, and mental health professionals to ensure that students have access to necessary resources. SSOs can also participate in mental health awareness training to better understand the complexities of these issues and how to respond effectively.

7. Leveraging Technology and Social Media

Technology and social media have become integral parts of young people's lives. SSOs can utilize these platforms to connect with students, share information, and gather feedback. Creating a social media presence for the school's safety program can provide a platform for students to voice their concerns anonymously or connect with SSOs via their school. It is important, however, to ensure that any online interactions are conducted responsibly and with appropriate privacy safeguards in place.

8. Continuous Professional Development

The landscape of youth culture and the challenges facing young people are constantly evolving. SSOs should engage in ongoing professional development to stay abreast of current trends, research findings, and best practices in youth engagement and communication. This may involve attending conferences, workshops, and training sessions on topics such as adolescent development, conflict resolution, and cultural competency.


Safer Schools Police Officers have a unique and vital role in supporting the well-being of young people. By employing effective communication strategies, active listening, cultural sensitivity, and collaboration with various stakeholders, SSOs can build trust, gain valuable insights into students' lives, and address the underlying issues that may contribute to negative behaviours. The strategies outlined in this article provide a framework for SSPOs to develop strong relationships with students, foster a supportive school environment, and ultimately contribute to the overall success and safety of the school community.


Steven Sweeney BSc (Hons), MSc

Metropolitan Police Service, Frontline Policing Delivery Unit, Youth Policy Team