Given the extent to which school staff are well placed to observe and monitor young people for signs of abuse (neglect, emotional, physical or sexual), the whole issue of child protection is of critical importance to everyone working in schools. To enable schools to address child protection in a coherent and consistent fashion, in 2004 and 2011, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) put in place Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools following extensive consultations with teachers unions, management bodies and parent organisations. These guidelines, which take full account of the post-primary school context, provide school management and staff with clear direction and guidance regarding the recognition of the signs and symptoms of child abuse and the procedures that should be followed in dealing immediately and confidentially with such concerns. The Guidelines are underpinned by the over-riding consideration of protecting the well-being of the child at all times. Among other things, the Guidelines address the following:
- The need for boards of management / ETBs to adopt the Guidelines as school policy on child protection.
- The need for each board of management / ETB to designate a senior member of staff as the Designated Liaison Person (DLP) for the school – this person to have specific responsibility for child protection in the school and to act as a liaison person with outside agencies and as a resource person to any staff member or volunteer who has child protection concerns.
- Responsibilities of school management, particularly in relation to ensuring that all staff/volunteers are, at all times, fully aware of the Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools and of the name of the school’s Designated Liaison Person (DLP) and Deputy Designated Liaison Person (DDLP)
- Responsibilities of school staff – in particular, in relation to how all child protection concerns should be dealt with and the absolute importance of confidentiality.
- Duties/responsibilities of the Designated Liaison Person (DLP) and his/her deputy.
- Statutory protection for school staff reporting child abuse concerns in accordance with the guidelines.
- The whole matter of confidentiality in addressing child protection issues at two levels. On the one hand, staff members should never promise confidentiality to a young person making a disclosure; instead, they should explain, in a supportive manner, why and to whom they are required to report disclosures of abuse. On the other hand, however, details of protection concerns should only be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis; otherwise confidentiality should be maintained in order to protect the privacy of all concerned – most especially the privacy of the young person who is the focus of the concerns.
- A school or its staff has no responsibility for investigating allegations of child abuse; this is a matter for either the HSE or the Gardai. The school’s responsibility is confined to recognising the signs and symptoms of abuse and to reporting concerns/allegations to the HSE or the Gardai.
Board Of Management Resources:
Bullying / Cyberbullying in Schools
Recent legislation relevant to child protection
Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.
Under the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, it is a criminal offence for any person to fail to disclose to An Garda Síochana information in relation to certain specified offences against children and vulnerable persons. Under the Act, a person shall be guilty of an offence if –
a) he or she knows or believes that any of the offences specified in the Act has been committed by another person against a child or vulnerable person, and
b) he or she has information which he or she knows or believes might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of that other person for that offence, and
c) fails without reasonable excuse to disclose that information as soon as it is practicable to do so to a member of the Garda Síochána
Details of the specified offences to which this Act applies are set out in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 of the Act.
It is the personal responsibility of each individual person to comply with the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Withholding of information on offences against children and vulnerable persons) Act 2012.
It is important to note that the fact that a member of school personnel has dealt with a child protection concern in accordance with the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools does not absolve that person of their legal obligation to disclose information to the Gardai under this Act where that person has information that falls within the ambit of the Act.
It should also be noted that where a member of school personnel has disclosed information to An Garda Siochana and the information relates to a matter that would also fall to be dealt with under the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools, that member of school personnel must also deal with the matter in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools.
National Vetting Bureau Act 2012
The National Vetting Bureau Act 2012 was enacted in 2012. It is expected that, following some amendments which will be made to it and are currently being progressed by the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Act will become operational in the Spring of 2015. When it comes into effect, the Act will put in place certain statutory requirements for the garda vetting of persons involved in working with children and vulnerable adults, including those working in schools. In the meantime the current arrangements (as set out in Circular 0063 /2010) for the Garda vetting of school personnel continue to apply.
Proposed legislation relevant to child protection
Children First Bill 2014
The Children First Bill, 2014, which will put elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011) on a statutory footing was published by the Houses of the Oireachtas on 14 April 2014. The Bill provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:
a) A requirement on organisations providing services to children to keep children safe and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;
b) A requirement on defined categories of persons (mandated persons) to report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to the Child and Family Agency (the Agency);
c) A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Agency in the assessment of a child protection risk arising from a mandated report under the Act, if so requested to do so by the Agency;
d) Putting the Children First Interdepartmental Group on a statutory footing.
It is envisaged that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will review and publish updated Children First Guidance on foot of the finalised legislation and other recent legislation relevant to child protection. This will also trigger some changes to the existing Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools and the Department of Education and Skills will, in due course, consult with the relevant education partners in this regard.
Proposed amendments to Teaching Council legislation
Since the arrangements for garda vetting of school staff were introduced in September 2006, the Teaching Council has undertaken a key role in the operation of the vetting arrangements for teachers.
In anticipation of the commencement of the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012, the Department of Education and Skills is currently progressing some amendments to the Teaching Council legislation aimed at underpinning the role of the Teaching Council in the new statutory vetting arrangements for registered teachers.
All school staff, whether teaching or otherwise, should have ready access to and be familiar with the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools and all child abuse concerns should be addressed in accordance with the guidelines. The guidelines and other relevant documents may be accessed as follows: