Schools have an obligation to provide pupils with the highest possible standard of care in order to promote each child’s well-being and protect him/her from harm while in the school. Mindful of this primary duty of care, the Board of Management of Réalt na Mara School fully endorses “Children First”, the designated guidelines for the protection and welfare of children as issued by the Department of Health and Children, September 1999 and “Child Protection Guidelines and Procedures” from the Department of Education & Science, April 2001.
Designated Liaison Person (DLP)
The Principal – Mr. Phil McCaul - will act as DLP. Should circumstances warrant it, the Deputy Principal – Mrs. Adele Clune - shall act as DLP. The DLP has specific responsibility for child protection and will represent the school in all dealings with Health Boards, An Garda Síochána and other parties in connection with allegations of abuse. All matters pertaining to the processing or investigation of child abuse should be processed through the DLP.
Definition of Child Abuse
Child abuse can be categorised into four different types. A child may be subjected to more than one form of abuse at any given time.
- emotional abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
The following definitions for each form of abuse are taken from ‘Children First’ – (Dept of Health & Children)) Chapter 3 Sections 3.2 – 3.5 pgs 31 – 33.
- Neglect can be defined in terms of an omission, where the child suffers significant harm or impairment of development by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, intellectual stimulation, supervision and safety, attachment to and affection from adults, medical care. Neglect generally becomes apparent in different ways over a period of time rather than at one specific point.
- Emotional abuse is normally to be found in the relationship between a care-giver and a child rather than in a specific event or pattern of events. It occurs when a child’s need for affection, approval, consistency and security are not met. Emotional abuse can be manifested in terms of the child’s behavioural, cognitive, affective or physical functioning.
- Physical abuse is any form of non-accidental injury or injury which results from wilful or neglectful failure to protect a child.
- Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or sexual arousal or for that of others.
Guidelines for Recognition of Child Abuse
The ability to recognise child abuse depends as much on a person’s willingness to accept the possibility of its existence as it does on their knowledge and information. All signs and symptoms must be examined in the total context of the child’s situation and family circumstances. It is important to always be open to alternative explanations for physical or behavioural signs of abuse. There are commonly three stages in the identification of child abuse.
These are: -
- Considering the possibility.
- Looking out for signs of abuse.
- Recording of information.
Handling Disclosures from Children
When information is offered in confidence the member of staff will need to act with sensitivity in responding to the disclosure. The member of staff will need to reassure the child, and retain his/her trust, while explaining the need for action and the possible consequences, which will necessarily involve other adults being informed. It is important to tell the child that everything possible will be done to protect and support him/her but not to make promises that cannot be kept e.g. promising not to tell anyone else. The welfare of the child is regarded as the first and paramount consideration. In so far as is practicable, due consideration will be given, having regard to age and understanding, to the wishes of the child.
The following advice is offered to school personnel to whom a child makes a disclosure of abuse.
- Remain calm.
- Listen to the child with sensitivity and openness.
- Take all disclosures seriously.
- Do not ask leading questions or make suggestions to the child.
- Offer reassurance but do not make promises.
- Do not stop a child recalling significant events.
- Do not over react.
- Explain that further help may have to be sought.
- Record the discussion accurately and retain the record of dates, times, names, locations, context and factual details of conversation.
This information should then be passed onto the DLP and a record will be retained in the school.
If the reporting person or member of the school staff and the DLP is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion/allegation, the procedures for reporting as laid out in ‘Children First’ – Section 4.4 pg 38 (Appendix 10) will be adhered to.
The Chairperson of the Board of Management will be informed before the DLP makes contact with the relevant authorities unless the situation demands that more immediate action be taken for the safety of the child, in which case the Chairman may be informed after the report has been submitted. Any Professional who suspects child abuse should inform parents/carers if a report is to be submitted to the Health Board or An Garda Síochána unless doing so is likely to endanger the child.
In cases of emergency, where a child appears to be at immediate and serious risk, and a duty social worker is unavailable, an Garda Siochána should be contacted. Under no circumstances should a child be left in a dangerous situation pending Health Board intervention.
Allegations Against School Employees
The most important consideration for the Chairperson, Board of Management or the DLP is the safety and protection of the child. However, employees also have a right to protection against claims which are false or malicious.
As employers, the Board of Management should always seek legal advice as the circumstances can vary from one case to another.
There are two procedures to be followed:
- The reporting Procedure
- The Procedure for dealing with the Employee.
The DLP has responsibility for reporting the matter to the Health Board. The Chairperson of the Board of Management has responsibility, acting in consultation with his/her Board, for addressing the employment issues. If the allegation is against the DLP, the Chairperson of the Board of Management will assume the responsibility for reporting the matter to the Health Board.
When an allegation of abuse is made against a school employee, the DLP should immediately act in accordance with the procedures outlined in “Child Protection.”
A written statement of the allegation should be sought from the person/agency making the report. The DLP should always inform the Chairperson of the Board of Management.
School employees, other than the DLP who receive allegations against another school employee, should immediately report the matter to the DLP. School employees who form suspicions regarding the conduct of another school employee should consult with the DLP. The procedures outlined in Section 4.2.3, pg16 – ‘Child Protection’ will then be followed.
When a Chairperson of a Board of Management becomes aware of an allegation of abuse against a school employee, the Chairperson and DLP should privately inform the employee of the following:
a) The fact that an allegation has been made against him/her.
b) The nature of the allegation.
c) Whether or not the Health Board or Gardaí has been/will be/must be/should be informed.
The employee should be given a copy of the written allegation and any other relevant documentation. The employee should be requested to respond to the allegation in writing to the Board of Management within a specified period, and told that this may be passed to the Gardaí, Health Board, and legal advisers.
The priority in all cases is that no child be exposed to unnecessary risk. Therefore, as a matter of urgency, the Chairperson should take any necessary protective measures. These measure should be proportionate to the level of risk and should not unreasonably penalise the employee in any way unless to protect the child.
If the nature of the allegations warrant immediate action in the Chairperson’s opinion, the Board of Management should be convened to consider the matter. The Board will consider feedback if any has been received from the Health Board, Gardaí or relevant source. This may result in the Board of Management directing that the employee absent him/herself from the school forthwith while the matter is being investigated (Administrative Leave). When the Board of Management is unsure as to whether this should occur, advice should be sought from the Gardaí and/or the Child Care Manager of the Health Board and the legal advisers to the Board of Management.
Should the Board of Management direct that the employee absent him/herself as above, such absence of the employee would be regarded as administrative leave of absence with pay and not suspension and would not imply any degree of guilt. The DES should be immediately informed.
Board of Management
The Chairperson should inform the Board of Management of all the details and remind the members of their serious responsibility to maintain strict confidentiality on all matters relating to the issue and the principles of due process and natural justice.