Child Protection Procedures for Schools
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has commenced the remaining provisions of the Children First Act, 2015 from 11 December 2017. The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 published on 2 October 2017 also became operational on 11 December 2017.
The Children First Act, 2015 provides for a number of key child protection measures that are relevant to schools, as follows:
- A requirement on organisations provided services to children, which includes all schools, to keep children safe and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;
- A requirement on defined categories of persons (mandated persons), which includes registered teachers, to report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla);
- A requirement on mandated persons which includes registered teachers, to assist Tusla in the assessment of a child protection risk, if so requested to do so by Tusla.
The commencement of the Children First Act, 2015 and the publication of the new Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 has necessitated changes to the existing Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools.
The Department of Education and Skills circular 0081/2017 (published on 11 December, 2017) informs school management authorities that new Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017 have been developed and published following an extensive consultation with the education partners.
The purpose of the new procedures is to give clear direction and guidance to school authorities and to school personnel in relation to meeting the new statutory obligations under the Children First Act, 2015 and in the continued implementation within the school setting of the best practice guidance set out in the updated Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017.
a) the reporting procedures to be followed by registered teachers in respect of their role as mandated persons, including a requirement to liaise with the Designated Liaison Person (DLP) and, where applicable, to submit mandated reports jointly with the DLP to Tusla
b) guidance and direction for schools in relation to meeting their statutory obligations in relation to Child Safeguarding Statements. In that regard, the procedures require that all boards of management use templates published by the Department when preparing, publishing and reviewing their Child Safeguarding Statement.
c) enhanced oversight measures which are aimed at ensuring full compliance by schools with the Children First Act 2015, Children First National Guidance 2017 and with the Department’s requirements as set out in the procedures for schools.
All of the requirements of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017, apart from those relating to a school’s Child Safeguarding Statement, apply to all school personnel and school authorities with effect from 11 December 2017.
From 11 March 2018 the requirement to have a Child Safeguarding Statement replaces the previous requirement to have a child protection policy which was in place under the previous Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools published in 2011.
Review of Policy & Procedures by Board of Management
What is the legal definition of a child in Ireland?
Under the Child Care Act 1991 a child is defined as “a person under the age of 18 years, excluding a person who is or has been married”
What is child abuse?
There are four recognised forms of child abuse:-
- Physical abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Sexual abuse
Definitions and signs and symptoms of child abuse can be found on pages 8 to 10 in the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017
Who deals with child protection concerns?
TUSLA the Child and Family Agency and An Garda Síochána are the two key authorities. TUSLA the Child and Family Agency has a duty to assess reports regarding a child’s welfare or safety.
The specific focus of An Garda Síochána is on the investigation of alleged offences and whether a crime has been committed.
Concerned About A Child’s Welfare And Protection?
If you are a member of the public and you have any concerns about the welfare of a child you should contact the Child and Family Agency Child Protection Social Work Services.
If you work or are a volunteer in an organisation that has a child protection policy, you should in the first instance follow this. For more information on your role and responsibility in identifying and responding to child protection and welfare concerns please see http://www.tusla.ie/children-first/individuals-working-with-children-and-young-people. However you can always contact your local Social Work Department.
Who deals with child protection concerns in a school?
Each school must have a Designated Liaison Person (DLP) in place for dealing with child protection concerns. The name of the DLP should be displayed in a prominent position near the main entrance to the school.
The school DLP has responsibility for ensuring that the standard reporting procedure is followed, so that suspected child protection concerns are referred promptly to the designated person in TUSLA the Child and Family Agency or in the event of an emergency and the unavailability of TUSLA, to An Garda Síochána.
If you wish to report a child protection concern you should speak to the DLP in your school and that person will be responsible for making the report.
Where the allegation or concern relates to the DLP, you should without delay, report the matter to the Chairperson of the Board of Management or in schools where the ETB is the employer to the CEO of the ETB concerned. In such cases, the Chairperson or CEO as appropriate shall assume the role normally undertaken by the DLP and shall follow the procedures set out in section 4.2 of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools.
Can I report a child protection concern about a school directly to TUSLA the Child and Family Agency?
Yes, you can report a child protection concern about a school directly to the Child and Family Agency Child Protection Social Work Services by contacting your local social work office. TUSLA will tell you how best to proceed. It may then contact the school or ask you to contact the school or others.
What is in place to assist schools and the department in dealing with child protection concerns?
Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 promotes the protection of children from abuse. It sets out what organisations need to do to keep children safe, and what different bodies and the general public should do if they are concerned about a child’s safety and welfare.
The Department of Education and Skills is responsible for developing and implementing child protection procedures for schools based on the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017. The Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017 published by the Department aims to give direction to school management and staff regarding the identification of and response to child protection concerns and the process for continued support of the child.
The Department inspects and evaluates the implementation by schools of these procedures. The Department monitors schools’ compliance with child protection obligations and procedures.
When conducting a Whole School Evaluation, Department inspectors seek evidence to confirm that a school is complying with the requirements of the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017. Where, during any evaluation/inspection work in a school, an inspector identifies deficiencies in relation to the Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017 he/she will immediately bring this to the attention of school management.
Any deficiency is considered by the Department as serious and school management will be advised that the issues identified should be addressed without delay. Where a subsequent recommendation is made in a publishable report, the inspector will inform school management that the Department expects the board to use the school response form to confirm that the issues have been addressed.
The Department has procedures for its own staff to provide them with direction on what to do, if a child protection concern is brought to their attention.
The Department’s Children First Implementation Plan for the Education Sector is available here: Children First Implementation Plan for the Education Sector
Do Schools have to report all child protection concerns to TUSLA?
No, the School’s DLP will determine whether reasonable grounds for the concern exist and therefore if the matter should be reported to TUSLA the Child and Family Agency.
The safety and well-being of the child must take priority as the guiding principle for the school DLP/Deputy DLP in deciding whether to report child protection concerns to TUSLA. In cases where there are concerns about a child, but the DLP is not sure whether to report the matter to TUSLA, the DLP shall seek advice from TUSLA. In cases where there are concerns about a child and the DLP is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion or concern he/she shall report the matter to TUSLA immediately.
A concern about a potential risk to children posed by a specific person where reasonable grounds for the concern exist, even if the children are unidentifiable, should also be communicated to TUSLA.
If the school’s DLP decides not to make a report, you may still make a report directly to TUSLA.
Should I ask the Department of Education and Skills for advice on what to do?
No, if you are looking for advice on what to do you should talk to TUSLA the Child and Family Agency as the statutory body with responsibility for investigating Child Protection Concerns.
The Department cannot advise you on any child protection concern and the Department cannot assure you of confidentiality if you bring a child protection concern to the attention of its staff.
The Department has no role in assessing or investigating child protection concerns and cannot establish if there are any reasonable grounds to formally refer them to TUSLA.
Can I report a child protection concern to the Department?
Yes, however, if you contact the Department, the Department must pass on your concern to TUSLA and/or the school authorities (and/or An Garda Síochána). We must pass them on even if you ask to speak with us in confidence. The Department will pass on your concern without judgment. All information regarding child protection concerns will be shared by the Department on ‘a need to know’ basis in the interests of the child with the relevant statutory authorities.
You can contact the Department by Email:firstname.lastname@example.org. or Phone: (090) 648 4099
Can I report a concern to a school or the Department and not give my name?
Neither the school nor the Department can assure confidentiality to people who report a child protection concern to them. Not giving your name does not change what the Department or schools do with your concern. However by not giving your name, or not wanting your name associated with the concern, an examination and investigation of the concern may be restricted or inhibited.
What if I feel a child is in immediate danger?
If you think a child is in immediate danger and you cannot contact TUSLA the Child and Family Agency you should contact An Garda Síochána at any Garda Station or your General Medical Practitioner.
I was abused when I was a child, who do I contact?
The HSE National Counselling Service is in place to listen to, value and understand those who have been abused in childhood. The service is a professional, confidential counselling and psychotherapy service and is available free of charge in all regions of the country. The service can be accessed either through healthcare professionals or by way of self-referral (Freephone 1800 477477).
What should I do if I am concerned about a child and I am not sure if I should make a report?
If you have concerns about the safety or welfare of a child you can consult TUSLA the Child and Family Agency to seek advice. This process is called ‘informal consultation’. This consultation is an opportunity to discuss the query in general and to decide together whether a formal referral is warranted.
The consulting party should state that they are not at this point making a referral and therefore they do not need to give identifying information until the point that they are advised by the social worker that a referral is warranted.
Teachers and other school staff who have concerns about a child should discuss these with the school’s designated liaison person (DLP), or contact TUSLA the Child and Family Agency for advice.
Can I get into trouble for reporting a child protection concern, if it is subsequently found to be false?
No, so long as you report reasonably and in good faith. The Oireachtas has passed legislation called the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998. In summary this means that even if a reported child protection concern proves unfounded the person who reported the concern cannot be prosecuted if the accusation was made in good faith. However, a person who makes a false report of child abuse, knowing that statement to be false, is guilty of an offence and may be prosecuted.
Recent legislation relevant to child protection
Children First Act 2015
The new statutory requirements of the Children First Act 2015 became operational on 11 December 2017 when the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs commenced the remaining provisions of the Children First Act 2015.
The Children First Act 2015 provides for a number of key child protection measures that are relevant to schools and registered teachers including:
a) A statutory obligation on schools to keep children safe from harm and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;
b) A statutory obligation on registered teachers to report child protection concerns at or above a defined threshold to Tusla;
The Children First Act 2015 will operate side-by-side with the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2017) . The Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welare of Children (2017) published on 2 October also became operational on 11 December 2017.
The Children First National Guidance (2017) sets out the above statutory obligations under the Act and also the best practice (non-statutory) obligations which will continue to apply to all schools.
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
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
In April 2016 the Minister for Justice and Equality commenced the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 as amended by the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 referred to as the Vetting Act. The Vetting Act has put in place statutory requirements for the Garda vetting of persons involved in working with children or vulnerable persons, including those working in schools.
The Vetting Act applies to recognised schools and centres of education that employ, contract, permit or place persons in relevant work or activities with children or vulnerable persons. Further information on the Garda vetting of school personnel can be accessed here Garda vetting
Teaching Council (Amendment) Act, 2015
The Teaching Council (Amendment) Act, 2015 was enacted in 2015. The Act caters for two main overarching aims: underpinning the central role of the Teaching Council in the statutory vetting arrangements for registered teachers and amending and strengthening the statutory provisions relating to the Teaching Council’s Fitness to Teach function.
Further information in relation to the role of the Teaching Council can be found on the Teaching Council website www.teachingcouncil.ie