This policy was formulated in January 2006, following review of the “Children First Document 99” and the “Child Protection Guidelines” for post-primary schools and Circular 0065/2011.
It outlines clear procedures which teachers and other school staff must follow where they suspect or are alerted to, possible child abuse.
The Designated Liaison Person within the school is Ciarán Ó Máille
And the deputy replacement liaison person is Pól Ó Fathaigh
The role of the Designated Liaison Person is to act as a liaison with outside agencies and a resource person to any staff member or volunteer who has child protection concern. He/she is responsible for representing the school in all dealings with Health Boards, An Garda Síochána and other parties in connection with allegations/concerns about child abuse. In the event of the Designated Liaison Person being unavailable the deputy/replacement liaison person must resume their duties.
The Designated Liaison Person should have the:
• Children First Document (available from Dept. of Health & Children, (website: http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/Publications/services/Children/cf2011.pdf)
• Child Protection guidelines for post-primary schools available as a resource.
What is Child Abuse
Child abuse can be categorised into 4 different types:
(Definition of each category are available in the Child Protection Guidelines for post-primary schools p. 8 & 9.)
Signs and Symptoms of Child Abuse
Signs of abuse can be physical, behavioural or developmental. A cluster of signs is the most reliable indicator of above. The following are examples of indicators of abuse, however all of these can occur in other situations where abuse has not been a factor. This is by no means a complete list.
• Unexplained bruising in soft tissue areas
• Repeated Injury
• Black eye(s)
• Injuries to mouth
• Torn or bloodstained clothing
• Burns and scalds
• Marks from implements
• Inconsistent stories, excuses relating to injuries
• Unexplained changes in behaviour – becoming withdrawn or aggressive
• Regressive Behaviour
• Difficulty making friends
• Distrustful of adults or excessive attachment to adults
• Sudden drop in performance
• Inappropriate sexual awareness, behaviour or language
• Unusual reluctance to remove clothing
• Reluctance to go home
• Change in pattern
Particular behavioural signs and emotional problems suggestive of child abuse in older children (10 years +) may include mood change (e.g. depression, failure to communicate), running away, substance abuse (e.g. drugs, alcohol, solvents) self mutilation, suicide attempts, delinquency, truancy, eating disorders and isolation. All signs/indicators need careful assessment relative to the child’s circumstances.
Children with Special Vulnerabilities e.g. children with disabilities or children who are separated from family members and depend on others for their care.
All school personnel should consult the relevant sections of Children First and liaise with the Designated Liaison Person where they have concerns that a child may have been abused, or is being abused or is at risk of abuse.
The children First guidelines state that a Health Board should always be notified where a person has a reasonable suspicion or reasonable grounds for concern that a child may have been abused, or is being abused, or is at risk of abuse. The following examples are quoted as constituting reasonable grounds for concern:
• Specific indication from the child that he/she was abused.
• An account by a person who saw the child being abused.
• Evidence, such as injury or behaviour, which is consistent with abuse and unlikely to be caused another way.
• An injury or behaviour which is consistent both with abuse and with an innocent explanation that it is a case of abuse – e.g. a pattern of injuries, an implausible explanation, other indications of abuse, dysfunctional behaviour.
• Consistent indication, over a period of time that a child is suffering from emotional or physical neglect.
Dealing with disclosures from children
• Use tact and sensitivity in responding to the disclosure.
• Reassure the child, and endeavour to retain his/her trust, while explaining the need for action which will necessarily involve other adults being informed. Do not make promises that cannot be kept (e.g. promising not to tell anyone else).
• The Child Protection Guidelines give the following advice to school personnel to whom a child makes a disclosure of abuse.
It is important to deal with any allegation of abuse in a sensitive and competent way through listening to and facilitating the child to tell about the problem, rather than interviewing the child about details of what happened:
• It is important to stay calm and not to show any extreme reaction to what the child is saying. Listen compassionately and take what the child is saying seriously.
• It should be understood that the child has decided to tell about something very important and has taken a risk to do so. The experience of telling should be a positive one so that the child will not mind talking to those involved.
• The child should understand that it is not possible that any information will be kept secret.
• No judgemental statement should be made about the person against whom the allegation is made.
• The child should not be questioned unless the nature of what he/she is saying is unclear. Leading questions should be avoided. Open, no-specific questions should be used such as “Can you explain to me what you mean by that?”
• The child should be given some indication of what would happen next, such as informing the Designated Liaison Person, parents/carers, Health Board or possibly An Garda Síochana. It should be kept in mind that the child may have been threatened and may feel vulnerable at this stage.
• Record the disclosure immediately afterwards using, as far as possible, the child’s own words.
When dealing with suspected child abuse a written record of all the information available should be kept. Personnel should note what they have observed and whom it was observed. Signs of physical injury should be described in detail and, if appropriate sketched. Comments, by the child concerned, or by any other person about how an injury occurred should be recorded, preferably quoting words actually used, as soon as possible after the comment has been made. The record should be signed and dated and given to and retained by the Designated Liaison Person
All records are highly confidential and should be stored securely.
Procedures for teachers and other school staff where they suspect or are alerted to, possible Child Abuse
If a member of staff receives an allegation or has a suspicion that a child may have been abused, or is being abused, or is at risk of abuse he/she should, without delay, report the matter to the Designated Liaison person. A written record of the allegation (see record keeping) must be compiled and stored in a secure place by the Designated Liaison Person to maintain confidentiality. Support of the school should continue to be made to the child.
If the Designated Liaison Person is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion or allegation he/she should report the matter to the relevant Health Board immediately.
Report should be made in person, by phone or in writing. Making personal contact will facilitate the social worker in gathering as much information as possible about the child and his/her parents/carers.
In the event of an emergency, or the non availability of Health Board staff, the report should be made to An Garda Síochana.
Reports should use the Standard Reporting Form (Appendix 1) and be completed as comprehensively as possible. If a report is made by phone, this form duly completed should subsequently be provided to the Health Board.
The Designated Liaison Person submitting the report to the Health Board or Garda Síochana should inform a parent/carer unless doing so is likely to endanger the child or place child at further risk. Record should be made of information communicated to parent/carer. Decision not to inform parent/carer should also be recorded together with reasons for not doing so.
Board of Management should be informed by the Designated Liaison Person, as soon as possible, that a report involving a student in the school has been submitted to the Health Board. No details of the report should be disclosed to protect anonymity of the child unless there are issues which need to be addressed directly by the B.O.M.
Where such personnel have concerns about a child but the Designated Liaison Person is not sure whether to report the matter to the Health Board, he/she should seek advice from the Duty Social Worker. He/she should be clear that they are seeking advice and not making a report, and therefore need not give identifying details. If the social worker advices a referral it should be adhered to by the Designated Liaison Person.
If following informed talks with the Duty Social Worker the Designated Liaison Person decides that the concerns of the member of staff should not be referred to the Health Board, the member of staff should be given a clear statement, in writing as to the reasons why action is not being taken.
The member of staff should be advised that is he/she remains concerned abut the situation he/she is free to report directly to the Health Board using the standard reporting form (Appendix 1) any such report will be covered by the protection for persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, 1998.
At all times confidentiality must be adhered to and not discussed except among the parties mentioned above.