Child Protection Policy

 This document has been drawn up in order to outline the procedures which teachers in St Marnock’s National School will follow should they suspect, or are alerted to possible child abuse, including where a child discloses abuse. The school aims to provide its pupils with the highest standards of care and protection, in order to promote each child’s well-being and safeguard him/her from harm while in the school. The following guidelines will facilitate staff members to work co-operatively to protect children where there is a suspicion or allegation of child abuse.

 References

In all instances of suspicion or allegations of abuse or neglect, the following two resource books will be referenced.

     ●   “Children First” – Department of Health & Children 1999

     ●   “Child Protection”  – Department of Education & Science 2001

 Designated Liaison Person (DLP)

Anthony Fitzgerald, Principal Teacher, will act as DLP. Should circumstances warrant it, the Deputy Principal, Gerry Greene, 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.

 Confidentiality

It is understood that reports of child abuse will be made “reasonably and in good faith” for the protection of a child.

No undertaking regarding secrecy can be given to those reporting child abuse.

Reporting child abuse is not a breach of confidentiality

Anyone who receives information from colleagues about possible or actual child abuse must treat it as being given in confidence.

 Exchange of Information.

The DLP, when submitting a report to the Health Board or An Garda Síochána, should also inform a parent/guardian, unless doing so is likely to place that child at further risk.  A decision not to inform a parent/guardian should be briefly recorded together with the reasons for not doing so.

In emergency situations, where the Health Board cannot be contacted, and the child appears to be at immediate and serious risk, An Garda Síochána should be contacted immediately.

A child should not be left in a dangerous situation pending Health Board intervention.

 Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse

The Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, provides immunity from civil liability to any person who reports child abuse “reasonably and in good faith” to designated officers of Health Boards or any member of An Garda Síochána.

 This means that even if a reported suspicion of child abuse proves unfounded, a plaintiff who took an action would have to prove that the reporter had not acted reasonably and in good faith making the report.

 Qualified Privilege

 Should a Board of Management member or school personnel furnish information with regard to suspicions of child abuse to the DLP or to the Chairperson of the Board of Management, such communication would be regarded under common law as having qualified privilege.

 Definition and Recognition of Child Abuse

Child abuse can be categorised into four different types.

  • neglect
  • emotional abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse 

 Guidelines for Recognition of Child Abuse

It is important to stress that, no one indicator should be seen as conclusive in itself of abuse; it may indicate conditions other than child abuse.  All signs and symptoms must be examined in the total context of the child’s situation and family circumstances.

There are commonly three stages in the identification of child abuse.

These are: –

                                 i.            Considering the possibility

                               ii.            Looking out for signs of abuse

                              iii.            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, the wishes of the child.

 The following advice is offered to school personnel to whom a child makes a disclosure of abuse.

  • Keep 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.

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 Chairman 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 to 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, Garda Siochána should be contacted.  Under no circumstances should a child be left in a dangerous situation pending Health Board intervention.

Allegations or Suspicions Re: 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:

  1. The reporting Procedure
  2. The Procedure for dealing with the Employee.

 The DLP has responsibility for reporting the matter to the Health Board.  The Chairperson, 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.

 Reporting

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 conduct of another school employee should consult with the DLP.  The procedures outlined in will then be followed.

 The chairperson of the Board and DLP should make the employee aware privately

a)      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, Gardai 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.

 Administrative Leave

 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.