As you may be aware, the Government has enacted new laws in the area of child protection called Children First.
The laws have implications for schools, school personnel and for families.
What does the law do?
The law puts the welfare of children above anything else – Children First; they also give clear guidelines for the reporting of concerns.
What is the law?
Part of the law now states that all registered teachers are ‘mandated people’ meaning that they are now legally obliged to report any reasonable concern in relation to the welfare of a child in the school. Mandated people do not investigate any concerns but must report the concern to Tusla: the child and family agency.
A cause for concern will fall into one of four categories:
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
If there is any reasonable grounds for concern in any one of these areas, mandated people (ie teachers) have no option but to report this concern to Tusla. This will be done in consultation with the social worker and with the parents of the child in question. The report will state the concern and also give details of the alleged abuser. The alleged abuser could be any adult or, indeed, another child.
What is a ‘concern’?
A child may state something which gives cause for concern, there may be evidence, behaviour changes, the child may be engaged in serious bullying or a 3rd party may tell the teacher that they are concerned. The school authorities must now report this to Tusla, whether they believe it to be true or not.
If the child has been exposed to harm in the past, is currently being harmed or is at risk of being harmed, the school will report this to Tusla.
The school has no role in investigating concerns. They are obliged to report it and cooperate with Tusla when required.
Historically, the school has always followed these procedures which were always guidelines of best practice. The main difference now being the naming of teachers as ‘mandated people’ and the legal obligation to report to Tusla.
Causes for ‘concern’:
Physical: unexplained bruises, unexplained injuries, punishment by ‘slapping’ etc
Neglect: poor hygiene, poor school attendance, lack of supervision, inadequate lunches etc
Emotional: lack of praise / comfort / love, unreasonable expectations, extreme over-protectiveness, exposure to domestic violence etc
Sexual: injury to genitals, exposure to inappropriate photos / access to explicit images etc
What does this mean for parents?
If there were to be a child protection concern in relation to your child, you will be contacted by the school and told the report is being made to Tusla. This will be done in all cases unless the school authorities believe it will put the child / reporter at risk.
Tusla has a supportive role for families and will investigate the concern by speaking to the parents / those involved. In certain circumstances they will decide if it may be necessary to get the Gardaí involved.
Where can I get more information?
Remember, these laws are there to reduce the risk to children and to give clear guidelines for reporting those who have been exposed to abuse, are being abused or are at risk of being abused in the future.