Child Protection Policy

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Child Protection Policy:  St. Mac Dara’s Community College

Introduction

In accordance with its mission statement, St. Mac Dara’s aspires to a culture of care and protection of each student’s welfare.  The College recognises that the safety and welfare of children under its care must be a priority.  In order to achieve this aim it is necessary to have stated policies and procedures in place which will be adhered to in the event of any students being subjected to any form of abuse which would endanger their safety and well being.  These policies and procedures will follow the guidelines laid down in “Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children” (1999) and the guidelines contained in “Child Protection Guidelines and Procedures for Post-Primary Schools” (2004).

 The primary responsibility for ensuring that an effective child protection policy is in place rests with the Board of Management of St. Mac Dara’s Community College.  However, a partnership approach involving school management, teachers, parents and students in the formulation and implementation of the child protection policy is important.

As teachers are the main carers of students outside the home in the school context, they have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with child protection procedures.  All teachers are given a copy of “Child Protection Guidelines for Post Primary Schools” and appropriate inservice training is provided to ensure that they are familiar with child protection issues and procedures.

 Definition and Recognition of Child Abuse

 All school personnel should be familiar with signs and behaviours that may be indicative of child abuse.

Child abuse can be categorised into four different types: neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse.

Child Neglect- 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.

A child who consistently misses school may be being deprived of intellectual stimulation.

Emotional Abuse– emotional abuse is normally to be found in the relationship between an adult and a child rather than in a specific event or pattern of events. It is rarely manifested in terms of physical symptoms. Rather, it occurs when a child’s need for affection, approval and security is not met.  The threshold of significant harm is reached when abusive interactions dominate and become typical of the relationship between the child and the parent/carer.

Physical Abuse– physical abuse is any form of injury which results from wilful or neglectful failure to protect a child.

Sexual Abuse– sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or sexual arousal, or for that of others.

–          where sexual activity between underage persons occurs, under criminal law it is illegal although it might not be regarded as constituting child sexual abuse. Where the school becomes aware of underage sexual intercourse, it will inform the parents/carers.  The decision to initiate child protection action in such cases will be considered on an individual basis.

 In general, signs of abuse can be physical, behavioural or developmental.  A cluster of signs is the most reliable indicator of abuse.  All signs or indicators of abuse need careful assessment.

 Responsibilities of All School Personnel

 St. Mac Dara’s recognises its obligation to provide students with the highest possible standard of care.

Where school personnel suspect that a child may have been abused, or is being abused, or is at risk of abuse, they should report these concerns in accordance with outlined procedures.

The Principal, who is the Designated Liaison Person in St. Mac Dara’s, will link with outside agencies and act as a resource to staff who have child protection concerns.

Where a report involving a student in the school has been submitted to the relevant health board, the Designated Liaison Person will inform the Board of Management. In the interest of protecting the anonymity of the child, no details of the report will be disclosed to the Board of Management unless there are issues which need to be addressed directly by the Board.

 Recognition of Child Abuse– Teachers should familiarise themselves with the indicators of child abuse as detailed in “Child Protection Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools”.

Where a teacher has reasonable grounds for concern that a child may have been abused, or is being abused, or is at risk of abuse, he/she should inform the Designated Liaison Person who should notify the health board.

 Dealing with disclosures from students– when information is offered in confidence to a member of staff by a student, it is important that he/she deals with it in a careful and sensitive way.  The student should be reassured that everything possible will be done to protect and support him/her.  However, promises of confidentiality should not be given.  The following steps should be followed by the member of staff:

1. Listen to and facilitate the student to tell about the problem rather than interviewing the student about what happened.

2. Stay calm, listen compassionately to the student without showing any extreme reaction and take what the student is saying seriously.

3. No judgemental statement should be made about the person against whom the allegation is made.

4. The student should not be questioned unless the nature of what he/she is saying is unclear. Open, non-specific questions should be used e.g. “Can you explain what you mean by that?”  Leading questions should be avoided.

5. The student should be given some indication as to what steps the member of staff will take next.

6. The staff member should record the disclosure immediately afterwards using, as far as possible, the student’s own words.  The record of the disclosure should be signed and dated and given to and retained by the Designated Liaison Person in a secure place.

Reporting of Concerns and Role Of Health Boards

 Action to be taken by Designated Liaison Person

– If the Designated Liaison Person is satisfied that there are grounds for the suspicion or allegation, he should report the matter to the relevant health board immediately either in person, by phone, or in writing.

–          in the event of an emergency, or the non-availability of the health board staff, the report should be made to An Garda Siochana.

–          All reports should contain as much as possible of the information sought in the Standard Reporting Form.

–          If a report is made by phone by the Designated Liaison Person, the completed Standard Reporting Form should subsequently be forwarded to the relevant health board.

–          If a report is being submitted to the Health Board or An Garda Siochana by the Designated Liaison Person, he should also inform a parent/carer unless doing so is likely to endanger the student or place him/her at further risk.  A record should be made of the information communicated to the parent/carer.  A decision not to communicate with a parent/carer should be recorded, detailing the reasons for not doing so.

–          Where the Designated Liaison Person is unsure whether to report concerns about a student, he/she should contact the Duty Social Worker in the relevant health board for advice.  At this informal stage, the Designated Liaison Person is not obliged to give identifying details.  If the health board advices that a referral should be made, the Designated Liaison Person should act on this advice.

–          The Designated Liaison Person should, as soon as possible, inform the Board of Management of the school that a report involving a student in the school has been submitted to the relevant health board.  In the interest of protecting the anonymity of the student, no details of the report should be disclosed to the Board Of  Management

–          If the Designated Liaison Person decides that the concerns of a member of staff should not be reported to the relevant health board, the member of staff should be given a clear, written statement as to the reasons why action is not being taken.

–          It is essential that at all times the matter be treated in the strictest of confidence and only be discussed on a need to know basis.

–          If the Designated Liaison Person is requested by the relevant health board to attend a Child Protection Conference, or asked that a staff member attend, he/she should first consult with the Board of Management of the school.  The Board of Management may seek clarification as to why the attendance of that person is necessary.

Protection for persons reporting child abuse– under the Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act,1998, immunity from civil liability is provided for employees who  report child abuse “reasonably and in good faith” to designated officers of health boards or to An Garda Siochana.

 Allegations or Suspicions of Child Abuse by School Employees

 In the school context, employees also include unpaid volunteers.

The school management must, at all times, have due regard for the rights and interests of the students under its care and those of the employees against whom the allegation is made.  However, the protection, safety and well being of the students must be the priority.

It is important to note that, in the case of St. Mac Dara’s Community College, the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee is the employer.

In dealing with allegations of child abuse by employees, there are two procedures to be followed:

(i) the reporting procedure in respect of the allegation.

(ii) the procedure for dealing with the employee.

It is the responsibility of the Designated Liaison Person to report the matter to the relevant health board.  It is the responsibility of the Employer- in this case, the County Dublin V.E.C. – to address the employment issues.

While the school’s priority is to protect the students under its care, nevertheless, employees may be subject to erroneous or malicious allegations. Thus, any allegations of abuse should be dealt with in a sensitive manner and support provided for staff including counselling where necessary.  The employee should not be judged in advance of a full enquiry.

As the first priority is to ensure that no student is exposed to unnecessary risk, the Employer should as a matter of urgency ensure that any necessary protective measures are put in place.  These measures should be proportionate to the level of risk and should not unfairly penalise the employee, financially or otherwise.  Where protective measures do penalise the employee, it is important that early consideration be given to the case.

The principles of natural justice, the presumption of innocence should be upheld throughout.

 Reporting procedure– where an allegation of abuse is made against a school employee, the Designated Liaison Person should immediately act in accordance with the procedures outlined in this policy which are those laid out in “Child Protection Guidelines and Procedures for Post Primary Schools”.

–          school employees who form suspicions regarding the conduct of another school employee should consult with the Designated Liaison Person.  The Designated Liaison Person may wish to consult with the appropriate health board.  If he/she is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the suspicion, he/she should report the matter to the relevant health board immediately.  The Designated Liaison Person should also report the matter to the Employer, in this case the County Dublin V.E.C.

 Action to be taken by the Employer– it is vital that the identity of the employee should not be disclosed until such time as the employee has been offered the opportunity to address the Employer.

When the Employer becomes aware of an allegation of abuse against a school employee, the Employer should privately inform the employee of the following:

(i) that an allegation has been made against him/her;

(ii) the nature of the allegation

(iii) whether or not the allegation has been reported to the appropriate health board by the Designated Liaison Person.

 –          the employee should be given a copy of the written record and/or allegation and any other related documentation.

–          Once the matter has been reported to the health board, the employee should be offered the opportunity to respond to the allegation in writing to the Employer within a specified period of time. The employee must also be informed that his/her explanation to the Employer will be passed on to the health board.

–          Where the Employer is unsure as to whether the nature of the allegations warrants the absence of the employee from the school while the matter is being investigated, the Employer should consult with the Child Care Manager of the relevant health board and/or  An Garda Siochana for advice and should take due regard of that advice.  If in the opinion of the Employer, the nature of the allegation warrants immediate action, the Employer should direct that the employee absent himself/herself from the school with immediate effect.  Such an absence would not imply any degree of guilt on the part of the school employee.

–          The principles of natural justice and fair procedures should be adhered to throughout.

–          It is essential that strict confidentiality is observed in relation to all matters dealing with these issues.

–          Any further follow up action required should accord with established grievance and disciplinary procedures.

–          Every effort should be made to investigate complaints against employees promptly, considering the serious implications for an innocent employee.

 Peer Abuse and Bullying

 It is important that potentially abusive behaviour between students is not ignored and, as appropriate, certain cases should be reported to the health board.  However, it is also very important that no young person is wrongly labelled “a child abuser” without a clear analysis of the particular behaviour.  All staff, therefore, are advised to familiarise themselves with the different categories of behaviour which warrant attention.  There are four such categories:

(i)                 Normal Sexual Exploration– one of the key aspects of this behaviour is the tone of it.  There should not be any coercive or dominating aspects to this behaviour.

(ii)               Abusive Reactive Behaviour– in this situation, one student who has been abused already, acts out the same behaviour on another student. While this behaviour should be treated seriously, the emphasis should be on the victim needs of the child perpetrator.

(iii)             Sexually Obsessive Behaviour– in this type of situation, the student may engage in sexually compulsive behaviour, e.g. excessive masturbation, which may be meeting some other emotional need.  These students may not have been sexually abused but may need very specific help in addressing these needs.

(iv)             Abusive Behaviour by Adolescents and Young People– Such behaviour will have elements of domination, coercion or bribery and, certainly, secrecy.  While it could be argued that such behaviour among adolescents of similar age, status, power and intellect is “experimentation”, it should be viewed in a serious light and dealt with in an appropriate way.

 Inappropriate sexualised behaviour between students must be taken seriously. Where students are involved in such behaviour, meetings will be arranged with the parents/carers of the students involved with a view to resolving the situation.

All relationships in the school, including those between students, should be based on mutual respect.

 Bullying– St. Mac Dara’s exercises its responsibility for dealing with bullying through a strict implementation of its anti-bullying policy and a strong emphasis on its caring ethos.  All teachers should be aware of this policy, of the different types of bullying which may occur in school and of the procedures to deal with bullying.

Where incidents are regarded as potentially abusive, the school will consult the relevant health board to discuss and seek advice on how to respond appropriately.

 November 2005.