A PROMINENT survivor of clerical sex abuse has urged the Government to make it mandatory for schools to teach a programme that helps children protect themselves in danger situations.
The Irish Examiner revealed yesterday that dozens of schools are offering no child protection programme at all and as many as 150 were not teaching the Stay Safe programme now in use at most of the country’s 3,300 primary schools. It is used as part of the social, personal and health (SPHE) curriculum and teaches children to recognise unsafe situations and respond by saying “no” if asked to do something wrong or dangerous.
Andrew Madden, who has campaigned for child protection and welfare since making public his abuse at the hands of Dublin priest Fr Ivan Payne in 1995, said he was very concerned to hear that Stay Safe is still not mandatory.
Former education ministers Mary Hanafin and Batt O’Keeffe have indicated since 2006 that such a step may be taken but Tánaiste Mary Coughlan is awaiting the outcome of a review of child protection guidelines in schools before doing so.
“Empowering children with knowledge, confidence and language is an important part of the child protection process. The Stay Safe and SPHE programmes within schools are a significant part of this,” Mr Madden said.
Calling on the Government to make the teaching of Stay Safe compulsory in schools, Mr Madden added that a module dedicated to child safety, welfare and protection should also be included in the SPHE programme for second level schools.
“All teachers should receive a basic SPHE pre-service training as all teachers are involved in social and personal education of young people, and children’s knowledge of SPHE should be assessed regularly,” he said.
The most recent data collected from schools in a survey last year found that 92% of primary schools are teaching Stay Safe, but a number of those which were not said they offered an alternative child protection programme to pupils. Department of Education figures in 2006 suggested as many as 700 schools were not using the programme but hundreds have sent staff for the relevant training since then.
Fergus Finlay, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardos, said this week that there is no excuse for any school not to use the resource to help increase children’s awareness of abuse situations. But, he said, it is up to the department to instruct them to do so immediately.
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