THE sacrament of Confession will not be exempt from rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse, Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald has vehemently insisted.
Amid the fallout from the Cloyne report’s exposure of former bishop John Magee for failing to report abusive priests, the minister reiterated warnings that there will be no exceptions to hardline rules on withholding information about child abuse.
New laws will also require frontline staff working with children taken into state care to investigate historic acts or allegations of abuse.
Health workers and carers will also be required to investigate allegations by adults about abuse that took place during their childhood.
Guidelines launched yesterday on protecting children include commitments to investigate the historic allegations of abuse.
Ms Fitzgerald said no child should ever suffer the evils of abuse as she launched Children First guidelines.
The guidelines include advice for frontline staff such as healthcare workers and gardaí who are alerted to the abuse or neglect of children.
The minister pledged that the guidelines would be enacted into law in the autumn.
Authorities will be required to investigate retrospective abuse disclosures by adults, so as to guard against the alleged perpetrator abusing other children.
Ms Fitzgerald said the recent report on clerical abuse in the diocese of Cloyne showed how society had failed children in the past.
“’My role as minster is to seek that never again will these evils be countenanced,” she added.
The legislation will provide that all organisations comply with the Children First guidelines.
Health services, gardaí and care groups will have to share relevant information and co-operate in the best interests of the child.
There will be inspections of groups working with children and the guidelines for the first time highlight bullying as a feature of abuse.
“I want the message to go out that it is absolutely critical that if somebody has, on good faith, reasonable concerns over the abuse or neglect child then those concerns must be reported to the relevant authorities and to this end statutory reporting requirements will be addressed as one aspect of the proposed new Children First legislation,” added the minister.
Children support groups welcomed the guidelines and the move to enforce them through legislation.
One in Four said it was an important step that historic allegations of abuse would have to be investigated under the new rules.
“Our clients are mainly adults who were sexually abused in childhood.
“The people who sexually abused them are often still living in the community and continue to pose a risk to children,” explained executive director Maeve Lewis.
Gardaí said the guidelines would ensure there was no gap between services involved in protecting children.
Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne said members of the force would be trained in the new rules.
He added: “The brutal and ugly reality is that there are people in the community who seek to hurt and abuse children.”
Barnardos called for the laws backing up the guidelines to be passed as soon as possible.
The guidelines also have expanded the definition of physical abuse to include slapping.
The responsibilities of schools, hospitals, mental health services, GPs and the HSE are also set out in the guidelines.
Other areas covered include guidance on allegations against employers, on interviewing children, as well as advice on investigating cases where the victim and alleged abuser are both children.
A handbook for services on the guidelines will be launched for services in the autumn to coincide with the new laws.
Youth Work Ireland, which vets thousands of staff and volunteers, also welcomed the new guidelines.
THE list of guidelines to protect children describes the types of abuse that professionals working withchildren should be aware of.
These include emotional abuse, physical abuse, beating, slapping, hitting or kicking, terrorising with threats and suffocation.
Other types of abuse that gardaí and care workers are to watch for include signs or allegations of sexual abuse, including the child being exposed to sexual organs or being touched or molested.
Frontline staff investigating cases are also warned to look for signs that the child has been neglected.
Signs of abuse in general can be physical, behavioural or developmental.
Other signs a child has been abused include if they engage in abnormal sexual play, abscond from home or a care centre or if they attempt suicide.
HSE services should always be contacted when signs of abuse are noticed and only health professionals should interview a child about the issues.
The guidelines warn about the importance of intervention in a family where there are signs of abuse.
“Sympathy for families in difficult circumstances can sometimes dilute personal or professional concerns about the safety and welfare of children. However, the protection and welfare of the child must always be the paramount concern,” the guidelines state.
“It is the responsibility of all agencies working with children and for the public to recognise child protection concerns and share these with the agencies responsible for assessing or investigating them, not to determine whether the child protection concerns are evidenced or not.”
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