ONE in four primary schools has reported suspected child abuse to health authorities, a survey of school child protection staff has revealed.
But in a week in which the Health Service Executive (HSE) has been criticised for apparent shortfalls in support for children at risk, teachers have complained that the response and support they get on child protection issues is very poor.
The survey found that most school staff with responsibility in this area have had little or no training for the role in the past four years.
More than 330 of the country’s 3,300 primary schools took part in the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) survey.
Under Department of Education child protection guidelines, every school must have a designated liaison person (DLP) to deal with health services, gardaí and other agencies in connection with abuse allegations.
The survey found that:
One quarter of DLPs have referred an allegation or reported child abuse to the HSE.
More than half of them have only been in the position since 2004.
53% have had no Department of Education training for their important role.
Two-thirds of those with training thought it was inadequate.
“The types of abuse a school can report range from neglect, for example, if a child is often coming to school poorly fed or clothed, to emotional, physical or sexual abuse,” said INTO general secretary John Carr.
“But it’s impossible for a teacher or principal to know if a matter should be reported, or even how to go about it, without the proper training.
“Teachers will always put children’s needs first, but they also need clear advice from social services because of the potential impact of making a disclosure, particularly in small communities,” he said.
Almost 60% of DLPs had sought advice from the HSE in relation to child protection issues but almost half of these staff, most of whom are school principals, described the HSE follow-up as poor and one in three gave the same response when asked about the relevance and effectiveness of the supports from the HSE.
In focus groups organised to discuss the issue further, teachers also reported being put under pressure by social services to make disclosure when they sought advice without mentioning the specifics of a case.
A HSE spokesman said the survey sample was very small and that the findings do not reflect its commitments to child protection issues.
“If any teacher ever has concerns or issues around this area, we are more than happy to talk to them,” he said.
The Department of Education rejected the INTO claim that no training had been given to DLPs since 2004. A spokesperson said all schools were invited to send DLPs to 100 seminars running since January and due to end later this month, when an estimated 2,500 teachers will have received training.
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