Reporting of suspected abuse now compulsory
TEACHERS, NURSES and other State employees who deal with children will be obliged to report cases of suspected child abuse to authorities under reforms to strengthen the child protection system.
The measure forms part of a 99-point plan for implementing the recommendations of the Ryan report into institutional child abuse. Other significant measures due to come into force include a national memorial to act as a reminder of the neglect and abuse of victims of child abuse, and consideration of a “national date of atonement”.
An estimated 270 vacant social work posts will be filled, although some of these involve temporary staff being given permanent posts. In addition, there will be limited caseloads to take pressure off newly qualified social workers.
Independent inspections of all residential facilities for children, including young people with disabilities and separated children seeking asylum, to help protect against abuse and mistreatment are also due within the next two years. Despite public finances, Minister for Children Barry Andrews said he had “complete confidence” all necessary funding will be available to implement the €25 million plan. “The Minister has accepted this fully, so there is no objection to the implementation of this plan and all the resources that go with it,” Mr Andrews said.
He also said he will take responsibility for ensuring the measures are fully implemented over the next two to three years. “The damage caused by a culture that tolerated and even encouraged physical, sexual and emotional abuse for decades will not be undone by words alone . . . It is by implementing this action plan that we will win back the trust of those whom we abandoned.”
The decision to place national child protection guidelines – known as Children First – on a statutory footing is likely to have significant consequences. State employees who deal with children will be obliged to report cases of suspected child abuse to authorities. Legislation may be drafted to allow for clauses written into the employment contracts of State sector professionals working with children, obliging them to contact authorities about concerns. Similarly, employees in State-funded services must follow the Children First guidelines. These bodies risk losing public funding if they fail to report abuse concerns.
Mr Andrews said the new system did not amount to mandatory reporting, which can involve the criminalisation of those who fail to report abuse concerns. He said some jurisdictions were moving away from such a system because it was unwieldy and inefficient.
Welcoming yesterday’s report, the Health Service Executive said the recommendations will “challenge our entire system in the coming months and years”.
It says it will begin work on how best to implement these recommendations in association with the Office of the Minister for Children.