Schools fail to follow child protection guidelines


A STUDY of more than 100 Dublin primary schools has found significant breaches in official child protection requirements for schools.

While the religious background of the schools surveyed is not included in the research, official figures show the Catholic Church controls more than 92 per cent of primary schools in the State. The Department of Education has been issuing guidelines to schools on child protection since 1991. For the past 10 years, all schools have been obliged to have child protection policies in place.

The study was conducted by Dr Helen Buckley of the School of Social Work and Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin and Dr Kathryn McGarry of the Department of Applied Social Studies at NUI Maynooth.

The participants were 103 qualified primary teachers in full-time teaching jobs in 103 different schools.

The study was conducted in January. It was prompted by the authors’ experience that young teachers’ knowledge of child protection procedures was weaker than might be expected. The fact that so many new teachers were unaware of the steps to take in cases of suspected abuse indicates child protection does not have a high place on the educational agenda, according to the authors.

In a commentary accompanying the research, Dr Buckley says it is vital that each school has clear and effective child protection procedures in place in accordance with the department guidelines. These should be brought to the attention of management, staff and parents.

School management should also provide all new staff – whether teaching or otherwise – with a copy of the school’s child protection guidelines and ensure that they are familiar with the procedures to be followed, Dr Buckley writes.

The Department of Education has explicit guidelines published in 2001 which outline the formal responsibility expected of teachers in respect of child protection.

They stipulate that management arrangements in schools should provide for the planning, development and implementation of child protection programmes.

The study says the role of the school in the protection and welfare of children is significant because of the many opportunities available to primary school teachers to monitor children in a range of situations.

“It is all the more important, therefore, that schools are ready and willing to identify and act on any concerns they may have about the protection and welfare of their pupils.”

Main points

Other key findings included

  • Half of teachers did not know if their school had a child protection policy or not.
  • Of those who were aware their school had a policy, just under half (49 per cent) had not read it.
  • When asked if they had confidence in their ability to identify abuse or suspected abuse, a majority (57 per cent) indicated uncertainty or lack of confidence to reasonably suspect that a child is being harmed or at risk of being harmed.
  • Just under half (48 per cent) said there was a child protection input in their teacher training. Of the remainder, 21 per cent reported that they did not have any such input, while 31 per cent said they could not remember.