Children ‘being failed’ by lack of cyber bullying controls

State rapporteur on child protection says issue ‘one of the biggest challenges facing schools’

Dr Geoffrey Shannon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Dr Geoffrey Shannon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


Irish schools continue to fail children by not dealing robustly with the issue of cyber bullying “one of the biggest challenges facing schools,” according to the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon also said agencies dealing with child care issues were “spectacularly failing children” by not co-operating.

Dr Shannon told an audience of educators and lawyers on Saturday that the legislation in the area of cyber bullying was “not fit for purpose”.

“I do not think the law has caught up with the technology”, he told a conference on Education & The Law at St Angela’s College Sligo.

Dr Shannon, chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, said this issue was being dealt with under harassment legislation but “ I think we need legislation that is fit for purpose, legislation that reflects the technology that now exists”.

The new child protection frontier was in this area of technology, he told the conference . “We know the physical challenges and the physical risks, but it is that online world that seems so remote and so innocuous , and yet has devastating consequences for children “ he added.

The child protection expert pleaded for a “whole school approach” which would begin in the teacher training colleges.

He accepted that it was a challenging question to decide when behaviour involving technology was a crime or required legal intervention, but he said the issue had to be faced up to.

From the schools’ perspective it was important to have very clear and unambiguous policies for all the interested parties such teachers, boards of management and children, added Dr Shannon.

He called for a strong disciplinary response to cyber bullying of children whether from the Roma community or any foreign national community, or from the LGBT community . “Victimisation online takes on a different reality because it follows the child outside of the school yard”, he added.

Dr Shannon also criticised the lack of inter-agency cooperation when it comes to vulnerable children saying this was “one of the issues where we continue to spectacularly fail our children”. He said professionals had not made “that quantum leap” but it had to change. “All of the state agencies need to start talking to each other,.

Having chaired the review into the deaths of 196 children who had died in State care over a decade, He said this had given a unique insight into the experiences of children in care.

“I still carry with me the memory of many of these files”, he said.

Stessing the importance of education in the safeguarding of children, Dr Shannon said that having reviewed a total of 500 children in care files “and the treatment they received at the hands of the State,” he was struck by how many of these had dropped out of school.

Without proper investment in the education system, he said , there was a risk of young people being alienated and ending up in a “downard irreversible spiral”. The reality was that many would end up in adult prisons –“ and at what cost to the State.” Dr Maria Cambpell, a lecturer in education at St Angela’s expressed concern about the impact the new Admission to Schools legislation given the level of “white flight” from schools around the country where many immigrant children are being educated.

She pointed out that there are 20 schools where 80per cent or more of the school population are from immigrant communities , while 23 per cent of schools have no children from immigrant families. “We need to question and challenge that unequal distribution,” said Dr Campbell.

“There is a need to have these uncomfortable conversations at every level of society,” . The lecturer said it was significant that in the recent election campaign this had not evenbeen an issue.