Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Teachers' Guidelines on Child Abuse.

Michael Bell

Question:

13 Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Education if she will arrange that all Bachelors of Education and special education courses will include a module dealing with the issues involved in child abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Jim Kemmy

Question:

58 Mr. Kemmy asked the Minister for Education if her Department will provide in-service courses for all national teachers in order to familiarise them with the behavioural systems to look out for and the agreed procedures for dealing with suspected and confirmed cases of child abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Seán Ryan

Question:

85 Mr. Ryan asked the Minister for Education if she will, in conjunction with the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the management bodies, draw up guidelines and procedures which will assist teachers in recognising children who are being abused; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 58 and 85 together.

My Department, in conjunction with the Irish National Teachers Organisation, management bodies and the National Parents Council are involved in discussions which it is hoped will lead to agreed procedural guidelines, that will be of assistance to teachers for dealing with allegations or suspicions of child abuse.

When the procedural guidelines have been agreed every effort will be made to familiarise teachers with them.

Either the incidence of child abuse is on the increase or more cases are being reported, but I find it horrifying that there will be no extension of the pilot schemes for three years. Children who have been sexually abused end up scarred and in need of ongoing psychological care. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider her decision to review the schools psychological service after three years.

The question relates to child abuse. It also asks if all Bachelor of Education and special education courses will include a module dealing with the issues involved in child abuse and if I would make a statement on the matter. Deputy Ryan has asked if, in conjunction with the Irish National Teachers Organisation and management bodies, I will draw up guidelines. The Deputy has extended the scope of the question in asking about the schools, psychological service. I have already explained that the professionals have agreed that the scheme should be run on a pilot basis for three years. In relation to the guidelines, I have examined the background and it seems a number of legal issues are involved which have been raised by the various parties to the discussions, the management, teachers and parents. Given the need to maintain professional credibility, ethics and confidentiality it is not as easy as it may appear to issue guidelines to be followed in dealing with suspected cases of child abuse. This is a very serious issue and society demands that schools take care of it. Many children will only find salvation in schools. I hope these discussions will lead to the issuing of proper guidelines but we have to be careful in dealing with this issue.

I am sure the Minister will agree with me when I say it must be very difficult for teachers to identify the signs in a class of 40 or 41 children. Would she not agree that if guidelines are to be issued it is crucially important that teachers are provided with inservice training to enable them deal with this issue? Teachers will not take the serious decision to report a case of suspected child abuse, given that they may be open to legal action, unless they are satisfied they have full legal backing and have received very competent training to enable them to make the necessary judgments. Would the Minister not agree that it would be far better if the schools took no action than did the job badly and if they are to take any responsibility in the matter they should do so on the basis of adequate inservice training and logistical and legal back-up for the teacher concerned?

That is correct. This is a serious issue, in particular for the child. Therefore there is a need to protect everybody's rights. We are finding it very difficult to clear everyone's legal rights in the guidelines to be issued. Last year, the teaching centres agreed in principle to run courses but decided not to pursue this matter until the procedures had been agreed. The presidents of the colleges of education requested that they be given copies of the guidelines and procedures once they had been agreed, to be included as a module in teacher training courses. We have to work out a proper basis for the guidelines and I hope we can reach agreement on them.

The schools psychological service should have a major input in any guidelines on child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this is not the case at present. We are not fully aware of the extent of the problem and there is an obvious need therefore to issue guidelines. The schools psychological service should be involved.

I am sure the Deputy is correct but that is not the answer, which is the issuing of clear guidelines. All parties need to be protected. Happily, the question of child sexual abuse is now being brought into the open. I am quite sure that there has always been child sexual abuse but, unhappily for the child, this issue was not brought out into the open. We need to address the issue but, as has been said, we need to address it in the correct way.