Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Stay Safe Programme.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

4 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science his plans to make the stay safe child abuse prevention programme mandatory on all schools. [21913/02]

My Department continues to prioritise child protection and the implementation of the stay safe programme in every school. The various elements of the programme – professional development courses for teachers, parent awareness seminars at individual school level and the teaching of personal safety skills to pupils, continue to be supported. The latest implementation figures which are available date from 1999 to 2000 and indicate that 98.6% of primary schools had participated in professional development courses, 87% of schools had facilitated parent education regarding child protection issues and 74% of schools were teaching the stay safe programme. Training continues for teachers new to the system.

The stay safe programme and the implementation of national child protection guidelines, under the title Children First, continue to receive attention following the introduction of social, personal and health education, or SPHE, as a subject on the revised primary school curriculum. Child protection is an integral part of the SPHE curriculum and it is intended that this area of the revised curriculum will be implemented in all schools from September 2003. I do not, therefore, propose to make the stay safe programme mandatory at this stage. All primary teachers have attended a one-day seminar on the SPHE curriculum and a training programme on Children First has been delivered for the nominated person from each school. The team delivering these seminars included two trainers from the stay safe team. It is a priority for my Department to ensure that a high level of awareness and skill to address child protection issues, which includes the implementation of the Stay Safe programme, is maintained. My Department, therefore, will continue to support the promotion of child protection within the context of the SPHE curriculum.

Why is there a need for the stay safe programme if the SPHE curriculum is sufficient? It is important that the stay safe programme be made compulsory in all schools, although I appreciate that the Minister and I disagreed on this matter last week when we discussed whether a bullying policy should be mandatory. Has the Minister evaluated the effectiveness of the stay safe programme? One of the most important findings of a survey about the programme some years ago was that children who participate in the programme are much more likely to disclose instances of abuse. If we have learned anything in recent months, it is that it was a great pity that the stay safe programme was not implemented until 1991, although the brave step taken by the Minister of the time is to be praised. I ask the Minister to reconsider his plans not to make the programme mandatory in schools and to deal with the question of its effectiveness.

Mr. Dempsey

The Deputy made a suggestion rather than ask a question. I will not go back on what I said in regard to making the stay safe programme compulsory but I will look again at her suggestions, particularly the one relating to assessment. I am very keen to have regular assessments of many of the programmes, not just in this area of education, because many of them are implemented on a pilot basis and are not assessed on an ongoing basis. I am satisfied that the revised SPHE curriculum for primary schools will be an effective way forward.

Have there been any assessments carried out or programmes implemented for 11 years? What follow-up is in place for people who have made use of the programme? Is there treatment or help available afterwards for children?

Mr. Dempsey

In regard to this particular programme, the Deputy will be aware of the revised curriculum at primary school level. This will be introduced in all the schools by September 2003. I cannot say there has been a specific assessment in this regard but I will check it for the Deputy.