All of society should be concerned with child welfare and protection and it is important that concerns are dealt with as and where they arise. The primary responsibility for protecting children rests with their parents but parents are supported in this role by a range of service providers, state agencies, schools and professionals working with children and young people.
Where bullying in schools is concerned, in the first instance, the school authorities are responsible for dealing with such bullying. School management boards must have a code of behaviour and an anti-bullying policy in place. In cases of serious instances of bullying where the behaviour is regarded as possibly abusive, a referral to Tusla and/ or An Garda Síochána may need to be made.
The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures, including introducing mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by certain key professionals and requiring organisations providing relevant services to children to develop a Child Safeguarding Statement.
Under the Act, mandated persons are required to report child protection concerns at or above a defined threshold to Tusla. Mandated persons are people who have contact with children and/or families and who, because of their qualifications, training or employment role, are in a key position to help protect children from harm. The list of mandated persons includes teachers.
The Act also places an obligation on providers of services to children to keep children safe from harm while availing of their services, to carry out a risk assessment and to prepare a Child Safeguarding Statement outlining the policies and procedures in place to manage any risks identified. The relevant services to children that attract an obligation to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement includes schools and centres of education.
There is a range of services available which can assist children and young people in coping with bullying situations for example:
www.webwise.ie - An initiative of the Department of Education and Skills – provides information on a range of internet safety issues and concerns and offers advice and support for young people, teachers and parents.
www.tacklebullying.ie - a national website to counter bullying and cyberbullying for young people, parents and teachers.
At a national and community level, youth organisations and voluntary youth services funded by my Department provide education programmes, run awareness campaigns about bullying and provide programmes for young people to give them the knowledge and skills to build supportive links and counter bullying behaviours. Specifically, my Department supports the National Youth Health Programme which is in partnership with the HSE and the National Youth Council of Ireland. The programme’s aims are to provide a broad-based, flexible health promotion / education support and training service to youth organisations and to all those working with young people in out-of school settings, and includes programmes aimed at exploring bullying and cyberbullying with young people.