Written Answers. - Sexual Abuse in Schools.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

142 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science his Department's policy on the appointment of teachers in any category, where allegations of child sexual abuse have been proven and where allegations of child sexual abuse have been made but no charge confirmed; the procedure which exists for the clearing up of cases where allegations have been made but not confirmed; the circumstances under which teachers who were involved in teaching responsibilities and where evidence of child sexual abuse was proven against them in a court of law may continue to teach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17524/01]

I consider it to be a matter of absolute importance that schools and my Department, where relevant, should act quickly and effectively in dealing with any cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse. The precise action to be taken in any given case will depend on the circumstances of that case and the guidelines, which have been issued by my Department and the Department of Health and Children.

The Department of Health and Children published new national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children, Children First, in September 1999. These guidelines are an important step in strengthening arrangements for the protection of children. The Children First guidelines place an onus on statutory and voluntary or community organisations to draw up local guidelines to complement Children First and to make them as effective and meaningful as possible.

As a follow-up to the Children First guidelines, my Department has issued new child protection guidelines and procedures to all primary schools. These child protection guidelines and procedures have been developed following an extensive consultation and discussion process with the partners in education and a representative from the health boards. They were issued to primary schools in a set containing a copy of Children First.

These child protection guidelines and procedures replace the guidelines entitled Procedures for Dealing with Allegations or Suspicions of Child Abuse which were issued to all primary schools in 1991. They are based on the Children First guidelines, but have been specifically developed with the primary school setting in mind. The intention of the new guidelines and procedures is to give direction and guidance to all school management authorities and school personnel in identifying, reporting and dealing with allegations or suspicions of child abuse. In particular, they emphasise the obligation on school authorities to ensure allegations or suspicions are reported to the health authorities and-or the Garda.

While these guidelines are aimed at the primary school sector, they will be used as a basis for agreeing similar guidelines in the post-primary sector.

The procedures to be followed by my Department where an allegation of abuse is received are set out in an internal instruction of 1995. Where the allegation relates to a teacher, the procedure requires that the appropriate school authorities be notified by the Department. My Department then monitors the response of the school. While the allegation is being investigated, my Department's position is that the teacher in question should be directed by the school authorities to vacate his or her post pending the outcome of the inquiry. In such cases, my Department provides for paid substitution.
Where evidence of child sexual abuse has been proven against a teacher in a court of law that person should not be engaged in any capacity in a school. My Department will take whatever action is necessary, subject to due process, to ensure that this is so if such cases come to our attention. The Teaching Council, which will be established under the recently enacted Teaching Council Act, 2001, will, together with the High Court, have regulatory functions in respect of teachers who have misconducted themselves in this way. This will provide further safeguards to children.
I assure the Deputy that I and my Department consider that the care, welfare and safety of children in schools is of paramount concern in cases where allegations, proven or otherwise, are made against teachers or other school staff.