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.