The Department of Education have released updated Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools 2017. These new procedures have been developed to take account of the new statutory obligations under the Children First Act 2015 and in light of the recently updated Children First Guidance 2017 (available at Tusla.ie). Under the Act, teachers will be required to follow new reporting requirements in respect of their role as mandated persons. The Procedures provide that the Designated Liaison Person however will still maintain their central role in the school's child protection arrangements.
The Procedures state that their aim is to give clear direction and guidance:
- To schools management and school personnel in relation to meeting new statutory obligations under the Children First Act 2015
- With regard to the implementation of best practice guidance as set out in the revised Children First Guidance 2017.
These new school Procedures are broken into 9 chapters, the first two of which outline the statutory framework and the applicable definitions. The Procedures then deal with the role of school personnel and the new statutory obligations on teachers as mandated persons under the Children First Act 2015. Reporting of concerns is set out in some detail at chapter five, and a distinction is set out between the role of school personnel, the mandated persons and the DLP. Chapter six outlines the role of the Gardaí and Tusla is followed by the protocol now in place where allegations are made against a school employee, in chapter seven. Practical compliance with the legislation is set out in Chapter 8 which makes provision for Garda Vetting, the Child Safeguarding Statement and the time frames in place from carrying out the Risk Assessment and the Child Safeguarding Statement as required in the Children First Act 2015.
Chapter 9 is significant. It details the increased level of oversight which will be borne by a number of key players: the Board of Management, the Principle, the Patron, the Department of Education and Skills and Tusla.
The Board of Management will have increased governance responsibilities in terms of monitoring the child protection and the Principal will have increased obligations in terms of reporting to the BOM.
The Principle is obliged to make a Child Protection Oversight Report to the BOM at each meeting of the BOM. This Report shall comprise of details concerning:
- Allegations made against member of staff;
- Other child protection concerns;
- Child protection concerns arising from bullying amongst pupils;
- Summary data in respect of reporting including the number of reports made by the DLP to Tusla and the number of reports submitted by mandated persons.
The Patron must be kept informed of decisions and proposals of the board including any relating to child protection. The new Procedures state that the Patron must be provided with a copy of the Child Safeguarding Statement and the notification regarding the annual review of the Child Safeguarding Statement. When an allegation has been made against the BOM it is a matter for the patron to determine if any action is necessary regarding the member's continued role on the board of management.
The patron must also be informed where the board of management has not complied with the procedures set out as regarding reporting allegations to Tusla.
Overall, the Procedures highlight that merely having policies in place in schools is not sufficient; the challenge is to quality assure the procedures and to ensure that they are being implemented effectively on a continuing basis. In this regard, the oversight role of the Department of Education is helpfully summarised in the Procedures by outlining the functions of the following departments:
Schools Division ("SD"): to develop procedures, liaise with Tusla.
Inspectorate: monitor implementation in schools. Report concerns to SD. Report to the CPOS where there are "serious concerns".
Child Protection Oversight Group ("CPOG"): receive regular reports from the SD; from the Inspectorate; engage with schools that are non-compliant.
Management Board of the Department: receive reports from SD, the Inspectorate and the CPOG.
Circular 0081/2017 accompanies these Procedures and it outlines that all of the requirements of the new procedures, apart from those relating to the school's Child Safeguarding Statement, apply to all school personnel and school authorities with effect from 11 December 2017.
Accordingly, all Boards of Management are now required to immediately commence the necessary arrangements for preparation of their Child Safeguarding Statement.
It is important to note that from 11 March 2018 the requirement to have a Child Safeguarding Statement replaces the previous requirement to have a child protection policy which was in place under the previous Child Protection Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools.
The new Procedures are available in full on education.ie as is the Circular 0081/2017
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.