Dublin: Still No Referendum On Rights But New Guidelines Are Launched To Protect Children

15 Jul

The Minister for Children has published new national guidelines to protect children against abuse and neglect.

Frances Fitzgerald - Concerns over abuse or neglect must be reported

Frances Fitzgerald – Concerns over abuse or neglect must be reported.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has published new national guidelines to protect children against abuse and neglect.

Launching the Children First Guidelines 2011, which are to be put on a statutory basis, Minister Fitzgerald said it must be ensured that no child ever suffered again.

The guidelines set out specific protocols for Health Service Executive social workers, gardaí and other frontline staff.

Minister Fitzgerald praised the work done to care for children but added that numerous scandals have shown that the State has failed in many cases in its duty of care.

She said frontline staff ‘passionately employ best practice in child protection.

‘These people already implement Children First in full, understand their duties and do not need legislation to keep children safe.’

However, the minister said that reports such as the one into clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne ‘cumulatively shine a light on horrific episodes from our past, and indeed from our very recent past, where as a State and society we failed in our moral duty to cherish and protect our nation’s children.

‘My role as minster is to seek that never again will these evils be countenanced,’ she added.

‘I want the message to go out that it is absolutely critical that if somebody has, on good faith, reasonable concerns over the abuse or neglect child then those concerns must be reported to the relevant authorities and to this end statutory reporting requirements will be addressed as one aspect of the proposed new Children First legislation.’

Barnados has welcomed the publication of the guidelines.

‘Now is the time to get the show on the road, so to speak,’ the organisations’ Director of Advocacy, Norah Gibbons, said.

‘This Guidance is a progressive piece of national policy that hopefully demarcates Ireland’s move from the past towards a positive future in relation to child welfare and protection.

‘What is needed to take the next step in child welfare and protection is clear leadership and commitment to reform across the system,’ she added.

NEWS UPDATE:

Full text of the Cloyne report (PDF)

 The privacy of the Confession box cannot be used as an excuse for failing to disclose child sexual abuse, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said today.

This follows Government plans to make it mandatory to pass on details of suspected child sexual abuse to authorities.

Under the plans put forward by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, priests could be jailed for up to five years for failing to disclose information on serious offences against a child even if this was obtained during Confession.

Ms Fitzgerald said child protection was a “non negotiable” issue and the sacrament of Confession could not be used as a defence to claim exemption from the new reporting rules.

“If there is a law in the land, it has to be followed by everybody. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “I’m not concerned, neither is the Government, about the internal laws or rules governing any body.”

She said she hoped the new laws could be placed on the statute books by the end of this year. Failure to follow the mandatory reporting rules could result in sanctions such as fines or jail terms.

Catholic Church spokesman have said the want to see the text of the planned legislation before making a definitive comment. However, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh Dr Gerard Clifford has said the bond of secrecy attached to confessions must be respected.

A spokesman for the Catholic bishops said the “seal of Confession places an onerous responsibility on the confessor/priest, and a breach of it would be a serious offence to the rights of penitents”.

Ms Fitzgerald today provided more details of plans to place the State’s child protection code – Children First – on a statutory footing.

This will make it mandatory for all groups who work with children to follow guidelines on how to respond to child abuse concerns.

“Let me declare again today that the days of voluntary compliance are over when it comes to child protection,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “The new legislation I am bringing forward will provide for a strong system of inspection and oversight and the need to provide demonstrable evidence that the guidance is being implemented correctly across all sectors.”

She also insisted that child protection services would be able to cope with an additional increase in reports of child welfare concerns. By following the Children First guidelines, she said social services would be able to respond in a more efficient manner.

Those who do not comply with the mandatory reporting guidelines face a range of sanctions, varying from retraining to fines, being banned from working with children and jail.

“We will have a range of sanctions if the reporting requirements and other requirements on the Children First legislation are not met,” she said. “This combined with the legislation which Minister Shatter has announced about
withholding information is a very powerful message about child protection and how central child protection is to the concern of this government and we are determined to have strong legislation to ensure that children are protected.

“There will be no ambivalence in it.”

The Minister said she hoped to have the legislation in place by the end of the year.

A decision on whether to hold further inquiries into the handling of abuse complaints in other dioceses will be made in the autumn. Mr Shatter is awaiting the results of two audits of church compliance with child protection procedures, one being carried out by the HSE, the other by the church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children.

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