Child Safeguarding Statement
Legal Aid Board Child Safeguarding Policy and Procedure
1. Declaration of Child Safeguarding Principles
1.1 The Legal Aid Board (“the Board”) is committed to maintaining the highest standards of child safeguarding in line with all relevant legislation including the Children First Act 2015 and informed by best practice including Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2017) as published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
1.2 The safety and welfare of children who come in contact with the Board and its staff is of paramount importance. The Board has implemented and shall continue to implement measures to raise awareness among all staff of the key principles and best practice in child safeguarding. Staff will be provided with the appropriate level of Children First training in accordance with their needs and the nature of their interaction (if any) with children. The Board will ensure that all staff and users of the service are aware of the Board’s policies and commitment to safeguarding children.
1.3 In line with best practice the Board has appointed trained Designated Liaison Persons (DLPs) who will be the resource person for any staff member who has child protection concerns and who will liaise with outside agencies. All staff have been instructed to contact the DLP regarding any safeguarding concerns they have regarding a child.
1.4 In its delivery of service the Board is following the principles informing best practice in child protection following the Children First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 which states the following:
- The safety and welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility;
- The best interests of the child should be paramount;
- The overall aim in all dealings with children and their families is to intervene proportionately to support families to keep children safe from harm;
- Intervention by the State should build on existing strengths and protective factors in the family;
- Early intervention is key to getting better outcomes. Where it is necessary for the State to intervene to keep children safe, the minimum intervention necessary should be used;
- Children should only be separated from parents /guardians when alternative means of protecting them have been exhausted;
- Children have a right to be heard, Taking account of their age and understanding, they should be consulted and involved in all matters and decisions that may affect their lives;
- Parents/guardians have a right to respect and should be consulted and involved in matters that concern their family;
- A proper balance must be struck between protecting children and respecting the rights and needs of parents/guardians and families. Where there is conflict, the child’s welfare must come first;
- Child protection is a multiagency, multidisciplinary activity. Agencies and professionals must work together in the interests of children.
1.5 FAMILY MEDIATION
The Board’s Family Mediation services are a “Relevant Service” under the terms of the Children First Act 2015 in that mediators carry out “ work or activity which consists of --- formal consultation with or formal participation by a child in respect of matters that affect his or her life -----“
Mediators are not mandated persons under Schedule 2 of the Act.
As a “Relevant service” the Mediation service has carried out a risk assessment in accordance with Section 11(1) (a) of the Act which defines risk as “any potential for harm to a child while availing of the service”. A copy of the Child Safeguarding Statement is available in all mediation offices.
1.6 LEGAL SERVICES
The legal services provided by the Legal Aid Board do not come within the meaning of “Relevant services” in Schedule 1 of the Children First Act 2015. A solicitor is not a mandated person under Schedule 2 of the Act. Solicitors have a heavy obligation to preserve solicitor /client confidentiality and this policy provides direction for solicitors in relation to disclosures for the purpose of child safeguarding.
2. Types of Child Abuse and how they may be recognised
Child abuse can be categorised into four different types: neglect, emotional physical and sexual abuse. A child may be subjected to one or more forms of abuse at any given time.
2.1.1 Neglect occurs when a child does not receive adequate care or supervision to the extent that the child is harmed physically or developmentally. It is generally defined in terms of an omission of care, where a child’s healthdevelopment or welfare is impaired by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, medical care, intellectual stimulation or supervision and safety. Emotional neglect may also lead to the child having attachment difficulties.
2.1.2 The extent of the damage to the child’s health, development or welfare is influenced by a range of factors. These factors include the extent, if any, of positive influence in the child’s life as well as the age of the child and the frequency and consistency of neglect.
2.1.3 Neglect is associated with poverty but not necessarily caused by it. It is strongly linked to parental substance misuse, domestic violence, and parental mental illness and disability. A reasonable concern for the child’s welfare would exist when neglect becomes typical of the relationship between the child and the parent or carer. This may become apparent where you see the child over a period of time, or the effects of neglect may be obvious based on having seen the child once.
2.1.4 The following are features of child neglect:
- Children being left alone without adequate care and supervision;
- Malnourishment, lacking food, unsuitable food or erratic feeding;
- Non-organic failure to thrive, i.e. a child not gaining weight due not only to malnutrition but also emotional deprivation;
- Failure to provide adequate care for the child’s medical and developmental needs, including intellectual stimulation;
- Inadequate living conditions – unhygienic conditions, environmental issues, including lack of adequate heating and furniture;
- Lack of adequate clothing;
- Inattention to basic hygiene;
- Lack of protection and exposure to danger, including moral danger, or lack of supervision appropriate to the child’s age;
- Persistent failure to attend school;
- Abandonment or desertion.
2.2 Emotional abuse
2.2.1 Emotional abuse is the systematic emotional or psychological ill treatment of a child as part of the overall relationship between a caregiver and a child. Once off and occasional difficulties between a parent/carer and a child are not considered emotional abuse.
2.2.2 Emotional abuse may be seen in some of the following ways:
- Lack of comfort and love;
- Lack of attachment;
- Lack of proper stimulation (e.g. fun and play);
- Lack of continuity of care (e.g. frequent moves, particularly unplanned);
- Continuous lack of praise and encouragement;
- Persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming of the child;
- Conditional parenting in which care or affection of a child depends on his or her behaviours or actions;
- Extreme overprotectiveness;
- Inappropriate non-physical punishment (e.g. locking child in bedroom);
- Ongoing family conflicts and family violence;
- Seriously inappropriate expectations of a child relative to his/her age and stage of development;
- There may be no physical signs of emotional abuse unless it occurs with another type of abuse. A child may show signs of emotional abuse through their actions or emotions in several ways. These include insecure attachment, unhappiness, low self-esteem, educational and developmental underachievement, risk taking and aggressive behaviour;
- It should be noted that no one indicator is conclusive evidence of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is more likely to impact negatively on a child where it is persistent over time and where there is a lack of other protective factors.
2.3 Physical abuse
2.3.1 Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts a child physically or puts them at risk of being physically hurt. It may occur as a single incident or as a pattern of incidents. A reasonable concern exists where the child’s health and/or development is, may be, or has been damaged as a result of suspected physical abuse.
2.3.2 Physical abuse can include the following:
- Physical punishment;
- Beating, slapping, hitting or kicking;
- Pushing, shaking or throwing;
- Pinching, biting, choking or hair-pulling;
- Use of excessive force in handling;
- Deliberate poisoning;
- Fabricated/induced illness;
- Female genital mutilation.
2.3.3 The Children First Act 2015 includes a provision that abolishes the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in court proceedings. This defence could previously be invoked by a parent or other person in authority who physically disciplined a child. The change in the legislation now means that in prosecutions relating to assault or physical cruelty, a person who administers such punishment to a child cannot rely on the defence of reasonable chastisement in the legal proceedings. The result of this is that the protections in law relating to assault now apply to a child in the same way as they do to an adult.
2.4.1 Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or arousal, or for that of others. It includes the child being involved in sexual acts (masturbation, fondling, oral or penetrative sex) or exposing the child to sexual activity directly or through pornography. Child sexual abuse may cover a wide spectrum of abusive activities. It rarely involves just a single incident and in some instances occurs over a number of years. Child sexual abuse most commonly happens within the family, including older siblings and extended family members. Cases of sexual abuse mainly come to light through disclosure by the child or his or her siblings/friends, from the suspicions of an adult, and/or by physical symptoms.
2.4.2 Examples of child sexual abuse include the following:
- Any sexual act intentionally performed in the presence of a child;
- An invitation to sexual touching or intentional touching or molesting of a child’s body whether by a person or object for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification;
- Masturbation in the presence of a child or the involvement of a child in an act of masturbation;
- Sexual intercourse with a child, whether oral, vaginal or anal;
- Sexual exploitation of a child, which includes: Inviting, inducing or coercing a child to engage in prostitution or the production of child pornography [for example, exhibition, modelling or posing for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or sexual act, including its recording (on film, videotape or other media) or the manipulation, for those purposes, of an image by computer or other means];
- Inviting, coercing or inducing a child to participate in, or to observe, any sexual, indecent or obscene act;
- Showing sexually explicit material to children, which is often a feature of the ‘grooming’ process by perpetrators of abuse;
- Exposing a child to inappropriate or abusive material through information and communication technology;
- Consensual sexual activity involving an adult and an underage person.
2.4.3 An Garda Síochána will deal with any criminal aspects of a sexual abuse case under the relevant criminal justice legislation. The prosecution of a sexual offence against a child will be considered within the wider objective of child welfare and protection. The safety of the child is paramount and at no stage should a child’s safety be compromised because of concern for the integrity of a criminal investigation. In relation to child sexual abuse, it should be noted that in criminal law the age of consent to sexual intercourse is 17 years for both boys and girls. Any sexual relationship where one or both parties are under the age of 17 is illegal. However, it may not necessarily be regarded as child sexual abuse.
3. Responding to and Reporting Child protection or Welfare concerns
3.1 Mediation Service
3.1.1 Tusla must always be informed when a person has reasonable grounds for concern that a child may have been, is being, or is at risk of being abused or neglected. The guiding principles in regard to reporting child abuse or neglect may be summarised as follows --- the safety and well being of the child must take priority and reports should be made without delay to Tusla. All such concerns must be reported to the DLP.The DLP in consultation with the person who raised the concern will decide if reasonable grounds for concern exist. If reasonable grounds for concern exist, the DLP will in conjunction with the mediator make the report to Tusla. The form is available on Tusla’s website www.tusla.ie
3.1.2 In cases where the DLP is unsure whether a report should be made she/he may consult the Duty social worker in the child/young person’s area. If the DLP decides not to make a report the individual mediator who raised the concern is still entitled to make a report to Tusla under Children First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children should they wish to do so. The individual making the report has protections under the Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, should they report independently.
3.1.3 The Ground rules of Mediation state that all information disclosed in mediation is confidential unless there is a concern that a child may be at risk. The mediator must ensure that the clients understand the circumstances where there may be a requirement to breach confidentiality.
Concerns relating to abuse may arise during the process of mediation in any of the following ways;
- Through direct work with children in a child consultation;
- Be raised by either of the parties in mediation;
- Emerge as a concern for the mediator from information disclosed in the session.
The mediator will seek information and clarification in order to ascertain whether the issue constitutes reasonable grounds for concern and referral to Tusla.
3.1.4 In circumstances where a client reports a concern directly to the mediator about the other parent the mediator assists the client themselves to report their concerns to Tusla and also informs the DLP. The client will confirm to the mediator that they have reported the matter to Tusla within three working days by giving the mediator the name, address and telephone number of the person to whom they made the report.
If the client is unwilling to or do not do as agreed in reporting the concern to Tusla then the mediator will inform the client that s/he will be discussing the matter with the DLP.
3.1.5 If there is an immediate risk to a child’s welfare the mediator should consult immediately with the DLP who is responsible for making an immediate report to Tusla or to An Garda Siochana in the event that Tusla cannot be contacted.
3.1.6 In any of the above circumstances Mediation must be suspended until Tusla completes its investigation.
3.1.7 It is best practice to inform parents/guardians that you are reporting a concern about a child, however they do not need to be informed that a report is being made if by doing so the child will be placed at further risk or if the family’s knowledge of the report could impair Tusla’s ability to carry out an assessment. Furthermore it is not necessary to inform the family if the person making the report reasonably believes that it may place them at risk of harm from the family.
3.1.8 Section 20 reports
A Social work Court report (Section 20) may be requested by a judge in family law proceedings. Where it is determined by Tusla that proceedings on foot of the Child Care Act 1991 will not be instituted the report should set out
- Whether Tusla is making any applications in respect of the child and its reasons for so deciding;
- Any service or assistance it has provided or intends to provide for the child and his/her family;
- Any other action it has taken or proposes to take with respect to the child.
In circumstances where a Section 20 report has been requested by the Judge, mediation cannot proceed until the report has been completed and the Judge has ruled on the reports recommendations.
3.2 Legal Services
3.2.1 In the interests of protecting both children and staff no child/minor should be seen or attended by a staff member alone in his or her office.
3.2.2 As a general matter disclosures of child abuse or concerns about a child should be brought to the attention of the DLP immediately. Law centre staff providing legal services are subject to the obligation to preserve their client’s confidentiality and this may sometimes come into conflict with the need to ensure that child abuse and neglect are reported. The following are guidelines which seek to provide guidance to staff who may feel in difficulties arising from these important but potentially conflicting obligations.
- In certain circumstances the child may be a client of the solicitor and, if in those circumstances the child makes a disclosure to that solicitor then the solicitor will immediately bring the matter to the attention of the DLP;
- In other circumstances if a child makes a disclosure directly to a staff member or, if any staff member becomes aware of any child protection concerns before the formation of the solicitor/client relationship, they should report it to the Managing Solicitor who will in turn decide whether it is appropriate to refer to the DLP;
- Where a client discloses to his/her solicitor abuse or neglect in relation to a child:
(a) If the disclosure is against another adult then the solicitor must advise the client of the necessity to report the matter to Tusla
(b) If the disclosure of neglect or abuse is against the client himself/herself or, it the disclosure is against another adult and the client is not willing to report the matter to Tusla, then the solicitor must seek the client’s consent to bring the disclosure to the attention of Tusla. If the client refuses to consent to such disclosure a breach of the overriding duty of confidentiality may be justified. The solicitor shall report the matter to the DLP in the following circumstances:
i) Where the situation indicates the possibility of continuing sexual or other physical abuse or ongoing neglect of a child; and
ii) Such abuse or neglect is likely to be a serious threat to the child’s life or health whether mental or physical; and
iii) There is a refusal on the part of the client to allow disclosure of such information
In each particular case the solicitor responsible for the particular client, should consider whether the situation is sufficiently serious to justify such a breach and refer the matter to the DLP.
3.2.3 Where the DLP considers that a child protection or welfare concern meets the reasonable grounds criteria outlined below, then the DLP will make a confidential report to Tusla.
Examples of reasonable grounds for concern are:
- Specific indication from the child that he/she was abused;
- An account by the person who saw the child being abused;
- Evidence, such as an injury or behaviour which is consistent with abuse and unlikely to be caused in another way;
- An injury or behaviour which is consistent with abuse and with an innocent explanation but where there are corroborative indicators supporting the concern that it may be a case of abuse. An example of this would be a pattern of injuries, an implausible explanation, other indications of abuse, dysfunctional behaviour;
- Consistent indication over a period of time that a child is suffering from emotional or physical neglect.
4. Retrospective Disclosures
4.1 An increasing number of adults are disclosing abuse that took place during their childhood. If a staff member receives a disclosure from a client that they were abused as a child, this information must be reported to Tusla as the alleged abuser may pose a current risk to children.
4.2 Reports by adults of childhood abuse will be assessed by Tusla. If there are ongoing child protection concerns Tusla will take necessary actions to ensure any child who may be at risk of harm is protected.
The Retrospective Abuse Report Form (RARF) is available on the Tusla website.
5. Responding to Allegations of Abuse made against a Staff member
5.1 An allegation of abuse may relate to a person who works with children who has:
- Behaved in a way that has or may have harmed a child/young person;
- Possibly committed a criminal offence in relation to a child/ young person;
- Behaved in a way that indicates they may pose a risk to a child /young person;
- Behaved in a way that is contrary to the organisation’s code of behaviour or is contrary to professional practice guidelines.
5.2 If an allegation is made against a member of staff, the organisation has a dual responsibility in respect of both the child/young person and the staff member. There are two separate procedures to be followed;
- The reporting procedure to Tusla in respect of the child/young person and the alleged abuser;
- The internal HR processes for dealing with the member of staff.
5.3 The DLP is responsible for reporting the matter to Tusla (as per the reporting procedure) The Director of HR and / or the Personnel Officer is responsible for addressing the employment issues.
5.4 To be reported to Tusla the allegation must meet the reasonable grounds for reporting of a concern. Informal consultation with Tusla may be used to determine if reasonable grounds are present. If there is any concern that a child may have been harmed, their parents will be informed immediately. Parents of children who are named in an allegation of abuse or neglect will be kept informed of actions planned and taken, having regard to the rights of others concerned.
5.5 Where the Board becomes aware of an allegation of abuse by an employee while executing their duties, the Board shall privately inform the employee of the following:
(i) The fact that an allegation has been made against him/her; and
(ii) The nature of the allegation.
The employee should be afforded the opportunity to respond; the response should be noted and passed onto Tusla.
5.6 If a disclosure is made by a child, a written record of the disclosure should be made as soon as possible by the person receiving it. Where an allegation of abuse or neglect is made by an adult, a written record of the allegation should be made and a written statement should be sought from this person. All stages of the process should be recorded. (An investigation may be required and the policy should note who will carry out the investigation and the time line)
5.7 It is essential that at all times the matter is treated in the strictest confidence and that the identity of the employee is not disclosed, other than as required under the procedures within the policy. Protective measures may be required while the allegation is being investigated. The principles of natural justice, the presumption of innocence and fair procedures should be adhered to. It is very important to note protective measures are intended to be precautionary and not disciplinary.
5.8 The Board will maintain regular and close liaison with Tusla and or An Garda Síochána and ensure that no action by the Board frustrates or undermines any investigation. Further action will be guided by employment legislation, the contract of employment, and other policies and procedures of the Board (including the disciplinary policy) and the advice of the investigating agencies. Legal advice will be sought as required.
6. Recruitment of Staff
6.1 Under the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 to 2016 all people working with children and vulnerable adults are required to undergo Garda vetting.
6.2 The Legal Aid Board ensures that all staff working in its Family Mediation services as a “Relevant Service” are Garda Vetted prior to appointment. Mediators, administrative staff and any trainees/students will be Garda vetted prior to taking up any role within the mediation service.
6.3 Information received about applicants will be treated as highly sensitive and confidential. It will be stored securely by Human Resources and only accessible to certain individuals within the organisation.
6.4 The Designated Liaison Persons for the mediation service are:
Fiona Grant Thomas - T: 053 9163050 Mobile: 087 9316510
Nola White- T: 021 4252200 Mobile: 087 7176072