News archive 2006

Opening Presentation to The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on Education & Science on behalf of The Irish Episcopal Conference & The Conference of Religious of Ireland

PRESS RELEASE

26 JANUARY 2006

OPENING PRESENTATION TO THE ALL-PARTY

OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION & SCIENCE

ON BEHALF OF THE IRISH EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE &

THE CONFERENCE OF RELIGIOUS OF IRELAND

Bishop Leo O’Reilly:

Thank you Mr Chairman,
On behalf of the Irish Episcopal Conference and the Conference of Religious
of Ireland let me begin by saying that we welcome this opportunity to meet
the members of the All-Party Committee on Education and Science to discuss
the measures the Church has put in place and those it plans to introduce
shortly for the protection of children in all Church-based organisations
and activities. Conscious of the particular remit of this Committee and
the specific areas of interest indicated in your letter of invitation,
notably the recommendations of the Ferns Report and the Church’s recently
published child protection policy Our Children, Our Church, we have
composed a delegation of people with experience in Child Protection and in
schools in the hope that this will allow us to respond as comprehensively
as possible to those issues which the members of the Committee may wish to
have clarified or discussed.

Firstly, however, let me introduce the delegation. I am Bishop Leo O’Reilly,
Bishop of Kilmore, and I am here this morning in my capacity as chair of
the Education Commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference. I am joined by
my colleagues:
– Sr Eileen Randles, Educationalist and member of the Bishops’ Child
Protection Committee;
– Mrs Kay Hyden, National Director of Training in the Bishops’ Child
Protection Office;
– Sr. Evelyn Greene, former school principal, member of the Bishops’
Child Protection Committee and representative of CORI;
– Mr Jack Cleary, Child Protection Support Officer for the Association
of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools (AMCSS) and former principal
of a Secondary School;
– Fr Dan O’Connor, General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools
Management Association (CPSMA) and member of the Bishops’ Education
Commission; and
– Fr Timothy Bartlett, from the Secretariat of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

Before proceeding with the more general presentation we would like to begin
by taking this opportunity, both as individuals and as representatives of
the Church, to express our profound sorrow and regret that people have
abused their positions of trust in Church-related posts to harm and injure
children. We wish to do all in our power to ensure a safe, welcoming and
professional environment for every child who comes into contact with the
Church. As Our Children, Our Church puts it we want to ensure that
where the Church is, children will be safe.

Our Children, Our Church represents the most recent in a series of
initiatives taken by the Church to both acknowledge and understand the
painful mistakes of the past and to do all in our power to ensure that
those mistakes will never be allowed to happen again. These initiatives
included the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse
in 1994, the publication of the Guidelines Child Sexual Abuse: Framework
for a Church Response
in 1996 and the commissioning of the Royal College
of Surgeons report into child sexual abuse by clergy in Ireland in 2003
entitled Time to Listen.

This report found that ‘Child sexual abuse is a society-wide issue and the
remit for child protection is broader than the Church’ (Time to Listen,
Recommendation 2). This was later borne out by the findings of the Sexual
Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI) commissioned by the Dublin
Rape Crisis Centre. That said, for the Church, the abuse of even one child
is one to many (cf. Appendix One).

The Time to Listen report suggested that the Catholic Church in Ireland
should ‘seek to develop a model of best practice for child protection based
on an ongoing review of current guidelines’ (Time to Listen, Recommendation
4).

It was with this objective in mind that the three main leadership groups
in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the Irish Episcopal Conference, the
Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) and the Irish Missionary Union
(IMU), jointly established a Child Protection Working Group in 2003 to
review the Church’s existing guidelines, Framework for a Church Response
(1996). In line with the recommendations of the Royal College of Surgeons
in Ireland Report, this Working Group was tasked to develop a comprehensive
policy for child protection for the Catholic Church in line with the State’s
guidelines, Children First, which had not been in place when the first
Church guidelines were published in 1996.

Given our desire as a Church to ensure full compliance with the guidance of
the State, we were particularly pleased that Ms Maureen Lynott, who had
chaired the working group responsible for producing the State’s guidelines,
Children First, agreed to chair the Church’s Working Group on the same issue.
We were also particularly pleased that on publication of the final version of
Our Children, Our Church in December of last year, Ms. Lynott was happy to
indicate her view that the Church’s policy put the Catholic Church in Ireland
at the forefront of ‘best practice both nationally and internationally’.

As you will see, the new policy is qualitatively different from the 1996 Church
guidelines in a number of key respects. Whereas the 1996 guidelines dealt only
with child sexual abuse, Our Children, Our Church, in line with the State’s
guidelines Children First considers the implications of physical and emotional
abuse as well as neglect, neglect being the most prevalent form of child
abuse reported to the Health Service Executive today.

The 1996 Church guidelines left each diocese and religious congregation to
implement their child protection structures independently. Our Children, Our
Church
, on the other hand, brings a new level of consistency and professionalism
to the Church’s child protection procedures in a number of ways. Firstly, the
new National Board for child protection, to be chaired by former Supreme Court
Judge, Mr Justice Hederman, will oversee the implementation of the policies
and procedures outlined in Our Children, Our Church at all levels of Church
life. Secondly, the Board will undertake an annual audit of this implementation
in every diocese and religious congregation and publish this and the details
of the number of cases of child abuse involving Church personnel on an annual
basis.

Our Children, Our Church also brings a new level of consistency to the Church’s
policy and practice on child protection. A new National Office will be established
to facilitate the implementation of this one-Church approach. Dioceses and
religious congregations will form what are called ‘Collaborative Units’. Each
of these units will have a Child Protection Management Group and a professionally
qualified Director of Child Protection who will be the person who receives all
allegations and suspicions of child abuse relating to Church personnel. The name
and contact number of this person will be well publicised. Critically, this
professionally qualified Director of Child Protection, as the designated person,
will be the person responsible for referring all allegations and suspicions of
child abuse to the civil authorities, following the Children First State guidelines.
This relationship between the Director of Child Protection and the civil authorities
is a pivotal part of the policy. As the document repeatedly points out, ‘the
exchange of information between all relevant agencies is a key element in
safeguarding the welfare of children and in providing an appropriate response
where child abuse occurs. Effective communication between Church organisations
and the civil authorities is therefore essential’ (OCOC, p.38).

The final draft of Our Children, Our Church was approved by each of the Church
bodies in June 2005. This was in advance of the publication of the Ferns Report
in November 2005. However, an analysis of Our Children, Our Church demonstrates
that the key recommendations of the Ferns Report about child protection are
addressed in the Church’s new policy. This includes an inter-agency approach to
the handling of allegations and suspicions of child abuse by Church personnel.
Recommendations G8 to G12 of the Ferns Report state that this inter-agency
approach would be further enhanced by the establishment of an ‘Inter-agency
Review Committee’ for each diocese in which the Health Service Executive, An
Garda Síochána and the diocese would raise suspicions, rumour or innuendo which
are known to them about any member of the clergy, as well as complaints which
are ‘demonstrably untrue’.

Following the publication of the Ferns Report, the Primate of All-Ireland,
Archbishop Seán Brady, requested a meeting with the Minister for Children,
Mr Brian Lenihan, at which he briefed the Minister and his officials on Our
Children, Our Church
in the light of the recommendations of the Ferns Report.
At this meeting the Archbishop made it clear that the Church will cooperate,
in consultation with the Health Service Executive, in the creation of such
Inter-agency Review Committees. I wish also to report that representatives
of the Bishops’ Conference and CORI are actively engaged in meetings with
representatives of the Health Service Executive to ensure the speedy
implementation of these Committees in every Diocese.

It is important to note, however, that the Ferns Report also called for legal
changes to be made in regard to reporting (G2) and ‘Executive Privilege’ (G12)
in order to protect those participating in this Inter-agency Group process
from any potential legal challenge in the process of sharing suspicions, rumour
or innuendo which are known to them about any member of the clergy, as well
as complaints which are ‘demonstrably untrue’. For example, Section 5 (1) of
the Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act (1998), states that ‘A
person who states to an appropriate person that a child has been [abused]…
knowing that statement to be false, shall be guilty of an offence’. How can
that be reconciled with the prospect of sharing information about a member
of the clergy, or indeed any person, which ‘is demonstrably untrue’ as the
Ferns Report states (cf. Recommendation G10). It is my understanding that
the Health Service Executive has sought guidance on this matter from the
Department of Justice. It may be that there are important legal, constitutional
and human rights issues here which need to be resolved. It is in the interests
of everyone concerned that they would be resolved at the earliest possible
opportunity.

I now want to focus on the question of mandatory reporting. I wish today to
advise the members of the Joint Committee that the leadership of the Catholic
Church in Ireland is fully in favour of the principle of mandatory reporting
where this is protected by law and State policy. However, a draft White Paper
on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse was prepared for the Oireacthas in the
year 2000 along with a draft Memorandum for Government. These documents were
circulated to Government Departments and in view of the comments and observations
made and in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, it was clear that
there were very complex legal issues which needed further consideration. However,
in the meantime, Children First, National Guidelines for the Protection and
Welfare of Children
had been published and the Protections for Persons Reporting
Child Abuse Act
(1998) had been introduced. In the light of these developments
mandatory reporting was not pursued and a number of complex legal and policy
issues have yet to be resolved.

Given that the Church’s objective in establishing its own Working Group on
Child Protection was to ensure best practice and compliance with the State’s
guidelines, Children First, it was wholly reasonable and legally prudent that
the reporting principles in Our Children, Our Church should be taken directly
from the State’s guidelines Children First. They are exactly the same principles
used by, for example, Barnardos and other agencies and groups who have developed
policies on the basis of the State’s guidelines, many of whom also call for the
introduction of mandatory reporting.

It may also be worth pointing out that the Church’s 1996 Framework guidelines
were introduced three years before the State’s guidelines. Section 2.2.1 of
the Church’s 1996 guidelines state that, ‘In all instances where it is known
or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused… the matter
should be reported to the civil authorities.’ Our advice at the time was that
to ‘know’ or ‘suspect’ that a child has been or is being abused is to have
reasonable grounds for such knowledge or suspicion. Children First, the State’s
own guidelines, later spelled out what should be reported using the term
‘reasonable grounds for concern’. Having incorporated this criterion into
Our Children, Our Church it is our view this does not introduce any change
to the 1996 guidelines.

It is also important to note that in Our Children, Our Church it will be the
professionally qualified Director of Child Protection who will take
responsibility for the process of reporting to the civil authorities and
who will continue to liaise with those authorities throughout the management
of any particular case. This voluntarily introduces a higher level of professional
involvement in the management of all suspicions and allegations than is
proposed by the State’s guidelines Children First. As is recommended by
the Ferns Report, the Bishop is informed that an allegation or suspicion has
been received. The actions of the Bishop in response to the allegation or
suspicion are determined by the advice of the Director of Child Protection
after the Director has discussed the case with the civil authorities. Our
Children, Our Church
also makes it absolutely clear that any canonical process
should not impede the civil process.

Of particular importance is the fact that the policy recommends that all
Church personnel, whether clerical or lay, full-time, paid or voluntary,
should be vetted. This is a work in progress. At present, here in the Republic,
these checks are carried out by our own Child Protection Office’s National
Training Strategy. This involves the checking of personnel through application
forms, declaration forms and references for all those appointed to work on a
voluntary or paid capacity, lay, religious and ordained.

However, we recognise the limitations of any checking we undertake in the
absence of State provisions for vetting by the Gardai. On behalf of the Church,
and as a matter of urgency, I would like to take this opportunity to appeal,
as we have before, for the introduction of a system of vetting and clearance
similar to the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (POCVA) system
operated in Northern Ireland. As Archbishop Brady pointed out at the launch
of Our Children, Our Church in December, the absence of such a system here
is a vulnerability which can be exploited by determined abusers of children
in either jurisdiction and as such, should be a matter of the utmost concern
to all of us who are committed to the care and protection of children on the
island. The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland participate in the POCVA
vetting system in Northern Ireland and we need a similar model for the whole
of the island. Indeed a European wide system would be welcome.

Before moving on to consider some of the issues which are more particular to
education, let me conclude this part of the presentation by saying that Our
Children, Our Church
is wholly in keeping with the statutory guidelines in
the Republic of Ireland and acknowledges that “all children have a fundamental
right to be respected, nurtured, cared for and protected” and that this right
“is embedded in Gospel values, international law and domestic law”. It is
designed primarily for use within those Church settings which are not already
subject to existing statutory guidelines and regulations such as schools and
certain youth work environments where the local diocese is affiliated with
a national youth work provider. Training is already underway within dioceses
in preparation for the implementation of the new structures. This training
is given by accredited personnel who are trained to the standard expected by
the HSE of its own training officers and is quality assured by external
agencies. Mrs Kay Hyden will be happy to say more about this in the general
discussion.

Now, however, I would like to invite Sr. Eileen Randles to make our presentation
on the subject under discussion as it relates to schools.

Sr Eileen Randles:

The vast majority of children in this country are educated in Catholic primary
schools which are under the patronage of the Bishop in each Diocese. The
Catholic secondary schools, which educate just over 51% of all post-primary
students, are under the patronage of a Religious Congregation, a Bishop or –
in a small number of cases – Catholic lay people.

In all cases, the Patron appoints the Board of Management composed of elected
parents, elected teachers and a number of others. Approximately one-third of
primary schools and half of Catholic secondary schools have lay Chairpersons.
The Boards must function in accordance with the Education Act 1998 and with
directives from the Patron, particularly in the area of the ‘characteristic
spirit’ of the school.

The procedures for dealing with allegations or suspicions of any form of child
abuse are set out for the schools in Guidelines published by the Department
of Education and Science based on the document Children First issued by the
Department of Health and Children. The document Our Children, Our Church
confirms that schools are to continue to use the procedures set out for schools
by the DES.

Each Board of Management is required to adopt as school policy the Guidelines
issued by the DES. The Board is further required to appoint a Designated Liaison
Person (DLP) – usually the Principal – who will act as liaison with outside
agencies and as support person for any staff members who may have a concern
about child protection issues. The DES will seek confirmation from the schools
this month that these steps have been taken, as well as information about
in-service availed of and briefing provided.

The detailed procedures laid down to be followed by the Designated Liaison Person
are mirrored in the document Our Children, Our Church.
We can expand later on
these procedures in detail, if you so wish.

Clearly – as the recommendations of the Ferns Report state – the Board of Management
and the Designated Liaison Person need to be familiar with the responsibilities of
their role in Child Protection as set out in the DES Guidelines. On appointment,
each Board member receives a copy of these Guidelines which are also provided for
each staff member.

In 2001-02, the DES and Department of Health and Children provided in-service
days for the Designated Liaison Persons in primary schools as well as information
days for the Chairpersons of Boards of Management. All training sessions for
new Primary Boards of Management held since 2001 have included input on Child
Protection issues and the DES Guidelines. Support and advice for Primary Boards
of Management is provided by the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPMSA).

At post-Primary level, the Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools
(AMSSA) provides training for Boards of Management which includes training in child
protection. The DES provided a series of one-day in service training courses for
DLP’s which began in October/ November ’04, continued in ’05 and will be provided
again in ’06. The DES authorised a half-day closure of the schools to enable
the DLP to brief school staffs on the Guidelines. At the request of school
Management Associations, the DES has funded the appointment of a small number of
Child Protection Officers to provide a support service to the schools. This
service provides:

– documentation to facilitate the briefing by DLPs to staff and Board members
– telephone support for DLPs and Boards of Management
– briefing for Principals and Chairpersons of Boards of Management at regional
meetings
– briefing for entire staffs of a small number of schools or clusters of schools.

In addition, the Education Offices of a number of Religious Congregations provide
briefing and support services for the schools for which they have responsibility.

There is a significant demand from schools for a much greater level of support
in such an important area as Child Protection. It is reasonable to expect that
the DES should respond to this need by facilitating arrangements for a continued
and expanded support service and a more structured and comprehensive training
programme for liaison persons, all school staff and board members. On-going
training and briefing must become an integral and regular feature of the school
system at all levels, keeping pace with personnel changes and with growing insights
into the complex issues involved
.

In this connection, the Catholic Primary School Management Association has
recently requested the DES to initiate a review of the Guidelines for schools
with a view to incorporating, inter alia, an implementation plan and also a
code of Best Practice for the pro-active protection of children
. As a mater
of urgency, provisions must also be made for the 13 one-teacher Primary schools
in the Republic.

Apart from the issue of school-specific procedures for reporting allegations or
suspicions of any form of child abuse, many of the points made in Our Children,
Our Church
apply also to practices in schools. For example, the following
recommendations in the Church document are already available or are being prepared
in schools:

– Codes of Best Practice and Codes of behaviour for staffs – as recommended
also in the Ferns Report
– Emphasis on keeping of records of all allegations and suspicions of child
abuse – also in the Ferns Report
– Availability of Complaints procedures
– Acceptable use of Internet/Computers policies
– Attention to Health and Safety issues and Safety Statements
– Standardised recruitment procedures – although some contracts need review
– Induction programme for new staff
– Probationary periods – in line with Employment legislation
– Training and briefing for Boards of Management and Staff in child protection
issues, as we have outlined.

Of course schools also have anti-bullying polices, Codes of Behaviour for pupils,
policies on the acceptable use of mobile phones, specific policies on child
safety issues while on school tours, lines of communication with parents – all
of which can impinge on the area of child protection. These policies are developed
by each school following an extensive process of consultation with staff, parents,
Board of Management , and where appropriate, students.

We wish to comment briefly on a number of other points contained in the
recommendations made in the Ferns Report which relate to schools.

We agree that a “more open environment of reporting” instances of abuse must
be encouraged. We need to facilitate a child in making a disclosure about any
abuse suffered. In this connection, we have supported and promoted the STAY
SAFE
programme within Primary schools since its introduction in the early 90s,
despite opposition from some vocal groups of parents. The programme is presented
in consultation with parents and in accordance with the ethos of the school.
In a small minority of schools there is reluctance on the part of the parent
Body to have the programme taught to the pupils. We are convinced, however,
that this programme can enable children to give expression to fears they may
have and to describe experiences they may have had. It also empowers children
to avoid situations which might or could cause them harm. The Catholic Primary
School Management Association has recently indicated to the DES that the compulsory
inclusion of the STAY SAFE programme in the Primary Curriculum would be supported
by the CPSMA.

RELATIONSHIPS AND SEXUALITY EDUCATION (RSE) is now a module of the compulsory
Social, Personal and Health Education programme prescribed by the DES for all
schools. Inspection and monitoring of this programme is a matter for the
Inspectorate of the DES.

The recommendation of the Ferns Report about an open environment of reporting
can also be seen as urging clear procedures for the reporting to the appropriate
Authorities of allegations and suspicions of any form of child abuse which come
to the attention of school personnel. Catholic school Authorities have undertaken
to abide by and apply most rigorously the reporting procedures as prescribed by
the DES Guidelines, based on CHILDREN FIRST
.

We accept the recommendation of the Ferns Report that the appointment of the
chair of the Board of Management of National schools should be made with the
utmost care and diligence. As we stated earlier, we call for the urgent introduction
of a comprehensive system of vetting and clearance similar to the POCVA system
which operates in Northern Ireland and which applies there to Boards of Governors.

School Authorities here have called for the vetting of all school personnel for
many years. Indeed School Management representatives attended a meeting in the
DES on the vetting of school personnel as recently as last week. We realise,
of course, that the school’s responsibility for checking references and career
history would not be eliminated by vetting. However, satisfactory vetting of
employees and of potential employees by the Gardai would be a reassurance to
the school authorities. We ask that potential members of a Board of Management
be included in the vetting process.

In conclusion, all those responsible for Catholic schools in Ireland accept the
principle of the paramountcy of the child’s welfare. We are committed to doing
everything in our power to protect the children in our care. Our objective is
as enunciated in Our Children, Our Church, namely that ‘Where the Church is,
Children will be safe’
.

We hope we have covered most of the main issues of interest to the Committee.

At this point, we are happy to take any questions relating to our presentation.

Ends

APPENDIX ONE

The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI) was published by the
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre in 2002. The Report was the first ever comprehensive
national study of Irish experiences, beliefs and attitudes concerning sexual
violence.

The report concluded that 3.7 per cent of all child sexual abuse in Ireland
was perpetrated by clergy or religious, whereas the overwhelming majority
of child sexual abuse, 96.3 per cent, was committed by others.

On page 89 of the report it states as follows:
‘Combining religious ministers and religious teachers…. 5.8 per cent of all
boys sexually abused were abused by clergy or religious. A smaller proportion
(1.4 per cent) of girls abused were abused by clergy or religious… All of
these authority groups were more notable by how uncommon, rather than common,
they were as perpetrators of sexual abuse against children.’

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