May 2, 2012
One in Four says today that new revelations about Cardinal Brady’s role in the Brendan Smith affair require an explanation from the Cardinal. A BBC documentary revealed that the Cardinal had information about other children who were being abused at the time, but failed to act.
The documentary suggests that many children could have been protected from the sexual predator if Cardinal Brady had not been so invested in protecting the Church. Executive Director Maeve Lewis says “It will be heartbreaking for survivors to realise that their suffering could have been avoided if only action had been taken”
Maeve Lewis continues: “While on paper the Church now has good child protection practices, this documentary casts a shadow on the credibility of Cardinal Brady as a leader of the new policy. Although the times were very different then, it is unimaginable that any adult had such knowledge and failed to act”
Maeve Lewis ends “This devastating situation highlights how important it is that legislation is in place to keep children safe. The new Children First Bill and the Withholding Information Bill will, when enacted, prevent such catastrophic failures to keep children safe.”
May 1, 2012
One in Four today broadly welcomed the Children First Bill in a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. Speaking to TDs and Senators One in Four applauded the introduction of clear, unambiguous legal obligations for statutory and voluntary agencies and for designated professionals to report concerns of child abuse and neglect to the HSE Child Protection Services.
However, One in Four expressed concern that the new legislation did not sufficiently acknowledge the role of agencies and professionals working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and the obligations of the HSE to investigate retrospective allegations. Executive Director Maeve Lewis told the Committee: “The reality is that most children do not tell. They wait until they are grown up and feel safe. But just because the abuse happened years ago does not mean that the sex offender is no longer a danger to children. The man who abused his daughters may now be abusing his grandchildren. The legislation must address this explicitly.”
Maeve Lewis also spoke of the danger of frightening people from coming forward for help. She said: “Survivors are often reluctant to report because they fear, often with good reason, the reactions of family and friends. The last thing anybody wants is to deny survivors access to services and silence them further. Resources must be put in place to provide skilled professional support to help people consider the implications of disclosing and while making a report”.
One in Four estimates that only 10% of the notifications we make to the HSE child protection services are examined. Maeve Lewis continues: “If this legislation is to be effective, resources will have to be put in place to ensure that all substantial allegations are investigated. Despite the harsh economic environment, choices need to be made if we are serious about protecting children. Otherwise the legislation is pointless”.
Maeve Lewis ended: “ In the past children were abused and tortured in plain sight because adults turned away and did not act. The Children First legislation will help to foster a culture where it becomes the responsibility of all adults to ensure that all children are safe.”
April 25, 2012
Today is a great day for Irish children. Two new pieces of legislation have been published – a Children’s First Bill and a Criminal Justice Bill. It will soon be an offence to have information about a child who is being abused and not to report it to the HSE or to the Gardai. For too long we have maintained a fiction in this country that we cherish our children and that Ireland is a great place to grow up. The truth, as all the Reports of the last decade show, is that we are a country where adults turn their faces away from the abuse and torture of children and do nothing. That is about to change.
Mandatory reporting is a complex issue. On the one hand, we do not want to create a situation where survivors are afraid to come forward for help because professionals will have to report the crime. On the other hand we cannot ignore children who at risk. The new legislation finely balances this dilemma. Crimes against children must only be reported to the Gardai if the victim wishes to do so, or if it is in the best interests of the child. However, all allegations must be reported to the HSE child protection services who have a duty to ensure that children are safe. In our experience at One in Four, when survivors are given clear information and solid support, they decide to report to the HSE. They want other children to be safe. But only about 30% of our clients make a statement to the Gardai.
All the laws in the world will not protect children unless the resources are there to implement them. If we are to develop a world class child protection system, we must spend money on public education campaigns, on services like One in Four and on the HSE and Gardai who will have to work the new legislation. Times are hard and difficult decisions will have to be made. But starting today, if we choose, we could begin to make Ireland a place where children are truly safe from sexual harm.
April 25, 2012
One in Four warmly welcomes two new pieces of legislation published today. We do not have an effective child protection system in this country. The Criminal Justice Bill and the Children First Bill will for the first time create an obligation to report all concerns about children to the statutory authorities. We commend Minister Fitzgerald and Minister Shatter for introducing this long overdue legislation.
Executive Director Maeve Lewis says: “The Reports of the past decade have shown clearly what happens when adults look the other way and do not act to protect children. Thousands of Irish children have been sexually abused in their families, communities and in the Catholic Church and the effects of that abuse have devastated every aspect of their lives. From now on we will all have a duty to make our concerns known”
Maeve Lewis continues” We are worried that survivors might be reluctant to come forward to seek help if total confidentiality cannot be maintained. They fear, often with good reason, the reaction of their families and communities to a disclosure. Balancing the needs of survivors to access services with the need to protect children requires skilled professional intervention. We welcome the fact that reports will only be made to the Gardai if the survivor so wishes. One in Four already works within the Children First Guidelines and in our experience most survivors agree to report allegations to the HSE child protection services because they do not want other children to suffer the same abuse”
Maeve Lewis ends: “The new legislation will only be effective if resources are made available to the statutory agencies and to the non-governmental organisations who support survivors. In these difficult times hard decisions will have to be made. We like to think of ourselves as a society that cherishes our children but the recent revelations have shown this to be false. We now have an opportunity to create a world class child protection system so that Ireland becomes a place where children can grow up safe from sexual harm.”
April 17, 2012
The report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Primary schools was published last week and has generally been welcomed across all shades of opinion. However to my mind it fails to address a key issue: why is the State not responsible if a child is sexually abused at school?
A couple of years ago a brave woman from Cork called Louise O’Keefe went all the way to the Supreme Court to try to establish that the Department of Education was legally responsible for her sexual abuse by the man who was the principal of her primary school. The Department of Education vigorously defended the case and the Supreme Court found against her. It held that in this instance it was the patron of the school, the Bishop of Cork, who was legally responsible for the conduct of the teachers employed under his patronage.
Now, I’m not a legal person or a learned judge, but it has always seemed to me to be nonsense that the Department which lays down the standards for teacher training, pays their salaries, decides the curriculum and provides inspections of their work should be able to avoid all responsibility when a
teacher sexually abuses a child. Currently over 90% of primary schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church and I do wonder if bishops, given their track record, are the best people to be responsible for child protection? And even if some schools shift to another patron, be it the VECs or Educate Together, should the Department of Education really be able to hand over such a crucial responsibility?
Louise O’Keefe is currently pursuing her case to the European Court and she has my absolute support. But it makes me angry that one courageous woman should have to risk everything, including her home, so that the Irish state be made to face an essential obligation of democratic governance: ensuring the safety of the nation’s children.