A Great Day for Irish Children
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.