Press Release

Minister Lenihan speaks at “Beyond Borders – Protecting Children” Conference

The Minister for Children, Mr Brian Lenihan TD, today (19 September 2002) spoke at the Beyond Borders – Protecting Children conference organised by Barnardos Ireland, Barnardos Northern Ireland, ISPCC and NSPCC.

The focus of the Conference was on current systems of child protection both North and South and on good employment practices and vetting procedures in respect of those seeking to work with children and young people. It also highlighted the need for co-operation between the two jurisdictions in relation to these issues.

The Minister outlined his concern that any child would find themselves in a situation either within or outside the family where they are subject to abuse of any kind be it neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse. He spoke of the improved procedures which have been put in place in Ireland over the past decade to offer greater protection to children. He referred to the impact of the Child Care Act, 1991, the Children First Guidelines, Our Duty to Care guidelines, recruitment guidelines and the Garda Central Vetting Unit.

He stated that in November, 1994 and September, 1995 directions were issued by the Department of Health and Children on the recruitment of staff to any area of the health services where they would have substantial access to children and vulnerable individuals. The directions highlight the need for Garda clearance and verified references to be obtained. The Minister went on to say that

“it is necessary to bear in mind that criminal record checks are not the sole answer to ensuring applicants suitability for jobs. There is a particular onus of care on employers to maintain good employment practice such as good interviewing practice and validating of references during the recruitment stage and also to ensure adequate supervision arrangements post recruitment”.

The Minister also stated that “In response to concerns regarding clearance of applicants for positions with organisations with responsibility for children, a Central Vetting Unit was established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in Garda Headquarters in January, 2002. This Unit currently provides checks on prospective full-time health sector employees who would have substantial access to children and vulnerable adults. To date, the Unit has dealt with in the region of 40,000 vetting and data protection requests. The Unit has processed, in seven months, the equivalent of the number of applications processed in one full year previously. It has also reduced the length of time taken to process vetting requests for Irish workers to within a period of three weeks. The work of the Unit involves on-going co-operation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána are now in discussions seeking ways of extending the service in the child care area to cover, for example, community workers, part-time employees and persons from abroad (outside the UK and Northern Ireland) seeking employment. It is hoped to achieve some early progress in the matter.

Referring to Children First – the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children published in September, 1999, he said “These guidelines are national and over-arching applying to all individuals and agencies dealing with children. They support and guide health professionals, teachers, members of the Garda Siochana and the many people in sporting, cultural, community and voluntary organisations who are in regular contact with children.”

The Guidelines emphasise the importance of good practice in recruiting individuals who are to work with children. Information and Advice Officers have been employed by the health boards to work with voluntary organisations in implementing the National Guidelines. In addition, he referred to a recently published document entitled Our Duty to Care, which is based on Children First and a Northern Ireland document of the same name, and promotes good practice and procedures for voluntary and community organisations dealing with children.

The Minister concluded by saying that “we must build on the steps which have been taken already and improve the protective measures in place. The Health Boards in conjunction with my Department and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform keep the national Guidelines and procedures generally, under review so as to ensure that we offer the highest standards of protection to children.

I am aware that recommendations and an agenda for future action has been drawn up by the four children’s charities involved in today´s conference. Some of the recommendations are far reaching and would require legislative change. Following today’s conference, I will together with my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform examine the feasibility of their implementation.”