Thursday, July 26, 2007

Primary schools to teach abuse protection

Primary schools could be forced to implement a programme to help children protect themselves against abuse under Government plans.

The Stay Safe programme, operated by the Child Abuse Prevention Programme, was highlighted last week after a man was jailed at Cork Criminal Court.

The man's 10-year-old victim had reported the assault to the teacher following a lesson about inappropriate physical contact with adults.

Currently, one-in-five schools do not offer the programme, which is taught to pupils as part of the SPHE (social, personal and health education) curriculum.

Through a series of lessons, the Stay Safe programme teaches students to deal with potentially abusive or life-threatening situations.

Children learn to recognise and describe when they feel safe or unsafe, that they should always tell an adult about any situation they consider unsafe, not to go anywhere with or take anything from a stranger, and what to do if touched in a way that is unwanted.

Education Minister Mary Hanafin voiced concerns last February when a survey revealed that opposition from some parents and lack of training meant 700 of the country's primary schools did not make Stay Safe available.

The Programme for Government agreed between the three main coalition parties last month says they will require all primary schools to teach the Stay Safe programme.

It remains unclear in what timescale this mandatory status will come into effect, or whether the Department of Education will offer schools the option of taking it up voluntarily first.

Meanwhile, a new advisory board that will co-ordinate services for troubled children and teenagers has been launched.

The new Children Acts Advisory Board will advise Children's Minister Brendan Smith on various issues, including the level of residential accommodation for children in detention schools and special care units.

The deputy chief executive of the new board, Finbarr O'Leary, said the new powers exercised by the body would be able to provide "checks and balances" across a range of services.

He said that under the 1991 Child Care Act and under the larger Children Act 2001, areas such as early intervention, education and juvenile justice would be of paramount importance.

The board will put together new criteria for guardians ad litem - those who represent children in court proceedings - and will also seek to improve the inter-agency approach to juvenile justice.

Mr O'Leary said that with the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Garda, the Probation and Courts Services and the Irish Youth Justice Service, the board would work to "maximise delivery of services to children".

Regarding the HSE, and in particular dealing with special care orders, the board will carry out audits of the paperwork involved, so that when the HSE states that it wants to place a child in a detention centre, the views of the board are available to the court.

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