#childabuse | Over 4,500 suspected child abuse concerns reported by teachers

Teachers have reported almost 4,500 concerns about suspected child abuse since becoming legally obligated to do so, an average of more than 10 disclosures every weekday.

Almost 50% of these reports related to the suspected physical abuse of children, figures released to the Irish Examiner show.

Almost 21,000 mandated reports were received by Tusla within 20 months, with one in five of these submitted by teachers registered with the Teaching Council.

Figures released by Tusla show teachers are second only to gardaí when it comes to the number of mandated reports of suspected harm to children made to Tusla under the Children First Act.

The figures show:n Teachers made 2,045 mandated reports relating to the suspected physical abuse of children, making up 45% of all mandated reports made by teachers and almost 10% of all mandated reports received by Tusla within the same timeframe; 900 mandated reports were filed by teachers relating to suspected neglect; 812 reports relating to suspected sexual abuse; 717 related to suspected emotional abuse.

Tusla received its highest number of reports from teachers in October 2018, with 371 reports filed. This was followed by May 2018, with 332 received, and March 2018, with 336.

While there was a decrease in the number of mandated reports made in the summer holidays, almost 260 reports were filed in June, July, and August 2018. A further 219 were filed last June and July.

Prior to December 2017, teachers and schools were obligated to report child protection and welfare concerns under Department of Education child-protection procedures, that included a reporting process.

However, in December 2017, mandatory reporting of abuse came into force, with teachers among the persons now legally required to report any knowledge, belief or reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect.

When mandated reporting was introduced in December 2017, teachers made 70 reports about suspected harm to children in that month alone.

Last year, teachers filed 2,790 mandated reports, and a further 1,614 reports were received by Tusla from registered teachers up until July of this year, the latest month with available figures.

Tusla could not provide a further breakdown on how these mandated reports progressed. The high number of mandated reports made by teachers is “not surprising” due to the nature of their work, said Moira Leydon, assistant general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland.

“Teachers are in the classroom day in and day out with students,” she said. “They are also likely to be the person to whom they disclose [ allegations of abuse].”

When there is a strong concern of suspected child abuse or neglect, teachers alert the school’s designated liaison person, which is usually the school principal, said Ms Leydon.

After assessing the concern, a co-signed report is submitted. However, services such as family support or intervention are not always delivered as efficiently as they could be, Ms Leydon said.

“Getting solutions to the issue raised can take a long time, simply because Tusla is overstretched,” she said.

After a mandated report is submitted, teachers are also not necessarily involved in the case follow-up.

“There does need to be more clarity on how these mandated reports are followed up on,” said Ms Leydon. “The concern is what happens next.”

The high number of reports filed by teachers shows they are taking their role as mandated persons seriously, according to the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO).

The Department of Education also introduced revised child-protection guidelines in line with Children First in 2017, said an INTO spokesman.

“The new guidelines have absolutely increased the workload facing principals in particular,” said the spokesman.

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