An historic day for children in Ireland

Access to information is essential if child abuse is to be prevented, writes Evin Daly.

30 September, 2011, was a quietly momentous day for the children of Ireland. Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn announced the publication of a directive that updates and mandates the provision of child abuse prevention information to children, parents and teachers in schools.

The Stay Safe programme has been in place for 20 years but up until now teaching it has been optional. Some 123 Catholic schools took the option not to teach the programme. What a tragedy. In 20 years how many children missed the opportunity to learn life-saving skills from this programme? How many children not taught suffered abuse?

The updated document says: “The Stay Safe programme for primary schools plays a valuable role in helping children develop the skills necessary to enable them to recognise and resist abuse and potentially abusive situations." And so it does. It also adds transparency. The guidelines include improved oversights for boards of management. The provision of abuse recognition and prevention information to parents, caregivers and children is the cornerstone of any country's child protection policy.

The Stay Safe programme designates a reporter - a designated liaison person (DLP) - in every school primary and secondary school through whom any questions, reports or complaints of abuse are directed. That person must have their name displayed prominently near the entrance of the school. This may seem like a trivial component of the programme but it's not. It makes access to information, and the ability to report abuse, readily available to anyone who needs to. It also does something else. It warns abusers that someone is watching over the children in the school, someone the children can talk to readily. Someone who can get those abusers arrested and the child protected.

Why is this access to abuse information so important? Our research has shown that while parents have a good general knowledge of what child abuse is, specifics are another matter. In issues of abuse prevention the devil is in the details and knowledge of the specifics are absolutely essential. This ignorance goes further than the public - members of the Gardaí and medical professionals - doctors, specialists and nurses - are also lacking due to an absence of training about abuse. Research from our other international centers in the U.S., the Middle East and Australia reflect the same issues: it’s not unique to Ireland. Providing information about abuse and how to protect against it is a simple concept, but one that has not been widely implemented.

Perhaps it seemed too obvious, too straightforward an answer to some. That's why we gave away over one million copies of our child protection materials in the last year around Ireland and the world - to Interpol and many US, UK, Australian and New Zealand-based law enforcement and advocacy agencies. The Gardaí, however, turned down our offer to provide a free child abuse information packet to every member of the force - twice.

Evin Daly is the CEO of One Child International Inc., a nonprofit child advocacy group.