10 May 2022
By Elaine Murphy
John Beausang and Yvonne Rayner, Development Managers with South Munster Citizens Information Service spoke recently about the issue of child abuse and child protection in the State. Under the Children First Act 2015, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect children and young people and keep them safe. It is important that families, communities and professionals can recognise when a child or young person is being harmed and that they know what action to take in response.
What is child abuse?
Child abuse is categorised into 4 different types. A child may experience more than one form of abuse. The 4 types of abuse are neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse.
Neglect occurs when a child does not get proper care or supervision to the extent that the child is harmed physically or developmentally. Ongoing neglect is recognised as being extremely harmful to the development and well-being of a child and may have serious long-term negative consequences.
Some of the features of child neglect include:
- Children being left alone without adequate care and supervision
- Malnourishment, lacking food, unsuitable food or erratic feeding
- Failure to provide adequate care for the child’s medical and developmental needs
- Inadequate living conditions – unhygienic conditions, environmental issues, including lack of adequate heating and furniture
- Lack of adequate clothing, Inattention to basic hygiene
- Lack of protection and exposure to danger or lack of supervision appropriate to the child’s age
- Persistent failure to attend school
Emotional abuse occurs where a child’s need for affection, approval and security is not being met by the child’s parents or carer. Emotional abuse is not easy to recognise because the effects are not easily seen. The effects of emotional abuse on a child may be shown through the child’s behaviour, emotional state or development.
Yvonne elaborates, “Emotional abuse of a child may include rejection, lack of comfort and love, lack of continuity of care, continuous lack of praise and encouragement, persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming of the child, bullying, conditional parenting in which care or affection of a child depends on his or her behaviours or actions, extreme overprotectiveness, inappropriate non-physical punishment (for example, locking a child in bedroom), ongoing family conflicts and family violence and seriously inappropriate expectations of a child relative to their age and stage of development.”
Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts a child physically or puts them at risk of being physically hurt. It may occur as a single incident or as a pattern of incidents. Examples of physical abuse include beating, slapping, hitting or kicking, pushing, shaking or throwing, use of excessive force in handling, deliberate poisoning, fabricated/induced illness and female genital mutilation.
Sexual abuse occurs where a child is used by someone for their own or someone else’s sexual gratification or arousal. It includes the child being involved in sexual acts or exposing the child to sexual activity directly or through pornography.
How do you recognise child abuse?
You may have observed signs of abuse or have grounds for concern such as, where a child has a suspicious injury or appears distressed for no obvious reason. If you ignore what may be signs or symptoms of abuse, it could result in ongoing harm to the child.
Alternatively, a child may make a direct or indirect disclosure. A child needs to have someone they can trust in order to feel able to disclose abuse they may be experiencing. They need to know that they will be believed and will get the help they need.
You should always inform Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) if you are concerned that a child may have been, is being, or is at risk of being abused or neglected. John confirms “It is not necessary for you to prove that abuse has occurred to report a concern to Tusla. You just need to have reasonable grounds for concern. It is then up to Tusla to assess concerns that are reported to it.”
How do I report my concerns?
Tusla has a statutory responsibility to assess all reports of child welfare and protection concerns. Anyone who suspects that a child is being abused, or is at risk of abuse, has a duty to report their suspicions to Tusla. You should report your concerns to the Tusla Social Work Duty Officer in the area the child lives.
You can report your concerns in person, by writing or by phone. While you can report your concerns anonymously, Tusla does not normally reveal the names of people who report suspicions of child abuse unless they have permission to do so.
What happens after a report is received by Tusla?
Tusla will consider your report, and if concerns are found after the initial checks, further evaluation involving a detailed examination of the child and family’s circumstances will follow. It will then take whatever action is required to protect the child. If no concerns are found, then the information gathered is recorded and kept on a confidential file where it will be examined if further concerns or more information comes to light.
If you need to report your concerns outside normal office hours (weekends and at night) you should report your concerns to the Garda Síochána. Remember, under the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, as long as you report what you believe to be true and you do it in good faith you, cannot be sued for making a false or malicious report.
If you make a report about a child, Tusla will normally acknowledge it, and may contact you for further information, if necessary. It is understandable that you would like to be assured that the matter is being followed up. However, to protect the privacy of the child and family, it may not be possible for Tusla to inform you of the progress or outcome of Tusla’s contact with the child or family.
Are parents informed if concerns are reported?
If you are the parent of a child being assessed following the reporting of concerns, you should be told why and you should be given the opportunity to respond. Concerns about your child should be explained to you.
For anyone needing information, advice or who have an advocacy issue, they can call a member of the local Citizens Information team in Cork City at 0818 07 6950 (City Centre) or 0818 07 6850 (City North), they will be happy to assist and make an appointment if necessary. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4.30pm. Alternatively, you can email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.citizensinformation.ie for further information.