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Dealing with suspected abuse

Dealing with suspected abuse

1 Reporting Abuse 

If there are grounds for concern about the safety or welfare of a young player you should react to the concern. If unsure about whether or not certain behaviours are abusive and therefore reportable, you should contact the duty social worker in the Local Health Board or Social Services Department where you will receive advice. Grounds for concern include a specific indication from a player, a statement from a person who witnessed abuse or an illness, injury or behaviour consistent with abuse. Steps for reporting suspected abuse

(a) Observe and note dates, times, locations and contexts in which the incident occurred or suspicion was aroused, together with any other relevant information

(b) Report the matter as soon as possible to the designated officer within the Club/County responsible for reporting abuse, e.g. Children’s Officer. If the Children’s Officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the player has been abused or is at risk of abuse, s/he will make a
report to the Health Board/Social Services who have statutory responsibility to investigate and assess suspected or actual child abuse

(c) In cases of emergency, where a player appears to be at immediate and serious risk and the Children’s Officer is unable to contact a duty social worker, the Garda Authorities should be contacted. Under no circumstances should a player be left in a dangerous situation pending intervention by the Statutory Authorities

(d) If the Children’s Officer is unsure whether reasonable grounds for concern exist s/he can informally consult with the local health board/social services. S/he will be advised whether or not the  matter requires a formal report

Any Children’s Officer reporting suspected or actual child abuse to the Statutory Authorities should first inform the family of their intention to make such a report, unless doing so would endanger the player or undermine an investigation.

2 Response to a Young Player

When a young player discloses information of suspected abuse you should:

(a) Deal with any allegation of abuse in a sensitive and competent way through listening to and facilitating the player to tell about the problem, rather than interviewing about details of what happened

(b) Stay calm and not show any extreme reaction to what the player is saying. Listen compassionately, and take what the player is saying seriously

(c) Understand that the player has decided to tell something very important and has taken a risk to do so. The experience of telling should be a positive one so that the player will not mind talking to those involved in the investigation

(d) Be honest with the player and tell them that it is not possible to keep this information a secret

(e) Make no judgmental statements against the person whom the allegation is made

(f) Not question the player unless the nature of what she is saying is unclear. Leading questions should be avoided. Open, non-specific questions should be used such as “Can you explain to me what you mean by that”

(g) Check out the concerns with the parents/guardians before making a report unless doing so would endanger the player

(h) Give the player some indication of what would happen next, such as informing parents/guardians, Health Board or Social Services. It should be kept in mind that the player may have been threatened and may feel vulnerable at this stage

(i) Carefully record the details

(j) Pass on this information to the Children’s Officer/Designated Officer within the Club. Always reassure the player that they have done the right thing in telling you

3 Allegations Against Mentors

If an allegation of alleged child abuse is made against a mentor working within the Club/County or Association, the following procedures should be followed:

• The reporting procedure in respect of suspected child abuse (Step 1 - Reporting abuse)

• The procedure for dealing with the mentor (Step 4 - Dealing with the Mentor)

The safety of the player making the allegation should be considered and the safety of any other players who may be at risk. The club should take any necessary steps that may be necessary to protect its players. The issue of confidentiality is important – the mentor should be treated with respect and fairness.

4 Dealing with the Mentor

While the designated Children’s Officer makes the report to the local Health Board, the Chairperson of the club should deal with the mentor.

The Chairperson should privately inform the mentor that

(a) an allegation has been made against him/her

(b) the nature of the allegation

He/she should be afforded an opportunity to respond

His/her response should be noted and passed on to the Health Board/Social Services

The mentor should be asked to step aside pending the outcome of the investigation. When a mentor is asked to step aside it should be made clear that it is only a precautionary measure and will not prejudice any later disciplinary proceedings

The Club/County Children’s Officer should inform the National Children’s Officer that the mentor has been asked to stand aside. 

It is also the duty of all Association members to inform the National Children’s Officer of a mentor who is under investigation by a Statutory Authority.

The Ladies Gaelic Football Association can consider disciplinary action on the mentor but should ensure that this does not interfere with the investigation of the Statutory Authorities – the outcome of the investigation and any implications it might have will be considered during the Disciplinary procedure. 

It should be noted that the fact that the alleged abuser has not been prosecuted or been found guilty does not mean that they are appropriate to work with young people in the future. 

5 False Allegations

The Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, 1998 provides immunity from civil liability to persons who report child abuse ‘reasonably and in good faith’ to the Health Board or the Gardaí. The act also covers the offence of ‘false reporting’.

The main provisions of the Act are:

1. The provision of immunity from civil liability to any person who reports child abuse “reasonably and in good faith” to designated officers of Health Boards or any member of An Garda Siochána

2. The provision of significant protections for employees who report child abuse. These protections cover all employees and all forms of discrimination up to and including dismissal.

3. The creation of a new offence of false reporting of child abuse where a person makes a report of child abuse to the appropriate authorities “knowing that statement to be false”. This is a new criminal offence designed to protect innocent persons from malicious reports.

This law does not exist in Northern Ireland, but an individual who reports concerns in ‘good faith’ is not deliberately attempting to slander another person’s name. In Northern Ireland there is legislation, the Criminal Law Act (NI) 1967 which places the responsibility on everyone to report offences or to forward information to the police by emphasising the, ‘duty of every other person, who knows or believes, (a) that the offence or some other arrestable offences has been committed and (b) that he has information which is likely to secure, or to be material assistance in securing, the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person for that offence’.

6 Confidentiality 

Confidentiality should be maintained in respect of all issues and people involved in cases of abuse, welfare or bad practice. It is important that the rights of both the player and the person about whom the complaint has been made are protected.

The following points should be kept in mind:

  • A guarantee of confidentiality or undertakings regarding secrecy cannot be given, as the welfare of the player will supersede all other considerations 
  • All information should be treated in a careful and sensitive manner and should be discussed only with those who need to know 
  • Information should be conveyed to the parents/guardians of the player in a sensitive way about whom there are concerns 
  • Giving information to others on a ‘need to know’ basis for the protection of a player is not a breach of confidentiality 
  • All persons involved in a protection process (the player, her parents/guardians, the alleged offender, her family, mentors) should be afforded appropriate respect, fairness, support and confidentiality at all stages of the procedure 
  • Information should be stored in a secure place, with limited access to designated people 
  • The requirements of the Data Protection laws should be adhered to 
  • Breach of confidentiality is a serious manner
7 Anonymous Complaints 

Anonymous complaints can be difficult to deal with but should not be ignored. In all cases the safety and welfare of the player/s is paramount. Any such complaints relating to inappropriate behaviour should be brought to the attention of the Children’s Officer. The information should be checked out and handled in a confidential manner. 

8 Rumours

Rumours should not be allowed to hang in the air. Any rumours relating to inappropriate behaviour should be brought to the attention of the Children’s Officer and checked out without delay.

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Niamh Hayes