Caring for our Children
Our Parish Child-Protection Policy and Procedures
(Updated 14 May 2008)
Over the past 10 years the Church has published a number of documents governing the issue of child protection. This parish booklet is based on these documents and the State guidelines ‘Children First’. Its aim is clear and simple – to help the parish meet its obligations to safeguard children and young people in all Church-related activities. I am very pleased that the Diocese of Meath works closely with the statutory bodies in putting these necessary protocols in place and we will continue to do so over the coming years. In this way we will create in so far as it is humanly possible a safe and protective environment for the young parishioners in our community.
Most Reverend Michael Smith
Bishop of Meath
- Valuing our young parishioners
Children and young people have a very important place in our parish. We celebrate their faith at Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation; they are the life and focus of our parish schools; their energies and initiatives play a vital role in many of our parish activities. We are always eager to encourage their active participation in parish life. Towards this end, we are committed to doing everything we can to create a safe and welcoming environment for our young parishioners, where their welfare is paramount. It is our parish policy to ensure that our young people will be protected and supported in all activities.Our parish wants to assist the dedicated parents and volunteers who give generously of themselves by taking part in child-related parish ministry. Among these activities in our parish are the following (LIST IN FULL) – ‘Do this in Memory’ Programme, Young Pioneers, ‘out of school’ sacramental preparation,choirs where youth are involved, Ministers of the Word, Ministers of the Eucharist and altar serving. We realise that valuing young people means valuing volunteers as well; insisting on safe practices, eliminating the necessity for people to take risks and providing them with support will make for a healthier and safer gathering. This parish policy, addressed to parish clergy, staff and volunteers, covers these activities and all circumstances where people under the age of 18 are involved in Church-related ministry. Activities involving our parish schools are governed by each school’s child protection policy, ratified by the Board of Management.It is important that, from the outset, we make and emphasise the following confidentiality statement in accordance with the guidelines of the civil authorities. Where child protection concerns arise, information must be shared on a ‘need to know’ basis in the best interest of the child. Sharing information in this regard is not a breach of confidentiality. It is best practice that parents and children are told if personal information is being shared, unless doing so could put the child at further risk.
- Our Parish Child Protection Representative
Some adults in our parish have undertaken the Keeping Safe child protection training, which was delivered at deanery level by the Health Services Executive. Our parish is also committed to making provision for ongoing support and future training for our volunteers in order to keep up to date on best practice in youth care and ministry.We have a Child Protection Representative (CPR) and Deputy Child Protection Representative who can be contacted through the Parochial House. These have been selected because they have good listening skills and sufficient knowledge about child protection issues. They are well familiar with parish activities and we are grateful that they are available to our volunteers and parishioners to help us create an ever more child friendly spirit in our pastoral ministry.The tasks of the Child Protection Representative can be outlined as follows –
- to oversee the implementation of this policy, carrying out an annual review and reporting to the parish clergy (see ‘Annual Review’ in Appendix I)
- to provide support, assistance and arrange training for parish volunteers working with children and young people
- to receive concerns about the welfare of children involved in parish activities and to deal with them as indicated in the HSE training programme and in accordance with the procedures provided (see Section 5 below).
- Good practice for working with young people
Our parish is fully committed to the guidelines outlined in ‘Children First’ and ‘Our Duty of Care’ published by the Department of Health and Children and all relevant Church policies on child protection. The following Code of Behaviour must be adhered to by all parish groups working with young people:
- Volunteers are expected to create an environment where children are valued, encouraged and affirmed, have their rights respected and are treated as individuals, eliminating as far as possible any threatening, violent or degrading behaviour
- Each parish group must provide an adequate and appropriate number of volunteers to supervise activities; depending on the ages and activities involved, it is recommended that there should be two adults per group of eight, allowing for an additional adult for each group of eight thereafter
- All must be treated with equal respect; favouritism is not acceptable and boundaries must be protected
- Emphasis is placed on listening to young people
- Participants should not be left unattended
- Dangerous behaviour or horseplay will not be allowed
- Verbal abuse, bullying or physical punishment of children is not permissible under any circumstances
- Facilities for parish activities must be suitable, safe and secure
- Volunteers should not undertake any journey alone with a child or young person; in exceptional circumstances, if only one adult is available, there should be a minimum of two young people present
- Meetings with young parishioners will take place in locations which allow for transparency and accountability (designated office or room with clear glass window); visits to private homes in the absence of parents are not acceptable
- Only age-appropriate language, contact and materials are permissible
- Under no circumstances should volunteers use, provide or permit alcohol, tobacco or drugs when working with young people
- Photographs of our young parishioners taking part in these activities can only be published with parental permission
- Records of attendance and parental consent should be kept; all records are kept in a safe and confidential manner
- An Incident Report Form should be completed in the event of an accident or incident taking place; these forms are available from the Child Protection Representative
- Our young parishioners with special needs or disabilities may depend on adults more than other children for their care and safety, so appropriately trained or experienced volunteers may be required; this applies likewise for children and young people who are vulnerable; the involvement of these children and young people should mean that the adult – child ratios be adjusted; sensitivity and clear communication is essential; it is also very beneficial to develop a good understanding with their parents or guardians.
Some further guidelines for specific activities:
- Altar Servers: the Sacristan should try to remain in the sacristy when the servers are present, looking out for their safety with equipment and helping them to vest only by demonstration; on weekdays, Altar Servers should arrive and leave together; practices will be arranged in cooperation with parents and schools, having the appropriate number of supervisors present; the stores and counting-office are considered out of bounds
- Parish Facilities: we require all non-parish groups using these facilities to have suitable insurance and their own child protection policies
- Parish Schools are obliged to follow the guidelines laid down by the Department of Education and Science; the school policy covers such situations as school confessions and visits by the pupils to the churches
- Parish Choirs: at least two adults should be present well in advance of each practice to make sure the participants are safe in the church; similar provision should be made at the end of the rehearsal
- Visiting Clergy who are unknown in this parish will be expected to provide some indication that they are in good standing
- Parish Offices must have a policy to determine the proper usage of computers and internet facilities; there is one permanent parish computer which is the property of the parish and is guarded with a restricted password; this computer does not permit internet access
- Recruiting & Supporting our Parish Volunteers
When looking for new volunteers, each parish group should clearly identify the description of the roles to be filled as well as the minimum qualities and skills required. Application Forms should be completed, collecting relevant information including any past experience in this area and a declaration that there is no reason why one is unsuitable for working with young people (see ‘Our Duty to Care’ pp 36-39). References should be supplied and followed. It is advisable to meet with applicants as this provides an opportunity to discuss the volunteer’s application form, suitability for working with children, as well as exploring some important aspects of the work, including child protection awareness. Safe practice starts with safe recruitment procedures.After the recruit has been ratified, it may be helpful to set aside a probationary period to be decided in advance. Some training should be provided, not only for new recruits but all volunteers in order to maintain standards and good practice. Our parish Child Protection Representative has a role to play in facilitating this ongoing support.
- Responding to Child Protection Concerns
When concerns are raised about the welfare of any child taking part in parish-related activities – whether suspected or disclosed – these should be brought to the attention of the Child Protection Representative. These concerns can be categorised into four different categories – neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse – as described in ‘Children First’ (chapter 3 and Appendix 1).If young members of our parish disclose concerns to parish personnel or volunteers, it is our aim that they will feel comfortable about voicing the matter in a safe, supportive, understanding and sensitive environment. The following point is very important: You cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality under any circumstances to a person who wishes to speak to you about a situation of abuse or suspected abuse. All volunteers are expected to deal with the matter by bringing the information to our parish Child Protection Representative, doing so promptly where children may still be in danger. (This does not apply to situations involving the Sacramental Seal, which is inviolable).The following actions should be taken in the event of disclosure:
- stay calm and listen – give the child the time to say what he or she want
- don’t ask leading questions or make suggestions
- don’t stop the child recalling significant events but don’t make him or her repeat the story unnecessarily
- reassure the child that they have done the right thing but don’t promise to keep a secret
- explain what needs to be done next in age appropriate terms
- record the discussion as carefully as possible, passing it on to our parish Child Protection Representative
The following points should be carefully noted:
- With regard to all instances of suspected or disclosed abuse, where there are ‘reasonable grounds for concern’ (cf ‘Children First; 4.3.2), the Parish Representative will report directly to the Health Services Executive using the standard reporting form; matters relating to parish personnel will also be referred to the relevant Church authorities; during ‘out of hours’ and in the case of an emergency, where a child is at serious and immediate risk, reports should be made to An Garda Síochána without delay.
- Informal consultation – a social worker can be contacted for advice to determine where there is a need for the Parish Representative to make a report regarding the child based on the information at hand.
- In the event that the Parish Representative makes a decision not to make a formal referral to the HSE or Gardaí, the matter should be carefully recorded. The person who raised the initial concern should be informed, given reasons for this decision and assured that the matter will be reviewed over a defined period. Volunteers should be advised that, if they remain concerned, they are free to consult with or report to the HSE or Gardaí. The provisions of the Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act (1998) apply once they report “reasonably and in good faith”.
Further information on the guidelines for handling concerns is available from our parish Child Protection Representative.
- Responding to Complaints against Parish Personnel or Volunteers
Any concerns or grievances about how this parish provides for child safety, supervision and protection will be taken very seriously by our parish and dealt with appropriately, having been forwarded to the Child Protection Representative. It is paramount that precedence is given to the care of children above all other factors. Advice should be sought to ensure fair procedures. All efforts ought to be made to deal with these matters with justice for all and within an appropriate timescale.
- In the case of a complaint being made or a concern being raised about a lay volunteer, the Child Protection Representative should refer the concern to the Health Services Executive (or to An Garda Síochána during ‘out of hours’ and in the case of an emergency)
- In a case involving parish clergy or staff, the Child Protection Representative should refer the concern to the Health Services Executive and the Diocesan Delegate should be contacted by the Child Protection Representative through Bishop’s House, Dublin Road, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath
As indicated in Section 5 above, further information on the handling of complaints is available from our parish Child Protection Representative.
Annual Child Protection Review
Conducted by the Parish Child Protection Representative
List all child-related activities in the parish and any child protection training undertaken in the past 12 months. Check that the following practices are in place:
- Does each group have adequate and appropriate number of volunteers to supervise activities in line with recommended ratios?
- Were new volunteers recruited and trained as required?
- Are participants in these activities left unattended?
- Are all facilities in use up to health and safety standards?
- Are guidelines on travel arrangements and individual meetings with young people being followed?
- Have issues arisen relating to any of the following – inappropriate behaviour, photographs, internet, overnight trips?
- Are all records – consent, medical needs, recruitment, Incident Report Forms etc – up to date?
- Have volunteers expressed concerns about acceptable behaviour of participants?
- Have participants and parents been made aware of parish policies relating to child protection, good behaviour, complaints procedure?
- Were the altar servers given proper training and attention during the past year?
- Is best practice being followed when dealing with minors working in the parish office?
- Do non-parish groups using our facilities have suitable insurance and their own child protection policies?
- Have visiting clergy provided some indication that there are in good standing?
The review concludes with an assessment of the handling of disclosures, concerns and complaints received.
Code of Behaviour for young parishioners taking part in Church activities
(this information should be given to parents in addition to the Consent Form prior to joining parish activities)
- Our parish expects that young people will act respectfully of themselves, their supervisors and fellow participants
- Participants must accept the ground rules of activities which supervisors will have clearly explained to them
- Signed consent from parents will be sought
- Parents should be asked to indicate if their children have any specific dietary requirements, medical conditions or special needs
- Young people will not have access to the use of email or the internet when participating in our parish programmes
- Breaches of discipline and disruptive behaviour, including bullying, will be dealt with in a manner that is fair and transparent by more than one volunteer; discipline issues will be handled in partnership with parents (or guardians) and recorded when appropriate
- Young people or their parents who are dissatisfied with any aspect of activities or services can follow a complaints procedure, namely to inform the leader of the programme or, when appropriate, to contact one of our parish Child Protection Representative through the Parochial House.
Contact details for the HSE duty social worker in our local area
Meath Area 046 9030615/9030616
Outside office hours, An Garda Siochana (046 9240999 ) can be contacted in cases of emergency
The parish delegates for Child Protection are Josephine Fitzsimons and Seoirse O’hAodha.