Only those intent on remaining blind wouldn’t know that we have a huge problem in this country when it comes to the welfare of our most vulnerable.
Children are being abused. Abused physically, abused emotionally, abused sexually, and abused by neglect. This is not a problem of the Catholic Church, or even of the HSE, it is a problem for all of us.
Our silence can be something that enables the abuser. We often step away from conflict in the belief that ‘it’s not my problem’. We often don’t see what we don’t want to see.
But I work in a school, and as with any school in the state system, we have the potential to face any of the issues listed above. Add to that issues such as depression or thoughts of suicide. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the signs, and sometimes schools are the places where abuse is disclosed, and where help begins.
If I were to suspect that a student has been abused in any form, or that a child is at risk, then legal process takes over. My role at that point is to document clearly what has been said to me, and to bring the student to my principal. The principals’ job is to contact the HSE, or if necessary, the Gardai.
But a referral to the HSE is only one step. What happens to a student after a referral has been made? What supports are put in place?
Unfortunately, 5 years of cutbacks have ensured that far less resources are in place to help children who have been abused. A simple example – CARI is an organisation that helps children who have been sexually abused. CARI has had its funding reduced by the HSE. How is a decision like that made? How can someone decide to reduce counselling for an abused child?
In schools we try to do our best. Guidance Counselors and Chaplains are trained in pastoral counselling (some have trained to become psychotherapists), and offer counselling within school. But there is a limit to what you can do in a school setting. Those who have been abused need proper care, they need guidance as they face into an unknown future that could involve Garda interviews, medical examinations, court appearances, and possibly being taken away from their family and into fostering – and this can be the best outcome for a child.
Our system isn’t perfect. Philip Boucher Hayes has revealed horrific negligence in the case of Maggie. He says he has evidence of a number of other cases.
And all of this is following a referendum that was supposed to enshrine the rights of children. As my friend Donal O’Keeffe commented in his blog, it’s “No Country For Small Children”
But it can be. If we all do our part, if we all listen to what children are saying, and to what children are trying to say, then we can help them.
Note: I’ve deliberately not given any stories or illustrations. I make a promise to my students. Privacy unless I think someone will get hurt. I don’t want to reveal anything that may make a student feel that I’ve betrayed their confidence.