Child abuse

Introduction

The purpose of the Children First Act 2015 and the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children is to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect, provide for mandatory reporting by key professionals and improve child safeguarding arrangements in organisations providing services to children.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is categorised into 4 different types by the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children. A child may experience more than one form of abuse.

The 4 types of abuse are:

  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Neglect

Neglect occurs when a child does not get adequate care or supervision to the extent that the child is harmed physically or developmentally. Chronic neglect is recognised as being extremely harmful to the development and well-being of a child and may have serious long-term negative consequences. It is generally defined in terms of an omission of care, where a child’s health, development or welfare is impaired by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, medical care, intellectual stimulation or supervision and safety.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse occurs where a child’s need for affection, approval and security is not being met by the child’s parents or carer. Examples of this are unreasonable disciplinary measures, premature imposition of responsibility and exposure to domestic violence. The effects of emotional abuse on a child are shown through the child’s behaviour, emotional state or development.

Physical abuse

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 are shaking a child, use of excessive force or allowing a substantial risk of injury to a child.

The Children First Act 2015 abolishes the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in court proceedings. This defence could previously be used by a parent or other person in authority who physically disciplined a child.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse occurs where a child is used by someone for their own or someone else’s gratification or sexual arousal.

How do you recognise child abuse?

Child abuse is not always readily visible and your ability to recognise it can depend as much on your willingness to accept the possibility of its existence as on your knowledge of child abuse. The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) provides information on the types of child abuse on its website.

It is not necessary for you to prove that abuse has occurred to report a concern to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla). All that is required is that you have reasonable grounds for concern. It is Tusla’s role to assess concerns that are reported to it.

You may have observed the signs of abuse or have grounds for concern such as, where a child has a suspicious injury or appears distressed for no obvious reason. A child may make a direct or indirect disclosure.

You should always inform Tusla if you are concerned that a child may have been, is being, or is at risk of being abused or neglected. If you ignore what may be symptoms of abuse, it could result in ongoing harm to the child.

If you are concerned about a child but unsure whether you should report it to Tusla, you may find it useful to contact Tusla to informally discuss your concern.

The Child and Family Agency, also known as Tusla, provides information on the types of child abuse on its website.

How do I report my 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 Children and Family Services local social work duty service 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.

Tusla will consider your report and decide whether it needs following up. If it does, Tusla will look for information from other sources and will contact the child and the child’s parents in order to establish what is going on. It will then take whatever action is required to protect the child.

If you need to report your concerns outside normal office hours (weekends and at night) you should report your concerns to the Garda Síochána.

Under the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, so 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.

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 afforded the opportunity to respond. Concerns about your child should be explained to you.

Information on a parent's rights is available on the Tusla website and in their leaflet on social work assessment of child protection and welfare concerns (pdf).

Duties of organisations

All organisations that provide services to children should develop specific policies and procedures on how to create a safe environment to prevent deliberate harm or abuse to the children availing of their services.

A list of organisations that have statutory responsibilities under the Children First Act 2015 can be found in the Child First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children. The legislation imposes deadlines on organisations in both carrying out a risk assessment and preparing a Child Safeguarding Statement.

A designated liaison person may be appointed to ensure that reporting procedures within your organisation are followed, so that child welfare and protection concerns are referred promptly to Tusla. Some designated liaison persons will be working in organisations where mandated persons are also employed.

Under the Children First Act 2015, mandated persons are people who have ongoing contact with children and families and who because of their qualifications, training and experience are in a key position to protect children from harm. This means that among their responsibilities they must report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to Tusla.

Information in relation to schools is available in our document on reporting child abuse at primary and post primary level.

You can find more information about what organisations need to do on the Tusla website.

Adults who have experienced abuse in childhood

The HSE National Counselling Service for adults with a history of child abuse provides counselling and support to any adult who has experienced abuse in childhood. Since its establishment, its primary clients have been adults who experienced abuse whilst in the care of the state as children. You can refer yourself by calling a Freephone number. GPs and others can also make referrals. The service is available free of charge in all regions of the country.

Connect is a free telephone counselling and support service for adults who have experienced abuse, trauma or neglect in childhood. It is an additional service to the HSE’s National Counselling Service. To speak to a counsellor call:

  • Ireland: Freephone 1800 477 477
  • UK and Northern Ireland: Freephone 00800 477 477 77
  • Outside Ireland and UK: 00353 1 865 7495 (International call rates apply)

If you wish to report the abuse to the Gardaí you should contact your local Garda station in person or by telephone.

Page edited: 22 January 2018