Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Wednesday, November 27, 1996

Child-abuse reporting issue raised


CHILD-care professionals, the health boards and the Department of Health are trying to confuse the public about mandatory reporting of possible child abuse, according to the ISPCC. Those who oppose the introduction of a legal obligation to report suspicions or allegations of child abuse are making a simple issue more complex than it needs to be, Mr Cian O Tighearnaigh, chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said. He was introducing a survey which the ISPCC commissioned from Irish Marketing Surveys.

The survey asked 1,400 adults whether "the Government should introduce the mandatory reporting by professionals of child abuse". A large majority, 84 per cent, said it should, 2 per cent said it should not and 13 per cent were undecided. Asked if "all appropriate professionals should be obliged by law to report actual or suspected child abuse to the health boards and gardai", 87 per cent said they should, 3 per cent said they should not and 11 per cent did not know. But asked whether "the current health board and gardai response is effective in preventing child abuse and protecting children", only 24 per cent were satisfied with the response, 48 per cent said these agencies were not effective and 28 per cent said they did not know.

Only three questions were asked in the survey.

Mr O Tighearnaigh dismissed some of the objections which have been put forward to mandatory reporting. On the possibility of families being stigmatised because of an allegation, he said that "the notion of stigmatisation is nonsense". If a person has a suspicion that a local house is being burgled, gardai do not refuse to look into it for fear of stigmatising a well-known local burglar who might be up to his old tricks again, he said. Nobody suggested that crime should not be investigated for fear of stigmatising criminals, he added. He also dismissed objections based on doctor-patient confidentiality. "Arguments about doctor-patient confidentiality have no reality." Doctors go into court every day and break confidentiality, he said.

Asked why more questions had not been asked in the survey - the second question, for instance, does not allow for different responses to suspicions as distinct from knowledge of abuse - he said the lSPCC had not wanted to introduce a whole range of complexity into the situation or produce a confused response.

© The Irish Times Wednesday, November 27, 1996