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(Ireland) Govt lacks ability to investigate abuse of special ed students

Sept 16, 2023, Independent: Parents face difficulty reporting alleged abuse of children with special educational needs at schools

State’s ability to investigate cases of alleged harm questioned

Parents have raised concerns about the State’s ability to investigate and address cases where it is alleged children with special educational needs have been harmed in schools. The cases include alleged assaults, bullying, intimidation, seclusion and restraint. Several families told the Sunday Independent of difficulties they encountered when trying to report incidents where children were physically, emotionally or psychologically harmed because of how they were treated by teachers or staff.

In some cases the families reported the allegations to gardaí [NATIONALPOLICE], but it was not possible to proceed with prosecutions because of difficulties the children have communicating....

Inclusion Ireland chief executive Derval McDonagh said an inability to access justice is a major issue for children with special educational needs.

“We do hear from parents at times where there is a serious issue at school, and because the child cannot rely on speech to communicate or might be non-speaking, they find it incredibly hard to get justice for their child. They try all avenues and unfortunately cannot get answers. That is incredibly distressing for families and we feel it is discriminatory,” she said.

This newspaper is aware of two other legal cases being taken by families after they claimed a child was secluded and restrained in school. About a dozen families in total said they have had similar experiences.

An Inclusion Ireland survey of 270 members carried out online in May showed 10pc of parents said they had a child who was secluded in school. Another 10pc said their children were restrained or immobilised with physical force, a device or medication.

“Unfortunately, when a child is secluded or restrained it is a response by that school to a child who is in distress, maybe not coping in the school environment or with aspects of the school day, but that is not the child’s fault,” Ms McDonagh said. “It’s an environmental problem, a school problem and an education problem if the set-up and supports are not there to meet a child’s needs.”….

The DPP said it does prosecute cases where victims or other witnesses have communication difficulties, and highlighted how specialist garda interviewers, technology and intermediaries may be used to enable victims to give evidence….

The Department of Education said any concerns it is made aware of are brought to the attention of gardaí and Tusla. It has no powers to investigate child protection concerns but has significant oversight measures in place. Its inspectorate carried out 100 child protection and safeguarding inspections last year.

It said where a school board of management fails to investigate a request complaints can be made to the Ombudsman for Children, who may independently investigate complaints.


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