Tuesday, 13 May 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
303. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the requirements in place by his Department and the respective health boards to ensure that persons, under the aegis of his Department or the health boards, working with or transporting children or persons with a disability, have been screened and have Garda clearance in order that adequate protections are in place to prevent harm or assault to the children of the persons with a disability being cared for or being transported; the nature and extent of background checks or Garda clearance required; if he has satisfied himself that all possible steps are being taken to guarantee the safety of patients and clients in this context; the plans he has to add to or to improve the safety measures currently in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12596/03]
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. B. Lenihan): Guidelines on the recruitment and selection of staff in children's residential centres were issued by my Department in 1994 which included requirements in regard to Garda inquiries and also in regard to references and the contacting of referees. Expanded arrangements for Garda clearance were introduced in 1995 in respect of candidates for employment in areas of the health service where they would have access to children and vulnerable individuals. Health boards were notified at that time that, in circumstances where they fund the provision of services in respect of children and vulnerable individuals by external agencies, through section 65 grants or otherwise, application of the Garda clearance arrangements, where appropriate, should be on the same basis as that in place in respect of children's residential homes. Agencies were also reminded of the need for continuing review and strengthening of procedures in the area of recruitment and selection, particularly in relation to validation of information supplied by candidates and proactive verification of references.
It is worth stressing that, irrespective of whatever clearance arrangements are in place, it will continue to be necessary to bear in mind that criminal record checks, while being capable in appropriate circumstances of making a significant contribution to ensuring that unsuitable persons do not secure positions of trust, are not the sole answer to ensuring applicants' suitability for jobs particularly where children or other vulnerable persons could be open to abuse.
There will continue to be a particular onus of care on employers or organisations to maintain good employment practice both during the recruitment stage e.g. good interviewing practice, checking references and, also, when it comes to ensuring adequate supervision arrangements post recruitment.
Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children recognises the need to support community and voluntary groups develop best practice in their dealings with children. A document entitled, Our Duty to Care, was published in April 2002. It is based on Children First and on Northern Ireland's Our Duty To Care document and is available to all groups. Essentially, it promotes good practice and procedures for organisations dealing with children and consists of a booklet and fact sheets covering areas such as safe recruitment practice, developing safe management practices and policies and raising awareness of child abuse among volunteers and staff. It also provides advice on how to report concerns to the health boards. This is an extremely useful tool for voluntary organisations.
My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has informed me that it was envisaged that when the central vetting unit became fully operational and all its backlogs were cleared that a phased extension of Garda clearance arrangements to other groups would take place. To this end the Garda Commissioner has established a working group to examine the issue, taking account of all aspects of the vetting of persons coming in contact with children and vulnerable persons be they full-time, part-time, voluntary or community workers or students on placement. The work of the working group is ongoing at present.
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