Almost literally the last thing Emily Logan did before leaving the Office of the Ombudsman was to send copies of a report (which it is not intended will ever be published) to the families of several children who have made allegations of sexual and physical abuse against teachers in their school. The nine children were all between the ages of 5 and 11 at the time of the alleged abuse which they claim was inficted on them at the hands of three female teachers.
I have seen that report, and people may be familiar with the allegations of the children from Justine McCarthy’s reporting of it in The Sunday Times. Emily Logan’s report finds that the HSE did not properly investigate the claims of the children even though they were numerous and in large part supported each other. It also finds the School’s board of management and the Department of Education were deficient in their actions too.
What people will find shocking regardless of whether there was any abuse or not is that as recently as 8 years ago, and with all the supposed checks and protections that exist, that this very serious series of allegations was never investigated properly by any of the people who were supposed to have children’s welfare as their number one priority
It started in the Summer of 2006 with allegations of bullying and physical assault being made by parents and children against one teacher at the school and unfolded horifically for all concerned over the subsequent two years.
“It was alleged that the child had been pinched leaving two bruises. The Parents of Child E made a formal written complaint to the chair concerning Teacher B, for the alleged assault, and the principal, for the handling of the complaint.”
The parents of another child also came forward with complaints of bullying and harsh treatment, this time against the principal
“The parents of Child A sought dialogue with the principal. The principal originally refused to meet with the parents until the allegation which the principal denied, was withdrawn.”
Those complaints were dismissed by the Board of Management at the school with no explanation of what had happened or consideration of the report of the child’s GP.
“The Board of Management at its meeting considered, in great detail, the complaints which you made and concluded the complaints are not substantiated.”
As the new school term began more disclosures were made by children and this time the allegations were of potential sexual abuse by the teachers.
“Children E and F alleged that teacher A had engaged in acts taking place in the toilet involving the use of a thorny stick that were physically and potentially sexually abusive of them”
The parents of children E and F made statements to the Gardai, but prompted perhaps by the summary dismissal of previous complaints by the schools board of management they met with other parents in a local community hall to discuss the allegations. At the conclusion of that meeting several parents were in tears. Three days later the parents of Child D came forward disclosing …
“…an incident of potentially inappropriate of potentially sexually abusive nature that occurred in teh school toilet between Child D and Teacher A when Child D was in Senior Infants. This involved assistance with toileting which the parent believed was not warranted given the age and development of the child.”
Of significance was that this child also disclosed that Teacher A had a stick. Two months later Child K and Child L came forward.
“The parent asked Child K if Teacher A ever took any children out to the toilet. Child K said that Teacher A would take boys and girls who were bold out to the toilet. Child K stated that if the thorn stick was in the classroom, teacher A would bring it out. Child K stated that the children would always be crying when they came back into the classroom. Child K recalled hearing Teacher A say to one child coming back from the toilet “don’t tell your mammy or daddy”
The Special Needs Assistant present in that classroom said that no such incident occurred. Child E was assessed by a psychologist who arrived at the view that it was impossible to determine conclusively whether the child had been abused or not. Anxiety over the allegations and their repeated discussion in the child’s home could have made the child suggestible. But the psychologist noted other things they found “Very concerning”
“Child E has described indiscriminate and frequent slapping of Child E and other pupils by Teacher A with sticks, one of which was described as a thorny stick. I am particularly concerned by accounts of the child and the child’s classmates being brought individually to the toilet and slapped there.”
The psychologist knew there was an ongoing Garda investigation but added the recommendation that the HSE “Investigate concerns regarding the use of corporal punishment and harsh treatment of pupils”
However when parents of the children asked the HSE what action they were taking on foot of the children’s disclosures they effectively said that whatever the school did had nothing to do with them. “… the HSE remit was in relation to the welfare of the children and that matters or actions in relation to the school were outside the HSE control”
The HSE also did not inform the board of the school that the psychologist who had examined the children had recommended that the use of corporal punishment should be investigated. And somewhat improbably the HSE also told the Department of Education that it was, “not in receipt of a complaint of corporal punishment in relation to the any child attending School B”
Emily Logan’s report notes the case to be precisely the opposite of what the HSE stated.
Teacher A was placed on administrative leave by the board. Throughout the early part of that year more children came forward with more allegations of an overtly abusive nature. Child B reported being brought to the toilet by Teacher A who also brought the thorn stick.
“Child B also alleged that the stick was pressed against the child’s private parts through clothing. Later that summer Child B made disclosures involving a stick that were more clearly of a sexually abusive nature”
Child D came forward with a similar disclosure but only after the child had been taken out of the school and moved to another. Child D told a parent that Teacher A had hit the child’s private parts with a stick. The parents reported that Child D had stated that the child did not disclose earlier out of concern that the principal would be informed.
Child F made further extremely graphic disclosures. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse by Teacher A while the child was blindfolded. The child claimed Teacher B was present while the abuse took place. The child added that Teacher D had been told about the abuse and …
“The father stated that Child F said that the principal hurt them more than Teacher A and that they were more afraid of the principal.”
Child C came forward the following month reporting physical and sexual abuse in the toilets by Teacher A and that Teacher B and the principal had observed this. Of difficulty to anyone assessing the allegations was that these children reported seeing others being taken to the toilets by Teacher A but the parents of those other children denied any abuse had occurred. Indeed letters were circulated at the time claiming that Teacher A had the support of 90% of the parents in the school.
In August 2008 a garda file went to the DPP who recommended no prosecution. The principal was interviewed on the allegations by the School’s board of management and the board voted unanimously that the allegations were “without foundation, unwarranted and unsubstantiated”. A similar vote was held in Teacher A’s case, again it was unanimous, and Teacher A was invited to return from administrative leave. Both continue to teach at School B to the pres
The Children’s Ombudsman is not tasked with investigating individuals or establishing the truth or otherwise of the allegations made by the children. And the ombudsman notes that Teachers A and B and the Principal are entitled to and enjoy the full presumption of innocence.
That said you cannot escape Logan’s conclusion “Children A,B,C,D,E and F at various times made allegations of being hit by a stick. Many described the stick as a thorn stick. Children E and F complained at the time of being sore. Given the similarity in the allegations, this office believes that these allegations should have been investigated as allegations of potential physical abuse”
And not as corporal punishment as the HSE classified the claims. The Ombudsman says the HSE failed to investigate, as did the School’s board and the Department of Education should have been monitoring child safety more closely. This arose in part because Parents of two of the children attempted to get evidence from the board of management of the school about the implementation of the Stay Safe programme at the school. It had been introduced by the Department of Education in the early nineties and instructed young children in how to deal with unwanted advances and who to report them to. It transpired that the school’s policy on the Stay Safe programme regarded it as a …
“…teacher’s aid to be used in accordance with the Catholic ethos which demands that the law of god and of the church, and not of the child’s feelings, be the guiding principle”
The child’s feelings were not the guiding principle in the school’s written policy at the time the alleged abuse took place eight years ago. The law of god and the church were. There is no mention of what the school’s policy on the law of the land is.
Emily Logan makes a number of recommendations for the HSE, The Department and The Board of Management of the school concerned. But clearly that is about process and procedure. The real issue is that there is a school in the system over which a major cloud now hangs because two of the accused are still teaching there, one is the principal. The Ombudsman couldnt say anything about the guilt or innocence of those accused – that’s not her brief – but she could not be more explicit about these allegations not being properly investigated.
Tusla – the child and family agency – which has taken over child protection from the HSE says it is considering the findings.
I’ve been in touch with parents of the allegedly abused children. They say the School, the HSE and the Dept of Education have been given four weeks to indicate how they are responding to this report. They too are waiting and watching.