Parents and guardians have the primary responsibility for the care and protection of their children. However, at times they may need support and assistance from the State in carrying out their responsibilities as a parent. In some cases, for a range of reasons, parents are not able to provide proper care and protection for their children, and more intensive assistance is needed to keep the children safe from harm. Interventions by the State aim to build on the existing strengths of the family. Support is offered to help the family to overcome any difficulties and to ensure that the child is safe. With assistance, most families can make the necessary changes to ensure the safety of their child.
While the role of parents is to protect their children, society also has a duty to promote the welfare and safety of children. Everyone should be alert to the possibility that children with whom they are in contact may be being abused or at risk of being abused. The wider community of relatives, friends, neighbours, professionals and voluntary workers are well placed to be aware of a child’s welfare. They should know how to recognise and respond to the possibility of abuse or neglect, so as to ensure that the most effective steps are taken to protect a child and to contribute to the on-going safety of children.
The process of identifying and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect can be difficult for both the person who makes the report and the families involved. However, a failure to act when abuse or neglect is occurring can result in children being left in harmful situations, and could potentially result in long term damage to their well-being. Acting sensitively but responsibly is a universal duty.
There are a number of key principles of Child Protection and Welfare that inform both Government policy and best practice for those dealing with children. These are:
- The safety and welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility
- The best interests of the child should be paramount
- The overall aim in all dealings with children and their families is to intervene proportionately to support families to keep children safe from harm
- Interventions by the State should build on existing strengths and protective factors in the family
- Early intervention is key to getting better outcomes. Where it is necessary for the State to intervene to keep children safe, the minimum intervention necessary should be used
- Children should only be separated from parents/guardians when alternative means of protecting them have been exhausted
- Children have a right to be heard, listened to and taken seriously. Taking account of their age and understanding, they should be consulted and involved in all matters and decisions that may affect their lives
- Parents/guardians have a right to respect, and should be consulted and involved in matters that concern their family
- A proper balance must be struck between protecting children and respecting the rights and needs of parents/guardians and families. Where there is conflict, the child’s welfare must come first
- Child protection is a multiagency, multidisciplinary activity. Agencies and professionals must work together in the interests of children
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