County Derry teacher warns over training to spot child abuse

Ulster Teachers' Union president Sandra Brown. (2904MM30)
Ulster Teachers' Union president Sandra Brown. (2904MM30)

A County Derry teacher has warned that her profession must become better trained and equipped to identify and help child victims of emotional abuse.

Sandra Brown from Drumrane Primary School in Dungiven made the comments in her capacity as the new President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.

She spoke as Westminster considers a so-called new ‘Cinderella Law’, which would see parents who deny their children affection facing prosecution for the first time.

This follows a campaign by the charity Action for Children.

Ms Brown said: “This is a very real situation in Northern Ireland. In 2013, according to NSPCC, 13% of children here on the Child Protection Register were placed there as a result of emotional abuse.

“The charity recently stated too that nationally the number of child emotional abuse cases it referred to police and children’s services rose by 47% in the last year.

“Teachers are often in the front line when it comes to spotting a child who may be facing abuse of this, or indeed any other kind. However, because of the sensitivities involved they need to be equipped to handle such a situation.”

Ms Brown said the Department of Education is currently reviewing teacher training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) but warned that in the meantime children may be falling through the cracks.

“Although schools and teachers cannot be expected to take up the slack for issues which potentially have their roots at home, as teachers we do need training and support to deal with pupils facing these situations when they manifest themselves in school,” she said.

“By being educated in this area of identifying and supporting potential abuse victims, a teacher can help stop the abuse spiral for that child.

“However, without such training schools have a Hobson’s choice of whether to ‘buy in’ such support– maybe bringing in a counsellor once or twice a week - or use money in other areas.

“That obviously has a financial implication for a head at a time when schools are already under such financial pressure to make hard-pressed budgets go further.”