Alongside our series of essays delving into the Irish vetting legislation, we’re going to spend a couple of weeks looking at the role of a specific officer in an organisation that works with children, with a focus on sports clubs in particular.
The role of the children’s officer in a club is a result of a club’s requirement to ensure that the protection and welfare of children is of paramount importance. In this essay we'll start to explore the role, what it is, what it's not, and how it's different from the other senior management positions in a voluntary sports club.
Club Children’s Officer should:
- Have good communication skills, be approachable and open minded
- Have good knowledge and be familiar with their Child Welfare and Protection Codes and Guidelines Children First 2011
- Have an understanding of relevant child welfare/protection legislation
- Have undertaken a Garda Vetting application
- Have attended the relevant awareness training on child welfare and protection and availed of Children’s Officer training
In addition, the Officer will have the following functions:
- To promote the Code of Ethics & Good Practice
- To influence policy and practice and to prioritise children’s needs
- To ensure that children know how and whom they can report their concerns to within the club. Information disclosed by a child should be dealt with in accordance with the Department of Health and Children’s Guidelines “Children First”
- To encourage the participation of parents/guardians in club activities
- To co-operate with parents to ensure that each child enjoys his/her participation in sport
- To act as a resource with regard to best practice in children’s soccer
- To report regularly to the Club Management Committee
- To monitor changes in membership and follow up any unusual dropout, absenteeism or club transfers by children or coach/volunteers
(Note that the above description is extracted from the FAI’s recommended best practice documentation).
VOICE OF THE CHILDREN
The job of the children’s welfare officer to have good working knowledge of the various child-welfare/protection guidelines and legislation. It is of course also the role of that officer to promote the code of ethics and good practice, and to report to the club Committee what steps the children’s welfare officer considers are required to ensure the creation of a quality atmosphere in any club.
In short, the role of the children’s welfare officer is to act as the voice of the children, at the highest levels within the club.
WHAT THE ROLE IS NOT
That said, it is clearly not the role of the children’s welfare to create new policies or practices within the club.
Instead, the role of the children’s welfare officer is, in part, to bring to the attention of the club committee, any areas that, in the opinion of the children’s welfare officer, require the club’s attention.
OBLIGATIONS X 3
Objectively speaking there are a number of different levels of obligations that the children’s welfare officer needs consider. These requirements can broadly be categorised in 3 ways:
- 1. Non-statutory, internal, mandatory
- 2. Non-statutory, external, mandatory
- 3. Statutory, external, mandatory
LIABILITIES X 2
There are two broad categories of liability:
1. Civil liability
2. Criminal liability
1. NON-STATUTORY, INTERNAL, MANDATORY
An example would be the club’s internal Code of Practice, as mandated by an organisation’s National Governing Body. This is an internal club document that sets out the committee and board of directors’ views on how the club should be run.
It speaks to the general ‘duty of care’ that is owed to the children – and volunteers – in the club.
Consequences of breach: Internal disciplinary steps, potentially subject to National Governing Body disciplinary procedures as well.
Potential type of liability for breach: Civil, potential actions for negligence.
2. NON-STATUTORY, EXTERNAL, MANDATORY
Examples of this would include the Children First National Guidelines, which are the go-to advice area for all areas of children’s welfare and protection. While this is a non-statutory document (i.e. not set out in law), it’s looked upon by the courts as effectively ‘setting the standard’ of care that’s required.
Consequences of breach: National body disciplinary steps at a club level.
Potential type of liability for breach: Civil liability.
3. STATUTORY, EXTERNAL, MANDATORY
The new vetting legislation would be one example (the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016, in particular s.28 (which creates personal criminal liabilities on senior officers, directors, managers etc where an offence is committed by a club with the consent, connivance or wilful neglect of these individual members of senior management).
Consequences of breach: Criminal liability at either a club or club and directors/management level.
Potential type of liability for breach: Criminal, and civil.
The appointment of a person to the role of Children’s Officer in a club is of critical importance. Certain skills are required to allow that person to carry out the position’s functions effectively.
At the end of the day, however, it’s not the job of a welfare officer to be obliged to make the case for adherence to any club’s own internal policies and procedures.
It is, however, the job of the welfare officer, as discussed, to bring any non-compliance to the attention of the senior management.
The decision of any organisation to adhere to – or deliberately or negligently set aside – one’s own policies and procedures, becomes, once alerted, the responsibility of the board of directors; and to the managing committee to whom they delegate day to day operations of any particular club.
It’s then a matter of conscience for a Children's Officer the extent to which they’re prepared to support any continued non-adherence to a club’s own policies and procedures; which is, of course, a personal call to make.
This essay is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.
Specific legal advice from a firm of solicitors should always be sought on the application of the law in any particular situation.
Whilst all reasonable endeavours have been made to ensure the accuracy of the content, no liability whatsoever is accepted for any omissions or errors or for any action taken in reliance of the information in this essay.