Culture Committee wants more safeguards for children

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The Culture Committee called for increased safeguards for young people, on 11 November 2013.

MLAs were discussing a review of gaps in child protection across culture, arts and leisure activities.

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin described the report as "one of the most significant to come through this house in this mandate".

She added, "It's incumbent upon me and the department to ensure it's given the due time and consideration."

Committee chair Michelle McIlveen praised the efforts of the Child Protection in Sports Unit and said that similar policies should be rolled out for the arts and culture sector.

She highlighted six key principles for best practice in protecting "vulnerable groups" including monitoring of recruitment, codes of behaviour and sharing of information between groups.

Ms McIlveen said there were private tutors and groups who operated outside of the Culture Department's remit and suggested the implementation of a "charter mark" standard that could be awarded to organisations who apply prescribed methods of child protection.

As well as face-to-face contact, she said that increasingly there was a need to provide guidelines on how groups and volunteers communicate with young people via social media and how young people use the internet.

To this end, the committee recommended training "probably every two years" to "maintain relevance".

Ms McIlveen pointed to the "new challenges" presented by the internet and social media, including internet bullying and sexual exploitation.

The SDLP's Karen McKevitt said that those private tutors and groups who do not have child protection policies in place often have not received guidance on child protection and would benefit from the implementation of a standardised charter.

Alliance's Anna Lo said that people may be put off volunteering because they have to pay for a certificate of suitability. She expressed concern that a "cottage industry" had developed in training volunteers and called on the department to ensure that this training was free.

The DUP's William Humphrey said the absence of the National Crime Agency (NCA) here was "leaving young people more exposed and vulnerable" than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

His colleague Mervyn Storey accused Sinn Fein of "playing politics" with the issue by failing to support the NCA.

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan said he was concerned there was "no ongoing training to help volunteers deal with the developing needs of vulnerable people."

The UUP's Michael McGimpsey called for co-operation between governments across the UK and Ireland.

He highlighted in particular the sexual exploitation of children and the issue of suicide among young people.

He described these as "UK-wide issues" and said that "those who abuse children do not respect borders".

Minister Ni Chuilin said it was "a pity" and "crass" that members would draw politics into the issue and described Mervyn Storey as the "class clown", a comment she later withdrew.

The first part of the debate can be viewed here.

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