The Association of Guardianship Providers in Ireland aims to become the principle accrediting body for the sector. Its four founding members – HSI, International House Dublin, MLI and ISI – have outlined an accreditation scheme that intends to ensure members offer the best standards in child protection and service.
Inspections for the best practice scheme will be carried out by a prominent children’s charity.
“It’s to regulate the business, make sure it’s on sound footing and ensure people operate to best practice”
The move aims to regulate what HSI’s managing director, Declan Millar, has described as somewhat of a “cowboy market” of high school placements in Ireland. Though there are many credible institutions and agents, there is no common set of best practices for the sector, he said.
HSI is accredited by AEGIS in the UK, but Millar said there is “a need for something that’s tailored specifically to what’s going on in Ireland”.
Many existing frameworks for regulating guardianship providers are focused on boarding schools, of which there are just 27 in the Republic of Ireland.
Instead, the guardianship industry needs an accreditation scheme tailored to the proliferation of homestay arrangements for students in non-boarding schools, which are more common, Millar said.
Because of this, the organisation has partnered with a high-profile charity that works to protect children and vulnerable adults, which has consulted on the formulation of the scheme.
The NGO, which will be named once formal arrangements have been completed, will carry out the inspections to vet guardianship providers to ensure they offer sufficient child protections.
Once inspections begin early next year, AGPI will be looking to expand its membership. “It’s not intended to be an exclusive club, by any means,” Millar said.
“It’s to regulate the business, make sure it’s on sound footing and ensure people operate to best practice.”
Any member that meets the association’s criteria – which include being legally based in Ireland, providing a 24/7 emergency phone service and all staff having undergone child protection training – will be eligible to go through the inspection process.
Eligible schools must also employ a dedicated team of staff to look after international students – at least one staff member for every 30 students – and provide a monthly report on student progress for parents and agents.
“We’ll be expanding it and the idea is that we’ll become the primary accreditation scheme for guardianship in Ireland,” Millar said.