The introduction of this legislation has been a key Programme for Government commitment as well as being a recommendation of the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan. This is the first time that key elements of Children First Guidelines will be put on a statutory footing since they were first published in 1999.
The Children First Bill 2014 will form part of a suite of child protection legislation which already includes the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, 2012.
Minister Fitzgerald stated: “This proposed new law represents an important and necessary addition to the child welfare and protection landscape in Ireland, seeking, as it does, to ensure that child protection concerns are brought to the attention of the Child and Family Agency without delay.”
“This legislation is about making best safeguarding practice the cultural norm for anyone working with children”.
The Bill provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:
· A requirement on mandated persons to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) including among others: medical practitioners; registered nurses; teachers; social workers; gardai; psychologists; members of the clergy; pre-school child care staff ; child protection officers of religious, sporting; cultural, recreational and educational organisations offering services to children;
· A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Child and Family Agency in the assessment of a child protection risk, if requested to do so by the Agency;
· A requirement on organisations providing services to children to comply with best practice in child protection as set out in the Children First Guidelines and to produce an organisational-specific Child Safeguarding Statement;
· Statutory arrangements to promote cross-sectoral implementation and compliance with Children First.
The Minister noted that the provisions of the Bill would also improve the quality of reports made to the Agency.
The Minister emphasised the mandatory requirements to be placed on individual professionals and those persons in key positions of responsibility. The Minister said: “A central feature of the Bill is putting a statutory obligation on certain individuals. We are placing a statutory obligation on them to report harm or risk of harm to a child. Furthermore, we are removing any real or perceived obstacles to certain professionals and post holders by placing a specific obligation on mandated persons to assist the Agency in their assessment of risk to a child.”