Children First Legislation
The Children First Act 2015 (the Act), puts elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011) on a statutory footing CF Act 2015. The legislation was a key Programme for Government commitment, and forms part of a suite of child protection legislation which includes the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, 2012 and the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.
The Act provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:
• A requirement on organisations providing services to children to keep children safe and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;
• A requirement on defined categories of persons (mandated persons) to report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to the Child and Family Agency (the Agency);
• A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Agency in the assessment of a child protection risk, if so requested to do so by the Agency;
• Putting the Children First Interdepartmental Implementation Group on a statutory footing.
The Act also includes a provision to abolish the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in relation to corporal punishment.
Provisions of the Act will ensure that concerns about children will be brought to the attention of the Agency without delay and improve the quality of reports made to the Agency and the quality of follow up on concerns. The new legislation will operate in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children , which outlines the existing non-statutory obligations which will continue to operate administratively for all sectors of society.
PROVISIONS OF THE LEGISLATION:
Obligations on Organisations
Organisations providing services to children and young people will be required to undertake an assessment of any risks to a child while the child is availing of its services, and use this as the basis for developing a Child Safeguarding Statement. The purpose of the Statement is to identify how the organisation will manage any risks identified in the risk assessment.
The legislation makes provision for a Register of Non-compliance for those providers who fail, on request, to provide a copy of the Child Safeguarding Statement to Tusla.
Mandated reporters are persons who, by virtue of their training, responsibilities and experience, should have an awareness of issues relating to child protection. These professionals either work with children or young people or they are in service sectors that encounter adults or families and children where there is risk of abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters will be required to report child abuse above a defined threshold which comes to their attention in the course of their professional or employment duties. They will also be required to report any direct disclosures of abuse from a child.
Obligations to assist the Child and Family Agency
Under the new legislation, mandated reporters may be required to cooperate with the Child and Family Agency, if requested, in relation to assessment by the Agency of child welfare and protection concerns arising from a mandated report.
A significant provision in the legislation is the underpinning on a statutory basis of the Children First Interdepartmental Implementation Group. This Group, which will include a representative of all Government Departments and of Tusla, the HSE and An Garda Síochána, will be required to keep under review, the implementation of the legislation and the Children First Guidance, and to report on an annual basis to the Minister. Departments will also be required to publish Sectoral Implementation Plans.
The provisions of the legislation will only come into force when brought into effect by regulation of the Minister.
The following sections have been commenced to date:
Part 1 - Preliminary and General - Sections 1-5 (11 December 2015)
Section 1 - Short title and commencement
Section 2 - Definitions
Section 3 - Regulations
Section 4 - Service of Notices
Section 5 - Expenses
Part 3 - Reporting - Section 18 (1 May 2016)
Section 18 - Agency is specified body for purposes of National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable persons) Act 2012
Part 4 - Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group and Sectoral Implementation Plans - Sections 20-26 (1 May 2016)
Section 20 - Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group
Section 21 - Membership of Implementation Group
Section 22 - Functions of Implementation Group
Section 23 - Directions of Minister
Section 24 - Conditions and cessation of membership
Section 25 - meetings and procedures
Section 26 - Reports
Part 5 - Miscellaneous - Section 28 (10 Dec 2015)
Section 28 - Abolition of defence of reasonable chastisement