Children First Legislation
Since its establishment in 2011, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has published the revised Children First National Guidance; overseen an interdepartmental implementation process; and prioritised the drafting of legislation to put Children First on a statutory footing, which is a key Programme for Government commitment.
On 25th April 2012, Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs published the Heads of the Children First Bill*. In line with the Government’s commitment to the reform of the parliamentary and legislative processes, the draft Heads were referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.
The Minister asked the Committee on Health and Children to consider the Heads of the Children First Bill and make recommendations to her. She received their Report in July 2012 (Read Report). Since then, international research and further consultations with experts and key stakeholders, other relevant Departments and statutory agencies, have been carried out to discuss and review the complex matters arising and the development of the final Bill.
On the 23rd July 2013 Minister Fitzgerald announced that the Government had approved the revised Heads and General Scheme of the Children First Bill and had approved the drafting of this legislation by parliamentary counsel (Read Report) .
The policy objective of the Children First Bill is to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect; provide for mandatory reporting for key group and management of child protection concerns; improve child protection arrangements in organisations providing services to children, and to provide for inter-agency working and information-sharing. The policy intent is that the legislation will operate side-by-side with the existing non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children.
The proposed legislation is part of a suite of legislation aimed at strengthening child protection including 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 Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Justice and Equality are working together to ensure that the respective legislative provisions will be well-integrated and complementary.
In parallel with the development of legislative proposals to put Children First on a statutory footing, significant work has been undertaken by Minister Fitzgerald and her Department to achieve full and consistent implementation of the revised Children First Guidance. Implementation measures progressed to date include:
• Publication and dissemination by the CFA of a ‘Child Protection and Welfare Practice Handbook’ [HSE, 2011];
• Training for front-line professional, including joint- training between Gardai and social workers;
• Establishment of a Children First Implementation Inter-Departmental Group to bring central government oversight to the implementation process; and
• The approval by Government for the publication of Children First Sectoral Implementation Plans by relevant Departments on their websites.