Children First Legislation
The Children First Act 2015 (the Act), which was signed into law on 19 November 2015, puts elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children on a statutory footing. 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) Acts, 2012-2016 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 from harm 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;
• 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;
• Putting the Children First Interdepartmental Implementation Group on a statutory footing.
The Act also includes a provision which abolished the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in relation to corporal punishment.
The legislation operates in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children, which outlines the non-statutory obligations which will continue to operate administratively for all sectors of society.
Provisions of the Legislation
The provisions of the legislation will 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 - The Child and Family Agency is a specified body for purposes of National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable persons) Acts 2012-2016.
Part 4 - Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group 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 (11 Dec 2015)
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has announced that all the remaining provisions of the Children First Act 2015 will be commenced on 11th December 2017.
Obligations on Organisations
The Act requires providers of relevant organisations to keep children safe from harm while availing of their services, to undertake a risk assessment to identify the potential for harm to a child who is availing of their service, and to prepare a child safeguarding statement which sets out the policies and procedures which are in place to mitigate the risks identified. A list of relevant service providers is set out in Schedule 1 of the Act.
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 the Child and Family Agency.
Mandated reporters (Schedule 2 of the Act) 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 Tusla, the Child and Family Agency
Under the legislation, mandated reporters may be required to cooperate with Tusla, 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 (CFIDIG). The CFIDIG, which includes a representative of all Government Departments, the Child and Family Agency, the HSE and An Garda Síochána, is 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.