Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announces the commencement of all remaining provisions of the Children First Act 2015
Statement by Dr. Katherine Zappone TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs
11th December, 2017
Minister Katherine Zappone T.D., Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, today announced the commencement of all remaining provisions of the Children First Act 2015. These include the provisions in relation to mandatory reporting of child abuse and in relation to placing a legal obligation on organisations providing services to children to prepare and publish a Child Safeguarding Statement.
Confirming the commencement Minister Zappone said “It is 20-years since Mandatory Reporting was first proposed to protect our children. It is now a reality.
The commencement follows intense preparations and comes at a time when the budget of the Child and Family Agency Tusla is about to pass €750m for the first time.”
On 2nd October, in anticipation of full commencement of the Act, Minister Zappone, launched Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children  which revises and replaces the 2011 edition of the Children First Guidance. The revised Guidance includes reference to the provisions of the Children First Act 2015 and is available on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs at, www.dcya.gov.ie
Also on 2nd October, Tusla launched an accompanying suite of Children First resource documents for those individuals and organisations who will acquire legal obligations under the Children First Act 2015. Tusla also launched a comprehensive 90 minute basic Children First e-learning programme, which is now being made universally available on line, free of charge. The Tusla suite of Children First resource materials and information on access to the e-learning programme is available at www.tusla.ie.
In relation to reporting of child abuse, the Minister urged anyone with a reasonable concern about a child’s welfare to report their concern to Tusla. “Under the Children First Guidance, everyone should be aware of the possibility of child abuse, and should report reasonable concerns to Tusla.
The mandatory reporting requirements now coming into force supplement this by placing a legal obligation on certain categories of persons to report serious abuse to Tusla”. Tusla has created 17 dedicated contact points across the country for the receipt of reports, the details of which are on Tusla’s website.
In circumstances of greater urgency, mandated reporters can phone Tusla in advance of making such a report. The Minister stressed that under no circumstances should a child be left in a situation that exposes him or her to harm, or risk of harm, pending intervention by Tusla, stating that “If you think the child is in immediate danger and you cannot contact Tusla, you should contact the Gardaí”.
In relation to organisations working with children, the Minister acknowledged and commended all those who work so hard to make sure that every child they interact with is cared for, supported and protected. The Minister stated that the obligations on organisations providing services for children now being commenced, namely, keeping the child safe from harm, carrying out a risk assessment and preparing and publishing a Child Safeguarding Statement, are putting best practice on a statutory basis, and will contribute to continually improving safeguarding of children, in all settings.
The Minister encouraged all those working with children to familiarise themselves with their obligations under the Act, through the information and support resources being made available by her Department and by Tusla. She added: “We all share the same goal – to make Ireland a safer place for our most vulnerable citizens, our children”.
Note for Editors
The primary purpose of the Children First Act 2015, enacted in November 2015, is to put key elements of Children First Guidance on a statutory basis. A number of provisions of the Act have been commenced to date on a phased basis. These include the abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement for parents or those acting in loco parentis in relation to corporal punishment and the establishment of the Children First Inter-Departmental Implementation Group on a statutory basis.
On commencement on 11 December 2017 the remaining provisions will impose statutory obligations on key professionals to report child protection concerns over a certain threshold to Tusla and on providers of relevant services to children to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of their services and develop Child Safeguarding Statements. The obligations on mandated reporters will take effect immediately on the date of commencement, i.e. 11th December, while organisations will have 3 months from that date to comply with their obligations in relation to publishing a Child Safeguarding Statement.
Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children was first published in 1999 and was revised and updated a number of times, most recently in 2017. The principles and substance of this document (2017) are unchanged from the earlier editions. The guidance is intended to assist people in recognising child abuse and neglect, and in reporting reasonable concerns to Tusla. The guidance has been updated to reflect the provisions of the Children First Act 2015 and it includes specific information for those persons and organisations who will acquire legal obligations under the legislation when it is fully commenced on 11 December 2017.
The Guidance also outlines the roles of the main statutory bodies involved in child welfare and protection: Tusla - Child and Family Agency, and An Garda Síochána. It contains details of how to report a concern about a child and what happens once the report is received by Tusla.
The revised Guidance is just one of the resources available to assist with child protection. A free, online child welfare and protection e-learning programme has been prepared by Tusla and is now available for everyone, free of charge. This, and a number of additional child protection and safeguarding information resources, including in relation to the development of Child Safeguarding Statements and a Guide for Reporting Child Welfare and Protection Concerns can be found on the Tusla website, www.tusla.ie
Taken together, the Children First Act, the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012-2016, represent a significant legislative framework to promote the safety and protection of children.