The Deputy will be aware that Children First has operated on the basis of voluntary compliance since it was first published by the then Department of Health and Children in 1999. Indeed, a number of submissions to the Joint Committee on Health and Children as part of its recent examination of the draft Heads of the Children First Bill emphasised the progress which has already been made in implementing Children First in a wide range of organisations. Significant resources have been put in place to support the implementation of Children First and in the case of the HSE and An Garda Síochána, Children First has formed an integral part of their existing operations and practices. The HSE has provided training, information and advice on the implementation of Children First throughout the HSE, voluntary and community sector.
In the draft legislative proposals on Children First it is proposed that organisations working with children appoint a Designated Officer. It is proposed that the Designated Officer, along with certain named professionals, will have statutory responsibility to report information about abuse to the HSE. To assist Designated Officers and certain named professionals make a determination as to whether to report abuse, a ‘Guidance for Reporting of Abuse' is to be developed by my Department. This Guidance will deal with issues such as definitions, thresholds and appropriate routes for the reporting of abuse. The Guidance will assist designated officers and professionals named in the legislation, in considering a number of factors to see if the concern reaches the threshold of a report under the legislation. This approach is intended to ensure that only those cases which require an assessment by the HSE are brought to its attention.
As regards the allocation of resources, this will be a matter to be considered both in the context of the establishment of the new Child and Family Support Agency and the Regulatory Impact Analysis which will accompany the preparation of relevant legislation.