The Deputy will be aware that I published the Draft Heads and General Scheme for the Children First Bill 2012 on the 25th of April 2012 and immediately referred the Heads of Bill to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for consideration and advice. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children published its report in July 2012.
As part of the Joint Committees consultation process a number of submissions were received. Overall there was a welcome that the legislation would increase the focus on child protection. The contributions in the main came from organisations already implementing Children First.
Submissions were not all in agreement and many points emerging needed to be considered and reconciled. This involves consideration of policy and operational issues, including those pertaining to childminders, as well as the best legal approach to achieving Children First objectives. In this regard, officials within my Department have consulted with a number of organisations and individuals and I recently met with a number of key stakeholders to discuss the complex issues that have arisen. I have also taken the opportunity to consult with a number of experts in relation to the development of the policy in this area. These discussions will inform the preparation of enhanced policy proposals that is currently underway.
The framework is now focused on the safety and protection of children generally, the provision of safe services for children, co-operation amongst professionals and organisations where children are at risk of neglect and abuse and finally mandating key individuals to report child abuse known to them. The latter objective is aimed at removing ambivalence, reluctance or refusal by people and organisations in positions of trust and authority to report child abuse and co-operate with the relevant authorities. The Bill will create a range of responsibilities and duties on organisations and individuals and these will be detailed in the legislation. The precise requirements on varying sectors, organisations and individual professions, including inter alia child care providers, is currently under consideration and part of an ongoing process.
A further reason for reviewing the policy is to ensure that the related and relevant legislation will be compatible with and will complement the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Act.
It is my intention to submit further proposals to Government as soon as possible with a view to the drafting of the Children First Bill as a priority.