The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures, including raising awareness of child abuse and neglect, providing for reporting and management of child protection concerns and improving child protection arrangements in organisations providing services to children.
The Act operates side-by-side with the non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children. The guidance, which was fully revised in October 2017 to include reference to the provisions of the Act, is intended to assist members of the public, professionals, employees or volunteers in identifying and reporting concerns about child abuse and neglect to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. It sets out definitions of abuse, and signs for its recognition. It explains how reports about reasonable concerns of child abuse or neglect should be made by the general public and professionals to Tusla. It sets out what organisations need to do to keep children safe. It also describes the obligations under the Children First Act 2015 and who they attach to. The definitions of abuse set out in the guidance refer to internationally recognised and agreed categories of abuse.
Tusla has a statutory duty under the Child Care Act 1991 to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. Tusla assesses all child welfare and protection concerns that are reported to it and takes appropriate actions, including referrals to appropriate services and agencies, dependant on assessment outcomes. If Tusla suspects that a crime has been committed and a child has been wilfully neglected or physically or sexually abused, it will formally notify AGS without delay.
As the Deputy is aware unfortunately there are a wide range of difficulties which children and young people may experience and which may result in behavioural issues. Mental health services for children and young people are provided by the Health Service Executive through Primary Care and Mental Health Services which identify and diagnose behavioural conditions and determine appropriate treatment. It is not within this Minister’s remit to issue guidance to a general audience on these specialist medical issues or to guide relevant bodies in identification of appropriate treatments and support measures. Accordingly it is not currently intended to expand the definitions of abuse set out in the guidelines to include children who are a risk themselves from behavioural or other issues. Regarding access to support services for children with behavioural issues, it is important to note that neither the Act nor guidelines prescribe or limit the interventions or support measures that are available to children from Tusla or other providers of support services, such as the Health Service Executive.