The aim of the Children First Bill 2014 is to improve the care and protection of children by raising awareness of child abuse and neglect. It aims to make best safeguarding practice the cultural norm for anyone working with children. The Children First Bill provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:
- a requirement on mandated persons to report child protection concerns 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;
- a requirement on organisations providing services to children to comply with best practice in child protection as set out in the Children First Guidelines and to produce an organisational-specific Child Safeguarding Statement; and
- statutory arrangements to promote cross-sectoral implementation and compliance with Children First.
The Deputy specifically raised the issue of reporting and how reports will be followed up. Certain individuals who are mandated persons under the Bill will be required to report child welfare and protection concerns in accordance with the legislation to the Agency. Mandated persons will also be required to report to the Agency any disclosures of harm made to them by a child.
The decision to focus the requirement for mandated reporting on a small, qualified cadre of persons who by virtue of their training, qualifications and professional experience are well equipped to recognise harm, is likely to have a positive effect on the process of assessments of risk by the Agency. It is anticipated that reports from these persons are likely to be of a high standard, which will assist the Agency in carrying out assessments of risk in an effective and efficient manner.
As regards following up on reports, the Bill provides that a mandated person may be requested to assist the Child and Family Agency and to give such information and assistance to the Agency as is reasonably required. It is envisaged that only information which is relevant and necessary to assess the child’s need for care and protection should be sought.
The Children First Bill 2014 provides a clear statutory basis for the reporting of harm to children to the Child and Family Agency and sets out clearly the obligations on providers of services to children to protect children.