The Children First Act 2015 imposes obligations on key professionals to report child protection concerns, and on providers of relevant services to carry out a risk assessment and develop a child safeguarding statement. All persons running a registered early years service and those employed as child care staff are mandated persons under the Act. All early years settings have until 11 March 2018 to develop their child safeguarding statement.
I am aware this is a significant responsibility and my Department has put in place a range of supports to assist services to meet their statutory obligations. Child protection training has been funded by my Department for the last three years as part of the national early years Children First programme. Over the three year period, 15,000 individual child care workers have already availed of training. My Department will continue to support this programme actively.
Other supports my Department has made available include distribution of the revised Children First guidance to all 4,500 early years services; the publication by Tusla of a suite of resource documents relating to Children First; the production by Tusla of a comprehensive 90 minute basic Children First training programme universally available on line, free of charge; briefing sessions held nationwide with services; the development of a child safeguarding statement template which has been distributed to all early years services; and the provision of €18 million in programme support payments in 2017, to be repeated in 2018, to support services with the administrative demands associated with Government schemes and meeting legislative requirements, including the production of policies and procedures.
Further to these supports, my officials are currently developing a national continuous professional development plan for the early years sector. This will seek to identify the sector's training needs, target existing learning resources to support the sector in meeting its regulatory requirements and look to increase investment in supporting the workforce in its professionalisation journey.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
It is important to note the early years sector is different to the primary or secondary school sectors in that services are privately run or operated by community or not for profit services. My Department is not the employer. It provides a range of supports through capitation payments and other initiatives or schemes to support the sector. The response of the child care sector to the Children First legislation has been extremely heartening. I know from many conversations with early years providers across the country that they take their responsibilities in relation to Children First very seriously and I look forward to continuing this engagement.