The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures. These include 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 places a number of statutory obligations on organisations, both public and private, providing relevant services to children.
There is a requirement:
- to keep children safe from harm while they are availing of the service;
- to carry out a risk assessment; and,
- to prepare a child safeguarding statement which sets out the policies and procedures which are in place to mitigate these risks.
Services to children which must produce a Child Safeguarding Statement are set out in Schedule 1 of the Act.
The Children First Act 2015 also places an obligation on defined categories of persons to report child abuse, at or above the level specified in the Act, to Tusla. The list of categories of persons who are mandated reporters is set out in Schedule 2 of the Act.
They are, in the main, professionals working with children or certain categories of adults and include teachers, many health professionals, gardaí, owners and staff of crèches, and trained youth workers. The Act also includes a provision whereby mandated persons must, if reasonably requested to do so, assist Tusla in the assessment of a child protection risk.
This assistance can take the form of verbal or written reports, attendance at meetings, or the provision of information or documents.
The Act operates side-by-side with the non-statutory obligations provided for in the National Guidelines under Children First. The guidance 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. These guidelines have been in place since 1999 and were fully revised and published in October 2017 to include reference to the provisions of the Act.
Taken together, the Children First Act, the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, represent a significant legislative framework to promote the welfare and protection of children, including in relation to organisations providing services to children.