Tusla, the Child and Family Agency is the statutory agency with primary responsibility for child protection in the State. In situations where abuse is suspected, there is a clear responsibility to report concerns to Tusla.
In December 2017 I introduced the final provisions of Children First, which placed a legal obligation on key professionals working with children to report concerns of abuse.
Tusla has a Child Protection Notification System (CPNS), a list of children living at home, who are deemed to be at current risk, and who are subjected to child protection case conferences and structured interventions. Information about referrals, and all actions taken in relation to cases, is stored on the National Child Care Information System (NCCIS), which can enable a pattern of concerns and incidents to be identified. This can be a useful piece of information to support decisions made by social workers.
Tusla have advised that the National Out of Hours Social Work Service was established in Dec 2018 and is organised into an out of hours direct intervention service for Dublin/Kildare/Wicklow where social workers are available on call and to attend to children directly, including arranging placements, out of hours including weekends and bank holidays and an emergency out of hours on-call social work phone support and placement service for the rest of the country
All child protection concerns out of office hours are now triaged through the National Out of Hours Service based in Dublin for advice and guidance. If the need for a placement is identified the service can source a foster care or residential placement.
In exceptional circumstances outside the Dublin/Kildare/Wicklow area, where the support of a local on call social worker is required, this can be organised through the national out of hours service. Access by AGS and Emergency Doctors to the National Child Protection Notification System (CPNS) register is provided on a 24/7 basis.
Tusla also operates the national mandated line for reporting of child abuse and welfare concern out of hours. In addition a 24/7 phone line is now available to foster carers.
When a child cannot be cared for safely at home, they are either received into care on a voluntary basis or Tusla apply to the courts for a care order. Tusla act immediately on notification of an immediate risk to a child. Children who are in a situation of immediate risk may initially be dealt with by An Garda Síochána or by Tusla, but in the main both agencies work together in such cases.
Gardaí have specific powers under Section 12 of the Child Care Act to remove a child from a situation of danger, and under Section 13 of to deliver that child into the custody of Tusla. At that point, Tusla will carry out an assessment to determine the child's needs. In all cases, a plan will be put in place to ensure that the child is safe from harm.