From 11 December 2017, the Children First Act 2015 introduces new statutory obligations for professionals and organisations who provide a service to children and families. We examine the scope of these obligations and the significant implications for affected organisations and professions who provide a service to children.
Changes to the reporting of child protection concerns
Certain professions and organisation are now obliged to report to TUSLA Child and Family Agency, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a child has been harmed, is being harmed or is at risk of being harmed.
New child safeguarding statements
There is also a new statutory requirement for all relevant services to produce a child safeguarding statement for staff members. This must be made available for inspection by TUSLA, service users and members of the public within three months of the commencement date i.e. by 11 March 2018.
Over the past number of years, there has been increased focus on the responsibility of the wider community to recognise, record and report concerns.
This focus has included recognition of the complexity of child protection and the need to provide a clearer framework for professionals and organisations.
The Children First Act 2015 is a key element of this new framework, which should be considered with reference to the new vetting legislation National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts, 2012-2016 and the Child Care Act 1991.
What you need to consider
When reviewing the relevant policies and procedures and drafting the necessary Child Safeguarding statement, you will need to consider:
Are you a mandated person?
You need to review the list of mandated persons, which are referred to in Part 3 of the Act and listed in Schedule 2 of the Act. The list includes a wide range of professional groups and workers, including GP, nurses, midwives, psychologists, medical staff, teachers, Gardaí and probation and welfare officers.
If you are a mandated person or your organisation employs mandated persons, you need to ensure that you understand the new obligations for reporting child protection concerns and provide appropriate training to mandated persons and other staff members.
Are you a relevant service?
If you provide a service to children and your service is included in the list in Schedule 1 of the Act, you need to prepare a child safeguarding statement within three months of the commencement of the legislation i.e. 11 March 2018. The statement must include:
- An assessment of any potential for harm to a child while availing of the service.
- Details of the nature of your service and the principles and procedures to be observed to ensure that a child is protected from harm while availing of the service. This includes vetting of staff, recruitment of staff, dealing with complaints against staff, training for staff, reporting of child protection concerns within your organisation.
How will compliance with the legislation be managed?
Mandatory reporting of Child Protection concerns
Under the Children First Act 2015, there are no criminal sanctions for the failure of a mandated person to report a child protection concern. However, obligations under the Children First Act must also be considered with reference to the Criminal Justice Act 2012 (Withholding of information on offences against children and vulnerable persons).
As the new legislation places a statutory obligation on mandated persons to report, organisations or professions should address the importance of compliance with the statutory obligations through appropriate training and provide clear evidence of this training.
It is envisaged that non-compliance with statutory obligations should be addressed by individual organisations or professions through fitness to practice / disciplinary procedures.
Child Safeguarding statement
This statement must be provided to all staff and be available on request to TUSLA, parents or members of the public within a three month period.
Failure to produce the statement may lead to inclusion on the non-compliance register, which will be made available for inspection by service users and members of the public.
What do you need to do?
If you provide a service to children as a professional or organisation, you need to:
- Recognise if you or members of your team are mandated persons under the Children First Act 2015
- Provide suitable training to your mandated persons
- Recognise key indicators of child abuse or neglect
- Know how to accurately record child protection concerns
- Know when and how to report concerns to TUSLA
- Be prepared to assist TUSLA in further assessment of child protection concerns, as outlined in Section 16.1 of Part 3 of the Act
- Prepare a detailed safeguarding statement, which must be made available to your employees and available for inspection on request by TUSLA or members of the public and service users
Guidance documents, including sample child safeguarding statements and relevant reporting forms are available for organisations on www.tusla.ie. Click here to download the legislation.
If you require specialist advice or legal training on the implications of the legislation for you or your organisation, contact Brian Horkan and Sonya Bruen.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.