14 April 2014

Minister Fitzgerald publishes Children First Bill 2014



  • New law to strengthen child protection in Ireland
  • Acting on the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan
  • Delivery of key Programme for Government commitment

Local TD Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has announced that legislation agreed at cabinet to put the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011] on a statutory footing will today (14th April) be published by the Houses of the Oireachtas.  

The introduction of this legislation has been a key Programme for Government commitment as well as being a recommendation of the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan. This is the first time that key elements of Children First Guidelines will be put on a statutory footing since they were first published in 1999.

The Children First Bill 2014 will form part of a suite of child protection legislation which already includes 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.

Minister Fitzgerald stated: “This proposed new law represents an important and necessary addition to the child welfare and protection landscape in Ireland, seeking, as it does, to ensure that child protection concerns are brought to the attention of the Child and Family Agency without delay.”

“This legislation is about making best safeguarding practice the cultural norm for anyone working with children”.

The 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 (Tusla) including among others: medical practitioners; registered nurses; teachers; social workers; gardai; psychologists; members of the clergy; pre-school child care staff ; child protection officers of religious, sporting; cultural, recreational and educational organisations offering services to children;

· 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;

· Statutory arrangements to promote cross-sectoral implementation and compliance with Children First.

The Minister noted that the provisions of the Bill would also improve the quality of reports made to the Agency.

The Minister emphasised the mandatory requirements to be placed on individual professionals and those persons in key positions of responsibility. The Minister said: “A central feature of the Bill is putting a statutory obligation on certain individuals.  We are placing a statutory obligation on them to report harm or risk of harm to a child.  Furthermore, we are removing any real or perceived obstacles to certain professionals and post holders by placing a specific obligation on mandated persons to assist the Agency in their assessment of risk to a child.”

The Minister said: “We know that it is the combined efforts of professionals and post holders that keep children safe. Sharing information and collaborating in the assessment process is as critical as simply reporting, as the past tells us.”

Responsibilities on organisations providing services to children and their families are focused on ensuring that organisations reflect and consider the potential for risk in their organisations and demonstrate awareness and good practice in a publicly available Child Safeguarding Statement.

The Minister said: "While Government will continue to use all of its levers to demand compliance, parents will also demand the best for their children. I will work with the Child & Family Agency to ensure parents are informed and empowered to demand and drive compliance."

The Minister referred to past concerns about implementation of Children First: National Guidance by stating:

“A significant provision in the legislation is the statutory basis given to the Children First Interdepartmental Group. This Group, which will include a representative of all Government Departments, will be required to keep under review, the implementation of this legislation and the Children First Guidance, and to report on an annual basis to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This will ensure a continued focus on the implementation and compliance task until best practice becomes the absolute norm.”

Minister Fitzgerald confirmed that the new legislation will operate in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011] which will continue to operate administratively for all sectors of society.

“Our focus on who is mandated in the Bill is in accordance with international practice. I believe it strikes the correct balance in achieving high quality reporting, with high substantiation rates while avoiding overwhelming the child protection system with inappropriate reports which is a key criticism of the operation of mandatory reporting in other countries,” she said.

“However, we all have a responsibility for keeping children safe and the Children First: National Guidance will continue to operate to support anyone to understand what harm looks like and how to deal with any concern they may have.  I and my officials have had significant consultation and briefings with key stakeholders -  including through the hearings on the Heads of Bill conducted by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. The legislation now being published is the outcome of considerable deliberations and discussions about the most effective way to encourage high quality and relevant reports to the Agency on child protection concerns”.

 A copy of the Bill is available at: http://www.oireachtas.ie/ViewDoc.asp?DocId=-1&CatID=59&m=b