With effect from 11 December 2017, certain persons dealing with children in a professional capacity must report suspected child abuse to Tusla (the Child and Family Agency), following the commencement of the mandatory reporting provisions in the Children First Act 2015.
The Act sets outs a list of what it calls "mandated persons", which includes the following:
» Doctors, nurses, dentists, paramedics
» Physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists, occupational therapists
» Teachers, managers of crches and language schools or other recreational schools where children reside
» Social workers, foster carers, youth workers
» Members of the Garda
» Members of the clergy
IF YOU ARE A MANDATED PERSON, WHAT MUST YOU DO?
If you are a mandated person you must make a report to Tusla in the following two circumstances:
1. You know/believe/have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child has been harmed/ is being harmed/ is at risk of being harmed. You have this knowledge or suspicion on the basis of information you have received or become aware of in the course of your employment or profession as a mandated person.
2. A child discloses to you in the course of your employment that he or she has been harmed/ is being harmed/ is at risk of being harmed.
"Harm" in this context means assault, ill treatment or neglect of a child in a manner that seriously affects or is likely to affect the child's health, development or welfare, or sexual abuse of a child.
You must also assist Tusla, if requested to do so, in assessing whether the child concerned has been harmed. This is known as mandated assistance (see below).
You are obliged to report information you have received or become aware of after 11 December 2017, irrespective of whether the harm occurred before or after that time.
You are not obliged to make a report to Tusla where:
» the sole basis for your knowledge or belief is as a result of information received from another mandated person that a report has already been made to Tusla in respect of the child concerned.
» you know or believe that a child aged between 15-17 years is engaging in sexual activity with a person who is not more than two years older than them and:
- there is no material difference in maturity or capacity;
- there is no intimidation or exploitation between the parties; and
- the child concerned does not want you to report it to Tusla
If this type of situation arises, you should seek legal advice on your reporting obligations as other legislation, such as the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information Act) 2012, may need to be considered. It is an offence under the 2012 Act to withhold information from An Garda Sochna about certain offences, including sexual offences, against children. The reporting obligations under the 2012 Act are in addition to the obligations under the Children First Act.
HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR REPORT?
You must make your report to Tusla "as soon as practicable" by completing a "mandated report form". You can find the relevant form on Tusla's website.
Where you believe that a child may be at risk of immediate harm and should be moved to a place of safety, you do not have to use the mandated report form to make your initial report. You must however complete the mandated report form within three days of the making of the initial report.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES IF YOU DO NOT COMPLY?
The Act does not impose criminal sanctions if you fail to make a mandatory report in the required circumstances. However Tusla may make a complaint about you to your professional regulatory body and it may provide information about your failure to make a report to the National Garda Vetting Bureau, which could be disclosed when you are next vetted.
WHAT IS MANDATED ASSISTANCE?
If you make a report to Tusla you may also be asked to assist it in assessing whether the child concerned has been harmed.
This may include attending meetings organised by Tusla, providing further written information and reports or furnishing Tusla with other documents requested.
You will be protected from civil liability when you are assisting Tusla with an assessment. However, you may be fined or imprisoned for up to 6 months if you disclose any information shared by Tusla to a third party without Tusla's written consent.
CHILDREN FIRST GUIDANCE 2017
If you come into contact with children as part of your employment or profession, you should familiarise yourself with your obligations under the Children First Act. You should also familiarise yourself with the Children First Guidance 2017 on the Tusla website. These are the national policy guidelines for all matters concerning the welfare and protection of children.
Read our previous articles on The Children First Act: