This area is a hotbed of activity over the past number of months, with the following “Suite” of legislation, being progressed by the legislature.

Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, 2012 (“Withholding Act”) came into force on 1 August 2012

National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 (“Vetting Act”) was enacted on 26 December 2012 however it has not yet commenced by way of Statutory Instrument.

Children First 2012 (“Children First”) Draft heads of terms have been published and the Bill is expected at end of the current Dáil sessions.

Given the far reaching implications being placed on employers and organisations as a result of the above legislation, the Employment Law Unit teamed up with the Family and Childcare Unit on 12 February last and hosted a breakfast briefing, at our offices, to discuss and review these significant pieces of legislation and how they will impact upon organisations and employees alike.

The key provision of the Withholding Act is the creation of an offence of withholding information in relation to certain arrestable offences committed against children and vulnerable people. The offence arises where a person knows or believes that such an offence has been committed. The legislative intention behind the Act is to introduce a form of mandatory reporting by creating the threat of criminal sanctions for those withholding information. The Act applies to all family members of the child or vulnerable person and designated professionals who come into contact with them. These professionals include medical practitioners, nurses, psychologists and social workers.

The purpose of the Vetting Act is to provide a legislative basis for the vetting of persons who seek positions of employment relating to children or vulnerable persons. Currently individuals applying for such positions are vetted on a non-statutory basis. This Bill will make vetting mandatory.

The Bill provides for the establishment of a database system to be known as the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Database System, which will comprise a register of the following:

  1. relevant organisations;
  2. specified information;
  3. vetted persons.

Organisations that will come under the scope of this legislation include those working with or involved in activities with children and vulnerable people. The overarching policy objectives of the proposed Children First is raising awareness of child abuse, recognising and reporting child abuse, and the management of child safety concerns for specified organisations. Such organisations include schools, preschools, health and social care facilities delivering services to children, faith based organisations, sports and youth clubs, arts and leisure organisations together with those providing residential and transport services for children.

The key provisions of the Bill, from an employers perspective, is to train and set standards for its staff and volunteers and to appoint its most senior manager as a Designated Officer, to ensure children in its care are protected through recording, monitoring and reporting.