Organisations providing “relevant services” specified in the Children First Act 2015 should have their child safeguarding statements under development by now.
The substantive provisions of the Children First Act 2015 ("the Act") were commenced on 11 December 2017. Providers of relevant services have three months from this date to prepare a child safeguarding statement for their organisation i.e. by 11 March 2018. Relevant services are defined in Schedule 1 of the Act and include work or activity carried out by a person, a necessary and regular part of which consists mainly of the person having access to, or contact with, children, and covers services such as those provided by:
- early years service providers
- hospitals or healthcare centres
- schools and centres for children with disabilities
- direct provision centres
- centres providing treatment, therapy or counselling to a child
It also covers the work of a wide range of individuals involved in, among others, the supervision, care, consultation, education, training or guidance of children.
Organisations providing relevant services must also appoint a “relevant person” for child safeguarding by 11 March 2018 who will be the first point of contact in respect of an organisation’s child safeguarding statement.
What should a child safeguarding statement contain?
A child safeguarding statement should set out the relevant services being provided and the principles and procedures to be observed to ensure, as far as practicable, that each child availing of such services is free from harm. A child safeguarding statement must include a written assessment of the risk of harm to children availing of relevant services and specify the procedures in place in respect of:
- the management of the risks identified
- investigations into staff in respect of any incidents involving children availing of the organisation’s services
- the recruitment and suitability of staff in the organisation to work with children
- the provision of information and training for staff regarding identification of harm to children
- making reports of child welfare concerns to Tusla (the State agency with responsibility for children and families)
- the maintenance of a list of mandated persons (see below)
- the appointment of a relevant person (for child safeguarding) within the organisation
Organisations should give consideration as to how their child safeguarding statement will interact with existing company policies.
Organisations who fail to put a child safeguarding statement in place could ultimately face being included on a register of non-compliance maintained by Tusla. Inclusion on this register could have serious reputational consequences for organisations.
Reporting obligations for mandated persons
Certain persons including doctors, nurses, teachers, members of An Garda Síochána, clergy, child care staff and social care and youth workers will now be statutorily obliged to report any concerns of harm to children to Tusla under the Act. Mandated persons may also be required to assist Tusla in assessing a concern which has been the subject of a mandated report.
Protections for persons making reports to Tusla
The Act provides protection from civil and criminal liability when assisting Tusla in the assessment of harm or risk of harm to a child. There are pre-existing protections in Irish law for any person who makes a report of suspected child abuse to designated officers of Tusla, the HSE or to members of An Garda Síochána so long as the report is made in good faith and is not malicious.1
Organisations should have reference to guidance developed by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on the Act, Children First – National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children.2 It is intended that the Act will operate side-by-side with the non-statutory best practice outlined in that guidance.