Commencement of the Children First Act - 11th December 2017
The primary purpose of the Children First Act 2015 is to put key elements of Children First Guidance on a statutory basis.
A number of provisions of the Act have been commenced to date on a phased basis. These include the abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement for parents or those acting in loco parentis in relation to corporal punishment and the establishment of the Children First inter-Departmental Implementation Group on a statutory basis.
On commencement on 11 December 2017 the remaining provisions will impose statutory obligations on key professionals to report child protection concerns over a certain threshold to Tusla and on providers of relevant services to children to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment of their services and develop Child Safeguarding Statements. The obligations on mandated reporters will take effect immediately on the date of commencement, i.e. 11th December, while organisations will have 3 months from that date to comply with their obligations in relation to publishing a Child Safeguarding Statement.
Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children was first published in 1999 and was revised and updated a number of times, most recently in 2011. The principles and substance of this document (2017) are unchanged from the earlier editions. The guidance is intended to assist people in recognising child abuse and neglect, and in reporting reasonable concerns to Tusla. The guidance has been updated to reflect the provisions of the Children First Act 2015 and it includes specific information for those persons and organisations who will acquire legal obligations under the legislation when it is fully commenced on 11 December 2017.
The Guidance also outlines the roles of the main statutory bodies involved in child welfare and protection: Tusla - Child and Family Agency, and An Garda Síochána. It contains details of how to report a concern about a child and what happens once the report is received by Tusla.
The revised Guidance is just one of the resources available to assist with child protection. A free, online child welfare and protection e-learning programme has been prepared by Tusla and is now available for everyone, free of charge. This, and a number of additional child protection and safeguarding information resources, can be found on the Tusla website
Taken together, the Children First Act, the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012-2016, represent a significant legislative framework to promote the safety and protection of children.