The Children First Act 2015 (“the Act”) was signed into law by the President on 19 November 2015. The Act is a watershed moment in the history of the overall protection of children in Ireland where far too often in the past child abuse was silent and unreported.
The main provisions of the Act have yet to come into force and will eventually be fully enacted by the government. An overview of the main provisions of the Act is however important as once fully enacted the Act will place, for the very first time, a legal obligation on:-
- A range of professionals and others working with children (referred to as “mandated persons”) to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency
- A ‘provider of a relevant service’ involving children to comply with certain important obligations.
The purpose of this Article is to outline the main provisions of the Act.
Obligations on Mandated Persons
Mandated persons are those professionals who either work with children or young people or are in service sectors that encounter children where there is risk of abuse and neglect. Examples include: teachers, medical professionals, gardai, clergy, social care workers, child care staff in a pre-school service, youth workers.
Mandated persons will be required to report information regarding child abuse above a defined threshold which comes to their attention in the course of their professional or employment duties.
Mandated persons will also be required to report any direct disclosures of abuse from a child.
‘Provider of Relevant Service’
A provider of a relevant service is defined as any work or activity which is carried out by a person, consisting mainly of the person having access to, or contact with, children including for example: an early years’ service, school, hospital, centre for children with disabilities, priest.
The definition also extends to any work or activity providing educational or recreational, leisure, social and physical activities to children, whether for commercial use or not.
The Act will therefore cover a broad range of services including the voluntary and sporting sector which involve children, for instance children’s GAA, rugby and soccer teams.
Obligations on a Provider of a Relevant Service
The Act will place a duty on a provider of a service involving children to ensure, as far as practicable, that each child is safe from harm while availing of its service.
The Act will oblige a provider to undertake an assessment of the potential for risk of harm to a child while that child is availing of its services and to prepare an appropriate ‘Child Safeguarding Statement’.
Child Safeguarding Statement
The purpose of the statement will be to identify how the provider of a service will manage any risks identified in the risk assessment.
The provider will also be obliged to display the statement in a prominent place where the service is being provided. A provider will also be obliged to furnish a copy of the statement to members of staff and on request to a parent or guardian of a child availing of the service and to members of the public.
When commenced, the Act will place, for the very first time, a legal obligation on defined categories of people to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency.
Relevant organisations will be obliged to undertake an assessment of any risks to children and must develop this into a Child Safeguarding Statement to identify how the organisation will manage any risks identified.
Whilst the Act has not been fully enacted, organisations providing services to children need to be fully aware of its provisions in advance to ensure they will be fully compliant.