Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children was published initially in 1999 and updated in 2011. It is a national policy document which assists people in identifying and reporting child abuse. It states what organisations need to do to keep children safe, and what everyone should do if they are concerned about a child's safety and welfare.
In January 2014 the Child and Family Agency became the agency responsible for child welfare and protection services. Prior to this concerns would have been reported to HSE social work child protection and welfare teams.
Children First sets out specific protocols for social workers who work in the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), Gardaí, and other front line staff in dealing with suspected abuse and neglect. It emphasises the importance of multidisciplinary and inter-agency working in the management of concerns about children's safety and welfare.
Key to this is the sharing of information between agencies and disciplines in the best interests of children and the need for full co-operation to ensure better outcomes. It also highlights procedures and practices that should be in place within organisations working with children to safeguard them from abuse.
The Children First Act 2015 was signed into law by the President on the 19th November 2015 and is being commenced on a phased basis. It provides a legal basis for elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011) . The Act provides a number of key child protection measures which include:
A requirement on organisations providing services to children to keep children safe and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;
A requirement on defined categories of persons (mandated persons) to report child protection concerns over a defined threshold to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla);
A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Child and Family Agency and “to give to the Agency such information and assistance as it may reasonably require” in the assessment of a child protection risk;
The removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement from the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. This has been commenced from 11th December 2015 and means that a person who administers corporal punishment to a child will no longer be able to rely on the defence of reasonable chastisement.
Placing the Children First Interdepartmental Group on a statutory footing. This was commenced on 1st May 2016.
The new legislation will operate in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011).
Who is Children First for?
The Children First: National Guidance document can be read by anyone. It is relevant to all individuals and organisations working with children and families in a paid or voluntary capacity.
The Children First Guidance provides specific guidance for the two agencies who have statutory responsibility for the protection and welfare of children, the Child and Family Agency TUSLA and An Garda Síochána.