The Children First Act 2015 was introduced by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs as part of a programme for change which involved a suite of child protection legislation to include the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, 2012and the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012. Together this legislation is intended to copper fasten the State’s commitment to the protection of children.
The purpose of the bill was to put parts of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011) on a legislative footing and the new legislation will operate in tandem with those guidelines. Importantly, the existing 2011 Guidelines are being revised and updated to reflect the new legislative obligations and processes and to provide clarity and ensure consistency between them.
At present, only a small number of the Act’s sections have been commenced, including section 28 which deals with the abolition of the Defence of Reasonable Chastisement detailed below. However, the parts of the act most relevant to GPs are unlikely to commence until the guidelines are fully updated and we at Medisec will inform you as soon as this happens.
The key child protection measures in the Act are:
The Act amends the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 by abolishing the Common law defence of reasonable chastisement, which was the last remaining defence to slapping a child. This was previously abolished with regard to schools but had not been extended to parents until now. It raises children’s rights to equal protection under the law as adults.
The Act provides for mandatory reporting of child protection concerns to Tusla for 28 designated categories of persons who are deemed to be Mandated Persons. This includes medical practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and teachers. The focus is on individuals who routinely deal with children, and where their training, qualifications and professional experience make them well equipped to recognise risks to children, resulting in improved quality and consistency of reports received by Tusla.
Post Report Obligations:
Protection to MPs
Duty to Keep Information Confidential
A GP practice, as a designated “organisation” providing “relevant health services” to children and young people will be required to:
Other existing statutory obligations relevant to the protection of children, such as the requirement to obtain Garda vetting of staff engaged in activities related to children, will continue in parallel.
Organisations will have three months after the relevant sections of the Act are commenced to comply with the obligations. The Act provides that the Child Safeguarding Statements (CSS) must be in accordance with guidelines issued by the Minister and Tusla. As already mentioned, these guidelines are being updated and will likely include guidance regarding the form and content of Child Safeguarding Statements (CSS). Once the relevant guidelines are implemented, Medisec will give you more advice around drafting child safety statements and other practical steps to help you comply with the legislation. If you have any queries about the impact of the legislation on your practice, please contact Medisec.
At the moment, we know that Child Safeguarding Statements (CSS) must assess the risk and specify the procedures in place for:
The CSS must be provided to staff and must be given to parents, members of the public and Tusla if requested. The Act establishes a Register of Non Compliance for organisations which fail to provide Tusla with a Child Safeguarding Statement (CSS) when requested and this register will be open for public inspection.
While the true impact of this Act will, to a large extent, depend on the quality of resources provided in response to reports made to Tusla, the provisions of the Act provide a clear and public statement; that child abuse is something that society will no longer tolerate, and that people who work with children know they have a voice.
In the words of Kofi Anan:
“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”
For now, medical practitioners should be aware that The Children First Act 2015 is being implemented, all be it on a piecemeal basis, and that as a result there will be fundamental changes in the law concerning the protection and welfare of children. This will impact on General Practice, and Medisec will work with you to prepare for these changes.
The contents of this article are indicative of current developments and contain guidance on general medico legal queries. It does not constitute and should not be relied upon as definitive legal, clinical or other advice and if you have any specific queries, please contact Medisec for advice. This article appeared originally in our Spring 2016 newsletter which can be found here: https://medisec.ie/clipart/Newsletter/medisec_newsletter_spring_2016.pdf