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Children First bill published, 15 years after it was first mooted

Minister Frances Fitzgerald had promised in early March that the bill would be published soon.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE CHILDREN FIRST bill has been published, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald announced today.

The legislation will put Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011] on a statutory footing.

This is a Programme for Government commitment and was recommended in the 2009 Ryan Report implementation plan.

In March, Fitzgerald noted that the bill “has been talked about by Fianna Fáil since 1999″.

Guidelines

This is the first time that key elements of Children First Guidelines will be put on a statutory footing since they were first published in 1999.

The bill will form part of a suite of child protection legislation which already includes the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, 2012.

Minister Fitzgerald said that the proposed new law “represents an important and necessary addition to the child welfare and protection landscape in Ireland, seeking, as it does, to ensure that child protection concerns are brought to the attention of the Child and Family Agency without delay”.

The Bill provides for a number of key child protection measures, including:

  • A requirement on mandated persons to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) including: medical practitioners; registered nurses; teachers; social workers; gardai; psychologists; members of the clergy
  •  A requirement on mandated persons to assist the Child and Family Agency in the assessment of a child protection risk, if requested to do so by the Agency;
  • Organisations providing services to children required to to comply with best practice in child protection as set out in the Children First Guidelines and to produce a Child Safeguarding Statement;

The Minister said that a significant provision in the legislation is the statutory basis given to the Children First Interdepartmental Group.

This Group, which will include a representative of all Government Departments, will be required to keep under review, the implementation of this legislation and the Children First Guidance, and to report on an annual basis to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This will ensure a continued focus on the implementation and compliance task until best practice becomes the absolute norm.

The new legislation will operate in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children [2011].

Read: No concerns for Samaritans confidentiality under Children First bill>

Read: New standards for child protection services unveiled>

Read: Children First Bill to be published within weeks – Fitzgerald>

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