Children First refers to Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 and the Children First Act 2015. It is a generic term used to encompass the guidance, the legislation and the implementation of both.
Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2017) is a national policy document which assists people in identifying and reporting child abuse. It describes the four main types of abuse and sets out the steps which should be taken to ensure that the child or young person is protected from harm. “It is intended to assist you, whether you are a member of the public, a professional, employee or volunteer in identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect, and to deal effectively with these concerns. It also sets out the statutory responsibilities for mandated persons and organisations under the Children First Act 2015 and provides information about how the statutory agencies respond to reports of concerns made about children.” (p3)
In January 2014 Tusla - 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 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 all parts of the Act have been commenced. It provides a legal basis for elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children. 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 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.
The new legislation will operate in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children.
Who is Children First for?
Children First is for everyone.
The focus of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 “is to help a general audience recognise child abuse and report a reasonable concern about a child’s welfare or protection. It also contains specific information about the statutory responsibilities of individuals who are mandated to report child protection concerns and of organisations that provide relevant services to children.” (p4).
The Guidance describes the non-statutory obligations for all people which already existed under the previous guidance. It also sets out the statutory obligations for certain professionals, and for organisations under the Children First Act.
The Guidance gives an overview of the role of Tusla - Child and Family Agency. Additional information for Tusla staff is available in the Child Protection and Welfare Practice Handbook, (HSE, 2011). This is also a useful resource for HSE staff as it provides additional information about recognising and responding to child abuse and provides information in chapter 2 for all allied professionals and volunteers whose work brings them into direct contact with children, young people and their families. Tusla have also developed the Child Protection and Welfare Practice Handbook 2 which is for use of front-line social workers, their line managers and other professionals. It provides information on a number of circumstances that may make children more vulnerable to harm.