From 11 December 2017, individuals and organisations that have regular access to or contact with children must undertake a risk assessment of any particular harm to a child and specifically put in place a child safeguarding statement. This is necessary in order to comply with the Children First Act 2015.
The Act sets out a list of what it calls "relevant services". If you provide a service on this list and you employ at least one other person to carry out any work relating to this service, you must ensure, as far as practicable, that any child availing of your service is safe from harm. To do this, you must:
- undertake a risk assessment of any potential risk/harm to a child while availing of your service;
- prepare a child safeguarding statement (see below); and
- appoint someone as the main point of contact for the child safeguarding statement.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
The list of relevant services includes any work carried out by people who have regular access to or contact with children in:
- Hospitals, hospices, health centres or other centres which provide physical or mental health services to children
- Schools or other centres of education
- Crèches or pre-schools
- Accommodation centres for asylum seekers
- It also includes any work or activity carried out by certain professionals who may come into contact with children, including:
- An Garda Síochána
- Priests, ministers or other persons advancing religious beliefs
- Persons who provide counselling or therapy to children
- Drivers or conductors or supervisors on vehicles used only for the purpose of conveying children who are unaccompanied by a parent/ guardian. The Act does not apply to anyone who provides a service in the course of a family or personal relationship or on an occasional basis only for no consideration at a school, sports or community event.
WHEN MUST YOU PREPARE A CHILD SAFEGUARDING STATEMENT?
If you already provide a relevant service, you must do this by 11 March 2018. If you start providing a service after 11 December 2017, you will have three months from the date you commence providing your service to prepare your child safeguarding statement.
WHAT SHOULD BE IN A CHILD SAFEGUARDING STATEMENT?
The child safeguarding statement must:
- specify the service being provided;
- include a written assessment of any potential risk/harm;
- set out the principles and procedures that are in place in relation to:
- managing any risk identified;
- any member of staff who is the subject of an investigation;
- selecting or recruiting staff with regard to their suitability with children;
- the provision of child protection information, instruction and training to staff;
- reporting to Tusla (the Child and Family Agency);
- maintaining a list of persons to report any knowledge or suspicion of harm to Tusla (we will discuss this in more detail in our next article);
- appointing a relevant person to be the first point of contact with regard to your child safeguarding statement
- Tusla has published guidelines on drafting a child safety statement. The Act expressly requires that regard be had to these guidelines.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR CHILD SAFEGUARDING STATEMENT?
The child safeguarding statement must be displayed in a prominent place where the service is being provided.
You should also provide a copy of the child safeguarding statement to members of staff and, if requested, to parents and guardians, Tusla and members of the public.
SHOULD THE CHILD SAFEGUARDING STATEMENT BE REVIEWED?
Yes, you must review the child safeguarding statement every two years. It may be useful to diary your review date to ensure it is not overlooked. If you make a material change to any aspect of the statement before the two year review date, you must also review the statement in its entirety at that time.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU FAIL TO PROVIDE A COPY OF THE CHILD SAFEGUARDING STATEMENT TO TUSLA ON REQUEST?
If Tusla requests a copy of your child safeguarding statement and you do not provide it, you are at risk of being served with a non-compliance notice. You will have an opportunity to make representations to Tusla about this.
However, if you ultimately do not provide the child safeguarding statement within the time period specified, Tusla will serve you with a non-compliance notice. You can appeal this to the District Court.
The non-compliance notice will be noted in a publicly available register of non-compliance, maintained by Tusla.
We will be publishing a separate briefing on the obligation to report child protection concerns to Tusla.
This article contains a general summary of developments and is not a complete or definitive statement of the law. Specific legal advice should be obtained where appropriate.