Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children was first published in 1999 and was fully revised and updated in 2017.
The key messages of the guidance have remained unchanged. The guidance seeks to assist people to recognise where a child is being abused or neglected, and to report reasonable concerns about abuse or neglect to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. The guidance also assists organisations working with children with information about best practice in child safeguarding.
The most recent version of the Children First Guidance in 2017 also incorporates information on the Children First Act 2015 and in particular, sets out the specific child protection statutory obligations imposed on certain categories of persons and organisations under that Act.
In January 2019 the Guidance was amended by way of an addendum to ensure that online safety is specifically accounted for in child safeguarding statements.
For more information on specific aspects of the Guidance and of the Children First Act 2015 please refer to this information on Children First.
Children First implementation relates to the implementation of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children, and of the Children First Act 2015.
The Guidance has been in place since 1999, and has been in operation in sectors dealing with children since that time, including schools, hospitals, sporting organisations, child care settings and youth work. The enactment of the Children First Act 2015, which puts elements of the Guidance on a statutory footing, has brought a renewed focus to supporting individuals and organisations to meet their statutory and non statutory Children First obligations.
Section 27 of the Children First Act 2015 requires each Minister of the Government to prepare and publish a Sectoral Implementation Plan. The Plan outlines the programme of measures taken or proposed to be taken by or on behalf of the Minister to ensure that the Department and any body that provides a relevant service and receives funding from the Department comply with the provisions of the Act and of the guidelines issued by the Minister under Section 6 of the Act.
Section 11 of the Children First Act 2015 requires providers of services to children to prepare a Child Safeguarding Statement.
A significant provision in the Children First Act 2015 (Sections 20-26) is the establishment of the Children First Interdepartmental Implementation Group (CFIDIG). Membership of the CFIDIG includes all Government Departments, Tusla, the HSE and An Garda Síochána. This reflects the importance that is being attached by all Departments, sectors, agencies and services in fully complying with the ethos of Children First, and their specific statutory and non-statutory responsibilities.
The Department and Tusla have developed a suite of resources to support the full implementation of the Act. This includes the revision of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children  and the Tusla resources below that can be accessed on the Tusla website.
In addition, Tusla has developed a comprehensive Children First e-learning module which is universally available, free of charge and sets out the basic information required to recognise and report child welfare and protection concerns.
The Children First Act 2015 , which was signed into law on 19 November 2015, puts elements of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children on a statutory footing. The legislation was a key Programme for Government commitment, and forms part of a suite of child protection legislation which includes the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts, 2012-2016 and the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.
The Act provides for a number of key child protection measures, as follows:
The Act also includes a provision which abolished the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in relation to corporal punishment.
The legislation operates in tandem with the existing Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children, which outlines the non-statutory obligations which will continue to operate administratively for all sectors of society.
The Act requires providers of relevant organisations to keep children safe from harm while availing of their services, to undertake a risk assessment to identify the potential for harm to a child who is availing of their service, and to prepare a child safeguarding statement which sets out the policies and procedures which are in place to mitigate the risks identified. A list of relevant service providers is set out in Schedule 1 of the Act.
The legislation makes provision for a Register of Non-compliance for those providers who fail, on request, to provide a copy of the Child Safeguarding Statement to the Child and Family Agency.
Mandated reporters (Schedule 2 of the Act) are persons who, by virtue of their training, responsibilities and experience, should have an awareness of issues relating to child protection. These professionals either work with children or young people or they are in service sectors that encounter adults or families and children where there is risk of abuse and neglect. Mandated reporters will be required to report child abuse above a defined threshold which comes to their attention in the course of their professional or employment duties. They will also be required to report any direct disclosures of abuse from a child.
Under the legislation, mandated reporters may be required to cooperate with Tusla, if requested, in relation to assessment by the Agency of child welfare and protection concerns arising from a mandated report.