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Information on Children First

Published: 16 August 2019
From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs

What is Children First?

The term “Children First” was originally used in relation to Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, first published in 1999 and reviewed and updated on a number of occasions since then, most recently in 2017. Since the enactment of the Children First Act 2015, the term is now a generic term used to encompass the guidance, the legislation and the implementation of both.

The Children First Guidance (Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children) promotes the protection of children from abuse and neglect. It sets out definitions of abuse, and signs for its recognition. It explains how reports about reasonable concerns of child abuse or neglect should be made by the general public and professionals to Tusla – the Child and Family Agency. It sets out what organisations need to do to keep children safe. Finally, it also describes the obligations under the Children First Act 2015 and who they attach to.

The Children First Act 2015 places elements of the Children First Guidance on a statutory footing. In particular, it addresses the Government’s commitment to introduce mandated reporting of child abuse. The key elements of the Act are mandated reporting of abuse, the publication of Child Safeguarding Statements by organisations working with children, and putting the Children First Interdepartmental Implementation Group on a statutory footing.

Who is Children First for?

Children First promotes the protection of children from abuse and neglect, by setting out what persons and organisations need to do to keep children safe, and how to deal with concerns about a child’s safety or welfare.

Non statutory obligations for all persons coming in to contact with children are set out in the Children First Guidance, and the Children First Act 2015 sets out additional statutory obligations for defined categories of persons, and for organisations providing relevant services to children. The Children First Guidance describes both the non-statutory obligations which already existed under the guidance since 1999, and the additional statutory obligations under the Children First Act 2015.

What responsibilities do individuals have?

Any person who has a reasonable concern that a child is being abused or neglected, should report that concern to Tusla. The Children First Guidance will help you to recognise the signs of abuse or neglect, and will set out how you should report your concerns to Tusla.

Under the Children First Act, certain categories of people who work with children have additional responsibilities. They are required by law to report in writing to Tusla, serious concerns in relation to child abuse or neglect. They may also be asked to assist Tusla in assessing a concern about a child. The Children First Guidance includes a list of the categories of persons concerned, and gives information to help them to discharge their responsibilities.

What responsibilities do organisations have?

Since the Children First Guidance was first published in 1999, organisations working with children, whether in the public, private or voluntary sector, have had an overall corporate responsibility to safeguard children using their services. The Guidance sets out the best practice which organisations should adhere to in order to keep children safe.

The Children First Act 2015 introduces statutory obligations for organisations providing services to children, as defined in that Act, to:

  • keep children safe from harm while availing of those services
  • carry out a risk assessment
  • prepare and publish a Child Safeguarding Statement

More information

Hard copies of the Guidance were widely circulated to schools, garda stations, health settings, crèches etc. at the time of publication. Copies are also available to purchase through the Government Publication Office.

The Guidance is available in Irish and in English.

Access to the universally available Tusla elearning on Children First is available here.

The following documents are also available:

The following documents are accessible through the Tusla website:

  • A guide for the reporting of child protection and welfare concerns
  • Mandated assisting protocol for Tusla staff

What should I do if I am concerned about a child and I am not sure if I should make a report to Tusla?

If any person has concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, they can seek advice from the Duty Social Work Team in the area where the child lives. This will give them an opportunity to discuss the query in general, and decide whether a referral to Tusla is warranted.

What should I do if I have serious concerns about a child and I cannot contact Tusla?

If in your view a child is in serious danger, and you cannot contact Tusla, you should contact the Gardaí without delay.

If I have been abused as a child, where can I go for support and advice?

The HSE National Counselling Service (NCS) is a professional, confidential counselling and psychotherapy service available free of charge in all regions of the country, for adults who have been abused in childhood. Contact details for the service and regional Freephone numbers can also be found there.

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