Bill on mandatory reporting of child abuse published

Monday 14 April 2014 21.55
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Doctors, teachers and childcare staff are among the professions mandated to report harm
Doctors, teachers and childcare staff are among the professions mandated to report harm
Frances Fitzgerald said the Bill will form part of a suite of child protection legislation
Frances Fitzgerald said the Bill will form part of a suite of child protection legislation

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has said the Children First Bill will make it mandatory for certain professions and post-holders to report incidents of harm, and the risk of harm, to the Child and Family Agency.

But Fianna Fáil's children's spokesman said the measure contains no sanctions for mandated persons who do not report child protection concerns, or for organisations that fail to have a child safety statement in place.

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

Among those professionals and post-holders mandated to report harm, including abuse and neglect and even the risk of harm to children, are:

Doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, gardaí, psychologists, clergy, pre-school and childcare staff, and child protection officers of religious, sporting, cultural, recreational and educational organisations offering services to children.

The Bill also requires mandated persons to assist the agency in assessing a child protection risk.

But Fianna Fáil has criticised the measure's failure to include sanctions for those who refuse to report.

Its spokesperson for children Robert Troy said it represents a watering down of the robust legislation that was promised.

He said the heads of the Bill published two years ago included a penalty of up to five years in prison for failure to comply with the legislation.

Mr Troy also said there will be no sanctions for organisations that fail to have child safety statements in place. 

The measure was first called for 21 years ago and was recommended by the 2009 Ryan Report on institutional child abuse.

Minister Fitzgerald said the Bill will form part of a suite of child protection legislation.

The legislation 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.

Ms Fitzgerald said it will strengthen the approach to protecting children in Ireland. 

"This brings an absolute clarity to the requirement to report abuse, to intervene if you're aware a child is being abused," she said.

"So this strengthens the approach to protecting children in this country in a very important way."

The chief executive of the abuse survivors support group One in Four said her organisation is concerned that the new child protection legislation does not include sanctions for professionals who do not adhere to the new law.

Maeve Lewis told RTÉ's News at One that the group was also concerned about a lack of additional resources to support professionals to develop good child protection policies and to raise awareness of the issue.

"Really, there are no sanctions in place for professionals who don't adhere to the bill," Ms Lewis said.

"There doesn't seem to be additional resources to support professionals to develop good child protection policies, and to support professionals in terms of awareness-raising, and for the general public as well, to let them know what is now entailed in this."

However, Ms Lewis said One in Four welcomed the publication of the Bill and that the draft legislation was based clearly on the best interest of the child.

She said the Bill spelled out very clearly what was meant by physical, emotional and sexual harm, and put on a statutory footing the "children's first" guidelines.