Home > Children First: National guidance for the protection and welfare of children.

Ireland. Department of Children and Youth Affairs. (2011) Children First: National guidance for the protection and welfare of children. Dublin: Government Publications.

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Children First is National Guidance that promotes the protection of children from abuse and neglect. It states what organisations need to do to keep children safe, and what different bodies, and the general public should do if they are concerned about a child’s safety and welfare. The Guidance sets out specific protocols for HSE social workers, Gardaí and other front line staff in dealing with suspected abuse and neglect.

Minister Fitzgerald acknowledged and commended all those who work so hard to make sure that every child they interact with is cared for, cherished, supported and protected. She said “These are the practitioners in the professional and voluntary sectors, medical professionals, Gardai, youth workers, teachers, and coaches all over Ireland who already passionately employ best practice in child protection. These people already implement Children First in full, understand their duties and do not need legislation to keep children safe.”

Unfortunately, this is not always the case and referring to the publication of the Cloyne report earlier in the week and other reports already published, Minister Fitzgerald said their publication “cumulatively shine a light on horrific episodes from our past; and indeed from our very recent past; where as a state and society we failed in our moral duty to cherish and protect our nation’s children. My role as Minster is to seek that never again will these evils be countenanced.”

Minister Fitzgerald referred to non compliance with child protection guidelines in the past, particularly where compliance was on a voluntary basis. She indicated her intention to bring forward legislation to require, for the first time, statutory compliance with Children First. The legislation will provide that all organisations will have a duty to comply with Children First, to share relevant information and to cooperate with other relevant services in the best interest of the child. The legislation will provide for a strong system of inspection and oversight and the need to provide demonstrable evidence that the guidance is being implemented correctly across all sectors.

Children First was first published in 1999. The principle and substance of this document (2011) are unchanged. The Guidance has been updated to reflect new policy, legislation and organisation – the establishment of the HSE, HIQA, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It incorporates lessons from investigations, reviews and inspections over the past decade. This document reflects the growing awareness of the impact of ongoing neglect on children in its guidance. It also includes bullying as a feature of abuse. Its publication was a commitment in the Programme for Government.

Minister Fitzgerald also said “I want the message to go out that it is absolutely critical that if somebody has, on good faith, reasonable concerns over the abuse or neglect child then those concerns must be reported to the relevant authorities and to this end statutory reporting requirements will be addressed as one aspect of the proposed new Children First legislation.”

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