For Written Answer on : 29/11/2022
Question Number(s): 490 Question Reference(s): 58857/22
Department: Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the sanctions that are in place or those that he intends to put in place with respect to professionals who have been informed of current or historical child abuse allegations and who do not report same to relevant authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The statutory bodies with primary responsibility for child welfare and protection are Tusla and An Garda Síochána. Both have distinct functions, powers and methods of working. Tusla has a statutory duty under the Child Care Act 1991 to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. In doing so, it relies heavily on individuals reporting concerns about children, in accordance with Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017 and the Children First Act 2015.
The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures, including raising awareness of child abuse and neglect, providing for mandated reporting of child protection concerns and improving child protection arrangements in organisations providing services to children.
The Act operates side-by-side with the non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017. The guidance sets out how reports about reasonable concerns of child abuse or neglect should be made by the general public and professionals to Tusla and what organisations need to do to keep children safe. These guidelines have been in place since 1999 and were fully revised and published in October 2017 to include reference to provisions of the Act.
The Children First Act provides for mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by certain key professionals, including teachers and health care professionals. Under the Act, mandated persons are required to report child protection concerns at or above a defined threshold to Tusla. Mandated persons are people who have contact with children and/or families and who, because of their qualifications, training and/or employment role, are in a key position to help protect children from harm. The list of mandated persons is set out in Schedule 2 of the Act.
Mandated persons who receive a disclosure from adults that they were abused during their childhood must report this information to Tusla. This is because the person against whom there is an allegation may pose a current risk to children. The reporting requirements under the Children First Act apply only to information that mandated persons received or became aware of since the Act came into force, whether the harm occurred before or after that point. However, if the mandated person has a reasonable concern about past abuse, where information came to their attention before the Act and where there is a possible continuing risk to children, they should report it to Tusla under the Children First National Guidance. Overall, any person concerned that a child may have been, is being or is at risk of being abused or neglected, should inform Tusla in line with the Guidance.
The Children First Act does not impose criminal sanctions on mandated persons who fail to make a report to Tusla. However, there are a number of administrative actions that Tusla could take if, after an investigation, it emerges that a mandated person did not make a report and a child was subsequently left at risk or harmed. Tusla may:
- Make a complaint to the Fitness to Practise Committee of a regulatory body of which the mandated person is a member.
- Pass information about the mandated person’s failure to make a report to the National Vetting Bureau of An Garda Síochána. This information could then be disclosed to their current or future employers when they are next vetted.
Apart from the Children First Act, a number of other policy and legislative improvements have been made to child protection standards in recent years. These include the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Acts 2012 to 2016 and the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, both of which fall under the remit of the Minister for Justice. This latter Act requires that any person who has information about a serious offence against a child, which may result in charges or prosecution, must report this to An Garda Síochána. Failure to do so is a criminal offence under that legislation. This obligation is in addition to any obligations under the Children First Act 2015.