Garter Lane. Photo: Derek Speirs.
Background and context
Following on from the publication of the Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children in 1999 and in the context of growing awareness of child abuse in Ireland the Arts Council decided to take a lead role in addressing the issue of child protection and welfare in the arts sector through the promotion of good practice.
In 2003, the Arts Council made contact with the Health Service Executive (HSE). A working group, drawn from the arts sector, HSE Information and Advice Persons, and Arts Council staff, was convened to devise guidelines based on Children First.
In 2004, the HSE delivered 'Keeping Safe' training to arts organisations in four locations around the country. This process provided the basic framework for the development of the Arts Council's Child Protection Guidelines.
Garda Vetting Bill 2012 Published
The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 was published by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter on 20th July. When enacted, this Bill will provide a statutory framework for Garda vetting and disclosures procedures. It will make vetting a requirement for people seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults.
The Bill is part of a suite of legislation to protect children and was developed in accordance with the Programme for Government. This includes the publication of the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information) Bill and the Children First Bill 2012.
The National Vetting Bureau Database
Under the Bill, the National Vetting Bureau (the new name to be given to the Garda Central Vetting Unit) will be required to establish a database consisting of
- a register of relevant organisations,
- a register of specified information, and
- a register of vetted persons.
This is in addition to the records of criminal convictions which the Garda Síochána already hold.
Organisations which must register
Broadly speaking, relevant organisations are organisations which take on employees or volunteers to work with children or vulnerable persons. Relevant organisations are required to apply to the Bureau for registration. Organisations already registered with the Bureau will be deemed to be on the register after the commencement of the new legislation.
Small organisations may not be required to register directly with the NVB. Their applications can be submitted through a registered representative body. A number of organisations already provide such a service, including the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), CREATE, Poetry Ireland for their members or affiliates.
The Bill provides for the exchange of ‘soft information’ in the context of protecting children and vulnerable adults. In the Bill, soft information is referred to as specified information. This is information held by the Garda Síochána or an organisation specified in Schedule 2 of the Bill where such information reasonably gives rise to a bona fide concern that a person may harm a child or vulnerable person. The disclosure of soft information is tightly controlled and the Bill seeks to balance the rights of vetting subjects to the protection of their good name and the rights of children and vulnerable adults to be protected from persons who are likely to cause them harm.
Mandatory vetting under the Bill
A person may not be engaged to do relevant work or activities relating to children or vulnerable persons unless that person has been subject to the vetting procedures under the Bill. Failure to comply with this duty is an offence under the Bill. It will be a defence for a person to show that he or she did not know, nor could reasonably be expected to know, that the work for which a person was engaged constituted relevant work or activity.
Assessing the vetting subject’s suitability
As with the current system, it is a matter for the relevant organisation, and not the Bureau, to consider and take into account the information disclosed in a vetting disclosure in assessing the suitability of the person for the position for which he or she has applied. The organisation may not disclose the information otherwise than in accordance with the Bill. Non-compliance with this duty is an offence.
Re-vetting and Retrospective Vetting
The Bill makes provision for the re-vetting of employees and retrospective vetting of current employees who have not yet been vetted: however, this has resource implications and is likely to be introduced on a phased basis.
The Arts Council welcomes the publication of this Bill, which will significantly strengthen the State’s protections for children and vulnerable adults. It will provide a robust legal basis for the National Vetting Bureau and a clearer legal framework for organisations working with children and vulnerable adults. The Arts Council will continue to provide updates to the Arts Sector on this and other relevant matters in relation to child and vulnerable adult protection.
Children First: national guidance for the protection and welfare of children 2011
This briefing note has been prepared to highlight the key changes contained in Children First 2011, relative to the original 1999 publication.
It is not a comprehensive guide to Children First 2011 which should be read in its entirety.
Children First 2011 is a clearer and more concise document, with some significant changes since the previous guidelines. 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.
In the Foreword, Minister Fitzgerald states: "We intend to enact legislation so that all people who are working with children will have a statutory duty to comply with the Children First: National Guidance." As of now Children First is not yet on a statutory basis, pending the publication and enactment of new legislation.
Definitions of child abuse
The list of what constitutes physical abuse of a child has been expanded to include slapping, observing violence and "allowing or creating a substantial risk of significant harm to a child."
There is express reference to and acknowledgement of the harm caused to children by exposure to domestic violence, which is included in the definition of emotional abuse. Exposure to inappropriate or abusive material through new technology is also included for the first time.
There have been two additions to the signs and symptoms of neglect as follows:
- inattention to basic hygiene
- and failure to provide adequate care for the child’s developmental problems
Responsibilities of organisations
Consistent with the principles of Children First, every organisation, both public and private, that is providing services for children or that is in regular direct contact with children should:
- ensure best practice in the recruitment of staff or volunteers, which includes Garda vetting, taking up of references, good HR practices in interviewing, induction training, probation and ongoing supervision and management;
- ensure that staff members or volunteers are aware of how to recognise signs of child abuse or neglect.
Chapter 5 covers the procedures for assessment and management of child protection and welfare concerns and has a much clearer structure of guidance for HSE professionals.
Chapter 10 covers training and there is a new section recommending interagency training on child protection and welfare.
Appendix 8: Guidance for developing local child protection and welfare procedures. This section notes the requirement for consistency and notes that the definitions, reporting procedures and guidance on confidentiality (Chapter 2 and 3) should not be changed or adapted in any way.
The need for all those working with children to be vetted, the role of the Garda Vetting Unit and the intention to put this on a statutory basis, by establishing a National Vetting Bureau, is also included in the revised Children First. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence published the National Vetting Bureau Bill 2011 on July 27th 2011 which was then circulated for consultation and submissions invited from interested parties. It is anticipated that the final legislation will be published at the end of October 2011.
Organisations are reminded that best practice in the recruitment of staff or volunteers remains taking up of references, good HR practices in interviewing, induction training, probation and ongoing supervision and management, as well as Garda vetting.
Accessing Children First 2011
Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2011) Children First: national guidance for the protection and welfare for children is available to download from http://www.dcya.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=/documents/Child_Welfare_Protection/ChildrenFirst.pdf
Printed copies are currently available from the Government Publications Office, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2, at a cost of €5.
Arts organisations working with children and young people are advised to access the document, read it thoroughly and incorporate changes into their own policies and procedures, as appropriate.
Guidelines for the protection and welfare of children and young people in the arts sector
The guidelines, published in 2006, are a template to be used and adapted by arts organisations in developing their own guidelines.
They are ‘best practice’ guidelines covering:
- Organisation’s policy statement on child protection and welfare
- Code of behaviour
- Reporting procedures
- Confidentiality statement
- Recruiting and selecting staff
- Managing and supervising staff
- Involvement of primary carers
- Dealing with allegations against staff
- Complaints and comments procedures
- Accidents procedures
In 2007 it became a requirement for Arts Council funded organisations to develop and implement child protection policies and procedures.
Guidelines for taking and using images of children and young people in the arts sector
The use of images plays an important role in many aspects of work with children and young people. Images in many formats can be used to record, document, demonstrate, promote and celebrate activities and experiences. Increasingly accessible and diverse technology has meant that recording, sharing, disseminating and publicising images is more widespread than ever before, and this practice will undoubtedly continue and expand.
Concerns about misuse of images have also grown and for this reason guidelines on good practice have been formulated to help organisations, artists and practitioners to use images in ways that respect privacy and do not expose children or young people to unnecessary risk.
Child protection policy and procedures - information for children and parents/guardians
Two new resources are available on our website for arts organisations working with children and young people.
Both resources have been designed as templates that can be adapted by arts organisations for their own use.
Child Protection Policy and Procedures - Information for Children is designed as a leaflet that can be given to children and young people. It is intended to provide them with a brief guide to the measures that are in place in their arts organisation to ensure their safety and welfare. Information covered includes code of behaviour, making a complaint and how they can expect to be treated.
Child Protection Policy and Procedures - Information for Parents/Guardians provides an outline for parents/guardians on the policies and procedures that are in place in an arts organisation attended by their child. It includes guidance on recruitment procedures, how the organisation will communicate with the parents in the event of a concern regarding their child and lists points on how parents can cooperate with them to ensure the safety and welfare of their child.
These resources were drawn up in consultation with arts organisations who work with children and young people. Their assistance and expertise is appreciated.
The issue of access to Garda Vetting is increasingly of concern to many artists and arts organisations and the Arts Council has been working in co-operation with the Garda Central Vetting Unit (GCVU) to identify arts resource organisations who are willing to register with the GCVU to process applications.
Garda vetting is a process of checking the Garda criminal records system to verify whether or not an individual has a record of criminal convictions, arrests, prosecutions or cases pending. This information is supplied with the individual’s consent, on a confidential basis for the sole purpose of informing decision making in recruitment. It is important to note that Garda Vetting is but one aspect of the overall recruitment process and should be implemented in the context of safe recruitment practice .
Organisations wishing to register for Garda Vetting must have in place adequate Child Protection Policies and Procedures, which have been approved by the HSE. Persons nominated to act as authorised signatories must themselves be vetted and have undertaken Keeping Safe training provided by the HSE and training is provided by the GCVU in advance of registration.
Currently Create, the National Association for Youth Drama (NAYD), and Poetry Ireland are registered organisations.
For GCVU contact details please refer to the resource section at the bottom of this page.
Solo practitioner code of practice for working with children and young people
This code of practice was developed in response to requests from the arts sector. It aims to provide support and guidance to artists working with children and young people in a solo capacity as practitioners, facilitators or tutors. It is based on, and should be read in conjunction with established good practice guidelines such as detailed above.
This resource was developed in consultation with individual artists, arts organisations and the Health Service Executive Information and Advice Persons.
Contact your local HSE Information and Advice Person for information and updates on Keeping Safe Training. This 2-day training is designed for all staff working with children and young people and deals with subjects such as recognising and identifying child abuse concerns, responding to concerns, safe recruitment and management of staff/volunteers, and creating a safe environment for children and young people.