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.