Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Department of Health
Martin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
Question 72: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the date on which she will introduce legislation to put Children First on a statutory footing; the date on which she will publish the policy framework to implement this on a statutory basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8062/12]
Frances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
The revised Children First Guidance was launched by me in July 2011. Government approval to place the Children First National Guidance on a statutory basis was given on 12 July 2011. Since then considerable detailed policy examination of the best approach has been undertaken. Consultations have been undertaken with a number of voluntary bodies and experts working in this field and I can advise that the preparation of the Heads of Bill and General Scheme is underway. I will bring these to Government at the earliest possible date. It is my intention to refer the Heads of Bill to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for discussion in line with the commitment to early consultation with committees set out in the Programme for Government.
The policy approach which is being developed is focused on the National Children First Guidance published July 2011 and the promotion and well-being of children generally; the provision of safe services for children; cooperation amongst professionals and organisations where children are at risk of neglect and abuse and mandating key individuals to report child abuse known to them. The latter objective is aimed at removing ambivalence, reluctance or refusal by people and organisations in positions of trust and authority to report child abuse and cooperate with the relevant authorities.
The policy is also bearing in mind other complementary legislative proposals to strengthen child protection being brought forward by Minister Shatter, namely, the National Vetting Bureau Bill and the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Intellectually Disabled Persons) Bill. I have taken the opportunity to consult informally with a number of experts in relation to the development of the policy in this area. A key issue for consideration is to maximise the engagement of adult volunteers with children across a range of voluntary activities (i.e.sports, arts) whilst ensuring that that systems are put in place to keep children safe. Formulating policy of this nature is complex. My aim is to develop a legislative regime which is practical in terms of implementation; supportive of staff and volunteers that work in children’s services; but which puts the safety of children as the paramount consideration for all those working with children.