Workers could face legal action for failing to flag suspected child abuse
Teachers, nurses and social workers could face legal sanctions for failing to alert authorities to suspected child abuse, under strict new laws due to be introduced by the end of the year.
Once enacted, mandatory reporting legislation means anyone working directly with children will have a legal obligation to report concerns of child abuse. The new law is aimed at putting the emphasis for protecting children on those whose care they are in.
However, the legislation will put a huge amount of responsibility on people working with children. The mandatory reporting laws will also affect people dealing with children in a voluntary capacity such as youth club workers.
The overhaul in child abuse legalisation comes weeks after concerns were raised about the amount of time it took staff in King's Hospital School in west Dublin to report allegations of abuse made by a pupil.
The new rules are set out in the Children First Act 2015 but commencement of the legislation will only begin in the coming months.
The act does not include legal sanctions for failing to report abuse, but those found to have breached the legislation could face action under the Criminal Justice Act relating to withholding information on children and vulnerable people.
Breaches of mandatory reporting laws could also allow employers to take action against or discipline employees working with children. This could include sanctions up to and including dismissal, depending on employee contracts and workplace disciplinary codes.
Details for the implementation of the policy are contained in a soon-to-be published business plan by child protection agency Tusla.
Tusla presented the agency's 2017 business plan to Children's Minister Katherine Zappone before Christmas.
Under the new rules, workplaces and voluntary organisations will nominate a person to act as the 'mandatory reporter'.
Any suspicions of child abuse must be brought to the attention of the mandatory reporter who will in turn send an official report on the claim to Tusla.
The agency will investigate the claim and decide if further action should be taken.
The report of abuse to Tusla should be made as soon as possible after suspicions or claims of abuse are identified. The act's definition of harm to children covers assault, ill treatment, neglect and sexual abuse.
Details of suspected abuse should only be shared with Tusla and passing the information to a third party without the agency's consent is a criminal offence which can result in a fine or six-month prison sentence.
In the coming months, Tusla will run training courses on mandatory reporting and launch guidelines to assist those taking on the positions of mandatory reporter.