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Children First Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 887 No. 1

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  9 o’clock

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly I move amendment No. 3:

In page 23, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“5. Occupational therapist registered in the register of members of that profession.”.

I signalled my intention on Committee Stage to bring forward an amendment to include occupational therapists as one of the classes of mandated persons under Schedule 2. Deputies will recall that on Committee Stage an amendment was agreed specifically to include as classes of mandated persons speech and language therapists and physiotherapists rather than a general inclusion of all potential registrants under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005. It had been suggested to me that occupational therapists should be included as mandated persons as well due to their engagement with children, in particular children with disabilities. I agree with the suggestion and accordingly I propose the amendment to Schedule 2 for this purpose.

  Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I move amendment No. 4:

In page 24, line 20, after “1991” to insert the following:
“including a person taking care of one or more children (other than that person’s own such children) in that person’s home, but not including any such person who is a relative of the child or children or the spouse of such relative”.

The Children First Bill 2014 is one in a raft of measures designed to further child protection. I acknowledge the Minister's predecessor left the post having done much of the preparatory work and I have no doubt she will very much welcome the fact that we are seeing the Children First guidelines placed into legislation as a result of several years of pressing. Other Bills that come into this particular gamut of legislation include the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act from the same year.

  The main measure of the Children First Bill 2014 requires that mandated persons report concerns they have, matters that might present or arise in the course of their roles and functions in society, to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. It also aims to improve compliance. As I said, the former and first Minister for Children and Youth Affairs sought to place the Children First guidelines into legislation.

  Deputy McLellan and I, as the former spokesperson for children and youth affairs for Sinn Féin, have a concern with the section relating to mandated persons. In particular, we see a problem with the listing as it appears in Schedule 2 and the sentence which specifies that a mandated person includes: "A person carrying on a pre-school service within the meaning of Part VIIA of the Child Care Act 1991." Let us refer back to the Child Care Act 1991. It makes reference to childminders caring for four or more children, other than their own, but it exempts absolutely childminders caring for three or fewer children, other than their own. The amendment, developed by Deputy McLellan, seeks to amend the text to include explicitly all childminders caring for three or fewer children, or rather, those caring for one or more, but to exclude relatives.

  I raised this in the course of Committee Stage and the Minister will remember that we had an exchange on the matter. I appeal to the Minister again in this regard. I believe it is critical that this comprehensive legislation is as holistic as it can possibly be and that all settings where children are placed, including childminder settings of whatever hue or variety, are absolutely catered to by this legislation. I do not believe it should be down to a numerical count of the number of children. If children are placed in a childminder setting other than their home, irrespective of whether there are one, two, three, four or more children, the reality is that the protections this legislation provides must apply to all and each. This is why we are pressing the amendment and I hope the Minister accedes to the proposition at this stage.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I support my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, who has moved the amendment on behalf of Deputy McLellan. It is important that childminders are explicitly included. We talk about being consistent in our legislation. By virtue of the previous amendment, the Minister took the view that there was a need to include occupational therapists and specify occupational therapists in this legislation. This, of itself, justifies the need to specify childminders clearly and explicitly.

There is in the region of 50,000 childminders in operation in this State. It is a totally unregulated sector that has been unregulated in the past. I acknowledge that is not only the responsibility or a consequence of this Government. Anyway, the sector remains unregulated. When the national vetting legislation was going through - the Minister alluded to the vetting legislation previously - we tabled amendments to include childminders. At the time, the Government voted down the amendments to include childminders. As I said, at a conservative guess there are 50,000 childminders working in this jurisdiction, our State. They are dealing with children on an ongoing basis.

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