Protecting children 24 hours a day

Garda Vetting

Vetting has come a long way since the ISPCC started campaigning for improved systems in the early 90’s.
 
Throughout 2011 and 2012 as per Programme for Government, work was undertaken to draft legislation relating to vetting. The ISPCC had the opportunity to make a submission and to address the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to make recommendations. The National Vetting Bureau Bill was passed and signed in December 2012. This Bill provides a statutory basis for the use of Garda criminal records in the vetting of persons applying for employment working with children or vulnerable adults.
 
The Act also provides for the use of "soft" information, (which is referred to as "specified information" in the Act) in regard to vetting. This is information other than criminal convictions where such information leads to a bona-fide belief that a person poses a threat to children or vulnerable persons.
 
The National Vetting Bureau Act 2012 makes it mandatory for persons working with children or vulnerable adults to be vetted, whereas up until now this has been voluntary. The legislation will also create offences and penalties for persons who fail to comply with its provisions.
 
The schedule to the Bill lists in detail the types of work or activities that require vetting. These include:
 
· Childcare services (but not individual childminders)
· Schools
· Hospitals and health services
· Residential services or accommodation for children or vulnerable persons
· Treatment, therapy or counselling services for children or vulnerable persons
· Provision of leisure, sporting or physical activities to children or vulnerable persons
· Promotion of religious beliefs
 
“The National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 passed all stages on 19 December, 2012 and was signed by the President on 26th December, 2012.  National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.
 
The Act has still not been commenced in full; this was expected in 2015 following consideration of some amendments. While the passing of the Act was a hugely positive step the ISPCC believes there are still some clarifications needed.

 
ISPCC Concerns
 
  • Individual childminders do not have to be vetted – Creche and preschool staff have to be vetted, it makes no sense that children/babies in the care of individuals (outside of informal family arrangements) do not have to be vetted.
  • Sole traders do not have to be vetted
General Information on Vetting
 
Ensuring that people who wish to work with children do not have a criminal conviction for a child abuse offence is a basic child protection measure. The level of vetting carried out in Ireland currently falls far below the standard within Northern Ireland and the UK, as well as in many European countries.  The ISPCC has stated several times that there is a need for a standardised protocol between jurisdictions in relation to vetting practises and sharing information.
 
The ISPCC has maintained that a statutory obligation should be placed on all organisations working with children to obtain Garda Vetting on their staff and volunteers. Until very recently, other than prospective State employees, those performing State services and those contracted to perform State services, there was no general legal requirement that employees working in areas such as childcare, should have clearance from the Gardai.
 
In addition to this, ISPCC continually stated that it is imperative that there is a protocol and system established for the sharing and exchange of “soft information” between relevant agencies. Soft Information for the purpose of vetting is information known about a person short of a criminal conviction ie; it might encompass being identified as a suspect in a reported incident of child abuse, being let go from a post for improper behaviour towards a child, being investigated for child abuse, being charged and going to court but not being found guilty.
 
Historical progression of vetting and ISPCC involvement
 
The ISPCC was instrumental in raising the profile and need for vetting with the launch of the 2005 Campaign “How Can We be Sure they’re safe?” collecting over 100,000 signatures nationwide and advising Minister for Children (at that time) Brian Lenihan on the issue. The ISPCC is also represented on the National Implementation Group for Vetting.
 
On the 11th September 2008, the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children published their interim report which outlined the following:
 
  • The vetting of all persons involved in working in any capacity with children.
  • For the statutory regulation of the manner in which information in relation to the records of criminal prosecutions, criminal convictions and soft information may be collated, exchanged and deployed by An Garda Siochana - or other statutory agencies - for the purpose of ensuring the highest Child protection standards in the State.
  • To require that all agencies, organisations, bodies, clubs, educational and childcare establishments and groups working with, or involved with, children ensure that all of those working in paid or voluntary capacity are subject to vetting.
 
This resulted in the current National Vetting Bureau Act 2012