Question 10 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)
Can the Minister give his considered view on the recommendations in the Report of the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the General Scheme of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015?
My Department is examining the Report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme and Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015, recently published by the Joint Committee on Health and Children.
I would to thank the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Jerry Buttimer TD, and members of the Committee for their work in producing the Report without delay. I know that a considerable amount of work has gone into this Report and it is being studied in detail as we continue the preparation of the legislation.
The Report has made key recommendations as follows:
- That the definition of ‘compelling reasons’ be further clarified and more tightly defined in the Bill.
- In cases where non-disclosure is sought citing ‘compelling reasons’, this should be supported by medical evidence.
- that consideration should be given to excluding the Statutory Declaration provision from the Bill. This could possibly be replaced by an alternative provision where the applicant is required to attend one preparatory session to discuss and explore the issues concerning privacy and respect, before the Birth Certificate is released.
- that consideration should be given to reducing the lead-in to a much shorter time period, and to holding a shorter, more intense information / awareness campaign over a six-month period, to include engagement with social media and a wide range of community groups who can help to raise awareness about the new Register.
- in the case of the illegally adopted, that consideration should be given to establishing a dedicated unit to actively investigate those cases.
- that a review of service requirements arising from the Bill is undertaken.
All the recommendations of the Committee will be fully considered with a view to incorporating the Committee’s views where appropriate and subject to legal advice.
The Committee also recommended that I give consideration to issues highlighted during the pre-legislative scrutiny process in relation to step-parent adoption. I am addressing this matter in the context of the Adoption (Amendment) Bill.
Question 11 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)
Can the Minister provide an update on the progress by the Child and Family Agency of a national seven day, 24-hour social work service for children and families at risk?
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency provides a range of services aimed at addressing emergency situations in the area of child welfare and protection. In the main, these emergency situations arise out of hours.
I am pleased to inform the Committee Members that Tusla commenced the new Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service last month. The key objective of the service is to co-operate with and support An Garda Síochána in the execution of their duties and responsibilities under the Child Care Act, 1991 and the Refugee Act, 1996.
Prior to this new development Tusla provided, in an emergency situation, for residential and foster care placements for children under Section 12(3) of the Child Care Act, 1991 and placements for children referred under Section 8.5 of the Refugee Act, 1996;
The additional service now available allows the Garda Síochána to contact a national emergency social work out-of-hours phone service for general advice or consultation. This on-call service will be staffed by social workers operating from the Out-of-Hours services in Dublin, supported by on-call social workers in different parts of the country.
The social workers are currently employed by Tusla in its children’s services.
I welcome this new development. Up to now, under the Emergency Place of Safety Service, An Garda Síochána could access an emergency placement for children found to be at risk out of hours, but they did not have access to a social worker regarding the case or particular circumstances. In these circumstances, a child deemed to be at risk by An Garda Síochana was placed in a family setting until the following working day, when the local social work service would assume responsibility for the case.
Tusla and An Garda Síochána are the key agencies empowered by law to protect and promote the welfare of children and they have separate yet complementary roles. Mutual understanding and cooperation is essential in ensuring that these roles are carried out effectively and in a child-centred manner.
The aim of the Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service is to ensure that the disruption and upset to which children may be exposed in emergency situations is minimised and the rights of parents and guardians are respected. The introduction of the Emergency Out-of-Hours Social Work Service assists in maximising inter-agency co-operation and promoting the safety and welfare of children.
Question 12 (Senator Jillian van Turnhout)
Can the Minister advise if he plans to legislate to vindicate children’s constitutional rights; including enacting legislation to satisfy Article 42A provisions on the best interests of the child, views of the child, and adoption. And if he plans to carry out an audit of laws, judicial and administrative practices and policies to identify gaps in the implementation of the best interests principle and to address these gaps without delay?
At the time the wording of the then proposed thirty-first amendment of the Constitution was published by the Government, there was a commitment to bring forward important amendments in adoption law. In order to fully inform consideration by the people of the constitutional change being put forward for their decision, the Government published the General Scheme of a proposed Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2012 which would flow from implementation of the change. With the thirty-first amendment now standing as part of the Constitution, in the form of the new Article 42A, my Department is progressing the promised Adoption (Amendment) Bill, in which the best interests of the child are a paramount consideration, for consideration by the Oireachtas.
The Constitutional amendment was the subject of consultation with Government departments to ensure their compliance with the provisions therein. While the amendment has set a standard that must be observed, there is nothing to constrain measures being taken in the public legislative or administrative domain that exceed the standard set. The impact of the amendment, and the willingness of the Government to foster a child-centred approach, are to be seen in provisions relating to the views and best interests of children in certain legislation enacted or introduced since the referendum, such as the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 and the Children First Act 2015.
The on-going implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2014-2020, is demonstrably rooted in the values and principles that the Constitutional amendment represents. The implementation of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures is a ‘whole-of-Government’ commitment which is being driven with involvement by non-Governmental interests in the sector.
The policy framework relates to five specified outcomes for children and young people, which include that they will be connected, respected and contributing to their world. A major commitment by my Department in that regard is to greatly enhance the basis, and opportunity, for participation by young people in decisions that impact on them. To that end, I published the first National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making 2015-2020 which is a constituent strategy of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures. The Participation Strategy specifies a number of commitments to be delivered by various public bodies. In my Department’s case this includes a commitment to bring about a major development by way of the establishment of a Children and Young People’s Participation Hub to become a centre of excellence on children and young people’s participation.
While an audit of the kind referred to in the question is not planned at this time, emerging developments in the legislative and policy domains indicate that possible change is already underway and more is in prospect.