Children First Committee Stage with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly TD, Wednesday 23 September 2015
In page 5, between lines 27 and 28, insert the following –
““Emotional abuse” means behaviour (including an omission to behave in a particular manner) that significantly and seriously deprives a child of his or her developmental need for affection, approval, consistency and security and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, includes –
(i) the imposition of negative attributes on a child, expressed by persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming;
(ii) conditional parenting in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his or her behaviours or actions;
(iii) emotional unavailability of the child’s parent or carer;
(iv) unresponsiveness of the parent or carer or inconsistent or inappropriate expectations of the child;
(v) premature imposition of responsibility on the child;
(vi) unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of the child’s capacity to understand something or to behave and control himself or herself in a certain way;
(vii) under- or over-protection of the child;
(viii) failure to show interest in, or provide age-appropriate opportunities for, the child’s cognitive and emotional development;
(ix) use of unreasonable or over-harsh disciplinary measures;
(x) exposure to domestic violence; and
(xi) exposure to inappropriate or abusive material through new technology,
provided that such behaviour or omission to behave in a particular manner results in or is likely to result in significant and serious injury to the emotional, social or psychological welfare of the child.”
In page 6, delete lines 12 and 13 and replace with the following –
“neglect” means, in relation to a child,
(i) to deprive the child of adequate food, warmth, clothing, hygiene, supervision, safety or medical care; or
(ii) to deprive the child of appropriate emotional and psychological support or to subject the child (or allow or cause the child to be subjected)
to emotional abuse to the extent that the child’s physical, social, intellectual, psychological or emotional development is significantly and seriously affected.”
Minister, I move Amendment 1
It is extremely important that we identify and name ‘emotional abuse’ as a stand-alone form of abuse which, where sustained and ongoing, has a devastating effect on children’s lives and through into adulthood.
Emotional abuse is often the first abuse to occur and then escalates into other forms of abuse. We talk at length about the importance of early intervention and should not underestimate the message we are sending by excluding emotional abuse. What message are we giving? Emotional abuse is about control and power.
Barring and Protection Order – cannot use abusive language – we are able to define this in law. Why is an adult different to a child?
Case – parent telling child every day that they are “born angry” and then wonder why the child at 12 presents with an anger problem.
In the Bill, ‘harm’ includes ‘neglect’. This amendment (amendments 1 and 2 read together), alters the definition of neglect to include emotional abuse, though only where the emotional abuse significantly and seriously injures the emotional, social or psychological welfare of the child.
The definition of ‘emotional abuse’ is largely drawn from its definition in the Children First Guidance, subject to the caveat that behaviour or omission to behave will not be treated as emotional abuse for the purpose of this Act unless it has a significant and serious impact on the child.
This is a relatively high threshold, which is designed to ensure that minor infractions or subjective differences in relation to best practice in parenting do not become subject of investigation.
The amendment is clearly framed so that only behaviour or omissions to behave that have a significant and serious effect on the emotional, social or psychological welfare of the child are deemed to constitute emotional abuse.
The examples given at 1 through 11 of Amendment 1 are not exhaustive. They are without prejudice to the generality of the substantive definition and are drawn directly from Children First.
It is important to note that a single or isolated instance of any of these examples may not be enough in itself to constitute emotional abuse in the sense in which it is defined in the amendment.
These examples may nonetheless be useful in helping to identify emotional abuse though, again, they are subject to the caveat that the effects of the behaviour or omission to behave must be serious.