Question submitted in advance by Senator Jillian van Turnhout:
Can the Minister confirm whether the blueprint set out in the 2009 Children Acts Advisory Board Report “Giving a voice to children’s wishes, feelings and interests” for a properly funded Guardian Ad Litem agency in Ireland forms part of the reform promised for the Guardian Ad Litem services in proceedings under the Child Care Act 1991? And can the Minister outline his plans in this area and a timeline for implementation?
Guardian ad litem services, under the provisions of the Child Care Act 1991, are currently organised and provided on an unregulated and ad hoc basis and, in the absence of extensive and fundamental reform, the service will not be sustainable into the future. The service now incurs an annual spend of over €16 million, and needs to be grounded as a consistent, accountable and sustainable national service. My Department is currently preparing policy proposals to achieve this objective.
A ‘root-and-branch’ reform is envisaged. Work on the policy proposals is being informed by a number of considerations and sources of information, including work done by the former Children Acts Advisory Board. The objective is to put in place a comprehensive legislative basis for the delivery of a high quality and sustainable service, on a national basis.
The reforms must ensure the best interests of the child, the centrality of the courts and the independence of guardians ad litem, but must also put in place a nationally managed service that is cohesive, accountable and sustainable. In Ireland, as in other jurisdictions, the service is subject to increasing demand and finite resources. I am determined to achieve best possible use of the substantial level of funding that has already been allocated to this area.
Reflecting elements identified by the Children Acts Advisory Board, proposed statutory arrangements will aim to address such matters as guidance as to circumstances for appointment, the qualifications that will be required for appointment, a well-defined role and responsibilities for the guardian ad litem, their legal status in proceedings, and legal representation. The reforms will take full account of the importance of listening to the views of children in relation to their own future.
My Department is well advanced in its examination of all aspects of reform of the guardian ad litem service. It aims to have the necessary policy proposals completed as soon as possible and, subject to Government approval for same, to proceed immediately to the preparation of Heads of legislation.