Private Members Motion: One Parent Families

I welcome the Tánaiste. It is with pride that I second the motion. The result of inadequate income for many one-parent families is food poverty, fuel poverty, over-indebtedness, difficulty with education-related costs, cutting out extra-curricular activities and children’s hobbies, living in poor quality housing, risk of homelessness, and homelessness. The latest SILC data for 2013 revealed that in lone parent households, the at-risk-of-poverty rate was 31.7%, the deprivation rate was 63.2% and the consistent poverty rate was 23%.

The particular and distinct vulnerability of this group is further shown by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which has confirmed that one-parent families constitute one of the major groups to which it provides services. The financial assistance the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides is connected with their low and inadequate incomes, particularly those in receipt of one-parent family payment. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has advised that despite incredibly careful budgeting, there simply is not enough money in the house, and they find they need a payment to buy food or meet the costs of school, energy and housing.

Parents who work part-time find that their pay is low and unlikely to rise significantly as they often have low educational levels because of the situation they are in. Child care is an issue in terms of cost of child care and the salaries for those working in child care because all too often jobs that are considered to be women’s work get lower rates of pay.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also supports both two and one-parent homeless families that are in emergency hotel accommodation, in the majority of cases because of the major shortage in social housing or having been pushed out of the unregulated monopolistic private rental sector where market rate far exceeds rent supplement caps and where the housing assistance payment is only available from selected housing authorities. That is an issue that differs around the country.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers report that their members are finding that the move from one-parent family payment to the jobseeker’s transition allowance is causing them considerable uncertainty and fear, particularly among those who have received the letter from the Department. This is something I found repeatedly as I talked to groups in preparation for this debate.

The proposed changes regarding the one-parent family payment have also caused considerable stress, upset and confusion with Doras Buí, a community-development organisation centre that provides high quality supports and services to one-parent families living in the Coolock area of Dublin. That organisation outlined some of its concerns. Obviously a major cause of concern is the provision of adequate, quality and affordable child care in that area. It claims that the provision of the after-school subvention scheme is not adequate. First, not all private child care providers have taken up this scheme and many parents are unable to find a provider to collect their child from their school. It is great to say that one has the scheme in one place and the child somewhere else, but how is the child supposed to get to the scheme? Second, the subsidised scheme only lasts for 52 weeks. What are parents to do after the first year of the scheme finishes? The Department has advised parents to contact their child care committee after this time.

Many parents have expressed concerns regarding their current working arrangements and qualifying conditions for jobseeker’s allowance. Some are working ten to 15 hours per week, broken down to two to three hours per day for five days, in order to fit around child care arrangements. While working these hours, they do not qualify for jobseeker’s allowance because they work for more than three days per week. Many parents and their employers are not in a position to increase working hours to at least 19 hours, which would allow parents to be eligible for FIS and the back to work dividend. Another example has been clearly illustrated by the Dunnes Stores workers who work 15 hours per week. We see the precarious position they have been put in. A person may be called in to work thinking they might have five hours, and organise child care on that basis, only to go in to find out they have one hour of work.

Due to the current housing crisis and the lack of social housing, many lone parents are in receipt of rent supplement. Under the conditions of rent allowance a recipient cannot work more than 30 hours per week, so we are moving up the scale. If they do, they lose their rent supplement, so parents are left with a choice between working full time and keeping their home.

While there are child care education and training support programmes available for parents who are studying a FETAC level 5 course to help towards the cost of further education, there is no such funding for parents who want to go to degree level. This is limiting their education choices, which in turn limits their ability to gain full-time well paid employment.

I will end by mentioning a lone parent involved in Doras Buí who asked me to share her story with the House. Her name is Leanne and she is a single mother of one. She says:

The new changes in the One Parent Family Payment will really affect me in a bad way. My son turns 7 years old on the 14th of July, so this will affect me immediately. My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder and takes daily medication. I attend monthly and sometimes weekly appointments in the Mater CAMHS hospital. I am currently working part time and I face a drop of 70/80 euro a week, basically between 280/320 a month. This is a huge stress on a lone parent like me, trying to better myself for my son by getting out and working part time and this strain is unbelievable. I attend counselling over these stresses. I cannot work full time as I don’t have a minder for my child and with these changes I won’t be able to afford one any time soon.

This really illustrates how a number of factors that I have tried to demonstrate come together and compound this downward spiral at a time when we should be supporting and lifting up lone parents and giving them the opportunities we say we wish to give them. I cannot see the evidence of investment in child care and after-school care. There has been investment, but there are no guidelines, no clear structures and no regulations, so the reality is that when people try to access services, be they housing or employment, all these obstacles are in the way. We really need to tackle this issue to lift lone parents and their children out of poverty.

Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage

I welcome the Minister and her officials to the House. I thank her for the consultation in advance of the debate and the opportunity for pre-legislative hearings on the general scheme of the Bill in committee. My colleague, Senator Katherine Zappone, was very active in the committee on that issue.

As a person who has advocated for children’s rights for many years and has the privilege of being a voice in the legislative process, this feels like a really important day, and I believe it is. The Children and Family Relationships Bill will bring about essential and long overdue reform, modernisation and legal clarity to many aspects of family law, particularly to diverse parenting situations and diverse family forms. When I say overdue, that is not a criticism of the Government. I commend the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, her predecessor, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the officials in the Department of Justice and Equality on their courage and expertise in drafting the Bill and bringing it before the Houses. It is an indictment rather of many previous Governments that it has taken us all until now in 2015 to introduce what will be the greatest reform of child and family law for a generation and finally to put children at the heart of family law. It is the first major reform of guardianship laws since the 1960s. I read an article by Colette Browne in the Irish Independentin February in which she noted that 3% of births in the 1960s were to an unmarried mother. I looked at figures in preparation for today’s debate solely in regard to these areas as married families can break down and issues can happen. Figures which I received from the Children’s Rights Alliance show that 308,000 children are living with 186,000 lone parents, 104,000 children are living with 60,000 unmarried cohabiting couples, 43,000 children are living with 29,000 lone fathers, and there are 230 same-sex couples with children. I want us all to have a perspective on the figures and to understand that these are many of the children we are talking about in debating the legislation.

As indicated by the figures, an increasing number of children live in diverse parenting situations and diverse family forms other than the traditional model of a household headed by married parents. I could use all my time to outline the areas I think will significantly contribute to children’s lives and their positive outcomes. For me the Bill is very much based on children’s rights. It is based on the best interests of the child being the paramount consideration and ensures issues such as continuity of care, right to identity, and the voice of the child are all becoming normalised and part of the legislative process. That is welcome.

I will use my time to indicate the areas where I think we could go further. For example, the Bill does not include definitions of guardianship, custody and access which would be essential to reduce the level of family conflict that may take place when relationships break down and to avoid the existing confusion among the public, professionals and the Judiciary. I understand the options about guardianships and the different levels of guardianship, but will it be difficult for the public to understand which levels of guardianship one person has vis-à-vis another? In future Bills, perhaps we should be look at the Law Reform Commission report of 2010 which examined the legal aspects of family relationships. It suggested new terms such as parental responsibility, day-to-day care and contact rather than the word “access”. These are much more child-friendly terms and state the roles the adult would play in the child’s life. However, I recognise and support the Bill as a monumental step in the right direction and the foundation from which child and family law can continue to be developed and bolstered to meet the needs of our ever-evolving society.

Given the breadth of the Bill, it is disappointing that the debate around it has been limited to a few narrow strands, albeit challenging and emotive issues by nouveauchildren’s rights proponents, whose premise I do not always agree is children’s rights centred. I am especially saddened by the talk of a hierarchy of family structures or some sort of Olympics of family structures meeting gold a medal standard where we now have silver and bronze who do not even get to compete. I am conscious that there are children who will listen to parts of the debate. I am not suggesting that they would be tuning in to the Seanad, although they come and visit us regularly, but I am concerned that in some way we are putting affirmation on one sort of family form or another. There are many different reasons for different family forms. We do not need to look too far beyond our families to understand the different types and diverse types of families in which children are living.
On Committee Stage I will be looking at section 63 which deals with the best interests of the child, particularly in relation to the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964. It provides a new and detailed definition in Irish law of the best interests of the child. The factors and circumstances enumerated thereunder are not exhaustive, and therefore the court will be capable of looking beyond them in making a determination concerning the child. The Bill will allow the courts to consider the physical, emotional, psychological, educational and social needs of the child, including his or her need for stability, having regard to age and stage of development. That is welcome.

As has been mentioned, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, special rapporteur on child protection, suggests that in tandem with this welcome legislative development, structural reform also needs to take place, namely, we need to establish a distinct and separate system of family courts. I am aware that is a commitment in the programme for Government to provide a fair and effective forum to vindicate the rights of children and families.

The Child Care Act 1991 is silent on the qualifications, roles and duties of guardians ad litem. A properly funded guardian ad litemagency in Ireland is long overdue. We have a blueprint for this in the Children Acts Advisory Board report of 2009 which gives a voice to children’s wishes, feelings and interests. I hope that as we progress the Bill, we can ensure the voice of the child is certain and guaranteed.

An issue that has been raised with me by Barnardos is the court welfare service. This service would provide a crucial link between the family and the Judiciary, offering services such as mediation, undertaking assessments of the child’s welfare and best interests, ascertaining their view through a child view expert, guardians ad litemand conducting family risk assessments. It would ensure judges received up-to-date holistic information on each case to help them in making their decision. The service would also provide, where appropriate, support such as child contact centres to assist the children in highly contentious and acrimonious splits.Perhaps we should look at other systems in operation, such as the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in the UK.

I will move on to the issue of the right to identity, which my colleague Senator Power has raised. When I see all our colleagues raising the issue of right to identity, I wish many of them had been here when we were debating the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, but we will wait and see. I am concerned that people are misrepresenting and misconstruing the principle underlying a child’s right to identity to fit their own agenda. They are talking about the child’s right to identity from the mother’s and father’s perspectives, rather than from the child’s perspective. This Bill approaches the issue from the child’s perspective, based on children’s rights. We had a good debate in the Seanad on the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill, during which I tabled an amendment on the child’s right to identity. Hopefully, as we evolve in our thinking, we can assert this right to identity more and more. The focus of these groups is often selective, to further an ideological end, rather than a genuine concern for the vindication of the child’s right to his or her identity. This is the crux of our continuous failure on the issue of a child’s right to identity. Historically and culturally, we have constructed a hierarchy of rights, a veil of secrecy, to deny children the right to their identity. What the Minister is putting forward in this Bill and in the Bill on assisted human reproduction is to be welcomed. There are groups that wish we would go further or that we would allow for anonymous donation. The Minister has struck the right balance. I have sympathy with the position of Senator Power in that I would like to see the right to identity here. We have a history of not acknowledging it, but this is a welcome start. The transition period the Minister has proposed is fair and pragmatic. I would prefer that a child have a right to his or her identity, but I am willing to accept what the Minister is putting forward as a strong change, with a focus on children’s rights and ensuring they have their right to identity.

I also want to raise the issue of unmarried fathers. I am worried that we still have a long way to go on this issue. We often feed into the negative stereotypes of unmarried fathers as feckless, irresponsible flakes. It is all too easy for us to do this. Worse still, the justification for not granting automatic guardianship rights to fathers appears to have been conflated with concerns about domestic and sexual violence. These heinous crimes can happen in any type of family, not just unmarried ones. It is wrong, prejudicial and discriminatory to link it exclusively to unmarried parents. The law should presume that the majority of unmarried parents are responsible and reasonable. Where they are not, this should be addressed through relevant legislation. The solution is not to penalise the majority. Colette Browne, in her article on the Children and Family Relationships Bill, says that it compounds our unfair treatment of unmarried parents. She says that currently unmarried fathers have zero legal rights over their children, which means that:
[…] if your partner is away and your child falls ill, you cannot authorise medical treatment. It means that if your relationship breaks up and your partner decides to move abroad with your child, you are powerless to stop her. It also means that you have no automatic right to custody or access to your child. By law, the mother is entitled to sole custody of the child if the father has not been made a guardian. Imagine a worst-case scenario in which your partner dies and you are left alone to care for your child.
How can we make it more natural and how can we ensure that guardianship rights are there?

I have much more to say, but one of the issues I want to raise relates to statutory declarations. All of us have lost precious documents. For example, I lost my driving licence years ago. We are talking about a piece of paper. If one loses it, it is gone and one’s rights are extinguished. I welcome the Minister’s suggestion of piloting a repository. I wonder if we need to do more than that. I acknowledge what she is saying – that she does not want to make it compulsory and add another hurdle – but we have to find a way in which those statutory declarations can be lodged.

I want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, in saying that I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill. I support it and I will do everything I can do ensure it is brought into law. Its potential is manifold, but at its heart it is about children’s rights. I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill to the House.

Statements on Direct Provision 22 January 2015

I hope the Minister of State has a little bit of latitude given the lack of Members in the House. We are approaching the 15th anniversary of the system of direct provision, a system that places asylum seekers apart and away from the community in conditions described by some as warehousing and others, who have made their way out, as open prisons. Therefore, it is not an anniversary that any of us here are celebrating. I welcome the Minister of State’s willingness to come to the House and debate the issue and his statements on the issue.

 

The significant length of time that asylum seekers and their children may have to stay in direct provision centres is something that I have raised consistently in this House along with many of my colleagues, most recently in the context of the Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill, initiated by my colleague, Senator David Norris, and I in October 2014. While we were not successful in our endeavour since our efforts on that date, I note that the Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimní have published a joint proposal for a one-off scheme to clear the existing and significant asylum backlog, and I am happy to support that initiative.

 

There have been some welcome developments in recent months such as the assurances from the Minister for Justice and Equality that the International Protection Bill will be published by the end of January. I am sure the Minister of State is confident of the input and expertise he can expect from this House in shaping the most robust, fair, accountable and transparent system for protection status determination as possible.

 

I also very much welcome the appointment of the working group to examine improvements in the protection process and direct provision system, and it is on its work that I will focus. I noted with concern when reading the terms of the working group that the first proviso for the recommendations for improvements to be brought forward by the group states that “in light of the budgetary realities, the overall cost of the protection system to the taxpayer is reduced or the remains within or close to current levels”. The current system of direct provision is rampant with human rights breaches. While I do not need to remind the Minister of State, I would remind the Government of the position maintained by the international human rights fora that a state’s obligation towards the promotion and protection of human rights is not diminished by economic and financial crisis.

 

Like many, I eagerly await the recommendations of each of the three thematic groups, but I would be particularly interested to see the outcome from the theme two Group, which will deal with improved supports. There are a number of issues which I have raised repeatedly. One is access to education opportunities. I have long decried the fact that with no current prospects for post-secondary education, we are effectively hitting the pause button on young asylum seekers’ lives. I meet them all too often and see that the light has gone out because there is no hope for them within that system. Another issue is access to the labour market. Ireland is the only country in Europe not to have signed up to the Recast Receptions Conditions Directive. I have yet to be presented with convincing evidence of the pull factor so desperately feared with respect to allowing asylum seekers access the labour market, but I have spoken to enough individuals trapped in the asylum system who have spoken of the devastating impact of enforced and prolonged idleness on their family dynamics, self-esteem and mental health to know that the human price paid is far higher than the cost of this so-called pull factor. There is scope to increase the weekly allowance paid to residents and children, which has not increased in 15 years, and with no entitlement to discretionary social protection supports, in effect we see many living in poverty and not being able to have the same, or even near the same, opportunities as other children. We hear it from teachers in primary schools that are accommodating children from the direct provision system.

 

A feature of the issues that will be dealt with by the theme one group, and I still cannot understand why we cannot do something about this within a matter of days or weeks, is the putting in place of a complaints process available to residents. I am baffled and utterly disappointed there is still no independent complaints mechanism in place. The Minister of State mentioned the judgment from Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh where he found that the Reception and Integration Agency’s complaints procedure was not sufficiently independent due to the fact that the RIA is the final arbitrator in the process. I have tried to put myself in their position, and I trust the system, but bearing in mind that there is nobody independent in place, I would find it very difficult if I was put in their position to trust that system without the willingness to have an independent complaints mechanism. For example, the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, includes a provision in section 69 for referral of complaints to the Ombudsman for Children’s office. We all trust in the State but Child and Family Agency still has an independent complaints mechanism. In 2012, the Minister for Justice and Equality was able, by way of ministerial order or statutory instrument, to give effect to a decision to extend the remit of complaints for children in prisons. That was done literally overnight. I know there was a lot of preparation work beforehand, but it was able to be done to ensure that the Ombudsman for Children could take complaints from children in St. Patrick’s Institution. Since then, complaints have been made, but it is nowhere near opening the floodgates, which was the argument used. It has not happened in the case of St. Patrick’s. It is the final arbiter, so I ask why it is not in place. I find it unacceptable that the RIA says it will be the final arbiter of its own work.

 

Another matter under theme one about which I have a concern is catering facilities in direct provision centres. In so far as I understand, direct provision centres were originally self-catering – or at least, self-catering step-down facilities were provided in order to prepare successful asylum seekers for independent living. These facilities have effectively been closed over the years. Is self-catering regarded as a pull factor? Is it a deliberate policy of the RIA to close these self-catering units? The official line from RIA is that the policy is supported by the value-for-money report carried out in 2010 and that it was done purely based on economic considerations. I do not accept this, because the value-for-money report did not consider the health and social inclusion costs for asylum seekers – their physical, mental and psychological health. I refer to Dr. Bernard Ruane, who spoke to colleagues at the Irish Medical Organisation conference in 2008. Dr. Ruane said there was a 90% rate of depression among asylum seekers who have been here for six months. He identified their cramped living conditions and the prohibition on working as factors contributing to their depression. We must be mindful of this point.

 

The Minister of State will know that I could say so much more on this topic. With regard to child protection concerns, I implore the Minister of State to be cognisant of the findings of Dr. Carol Coulter and team’s second interim report on the child care law reporting project. She found that social exclusion, poverty, isolation and disability were common features among the mothers and fathers facing court proceedings, and there is an acknowledgement that minority groups, including asylum seekers, are thus particularly vulnerable. This concern is supported because in one in four cases she examined at least one parent was either a member of an ethnic minority, an asylum seeker or a member of the Traveller community. This prevalence is evident. I ask the Minister of State why we are not seeing more action from the National Action Plan Against Racism. It seems as though the plan has been shelved.

I would like to say a lot more, but those are my points for now. I ask why we cannot do something now about the complaints mechanism.

Adoption (Identity and Information) Bill 2014: Second Stage 19 November 2014

Welcome Minister.

Welcome visitors to the gallery.

I wish to thank Senator Averil Power for her tremendous work initiating the Bill and to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames for joining with us in bringing it forward.

A special thanks to Dr Fergus Ryan, law lecturer who drafted the Bill.

Thank you to so many of my colleagues who have spoken with me over the past two weeks and shared their stories and why they support this Bill.

I feel very strongly about the Bill and it is a real honour to second it in the House today.

There are a number of salient parts to the Bill, which my colleague Senator Power has already outlined and you will also hear shortly from Senator Healy Eames, who brings to the process her experience as an adoptive parent.

My intervention will focus on a critical component which is all too readily brushed aside diminished or dismissed… this is the right to identity.

In 1976, Alex Haley, author of Roots, articulated what so many adopted people in Ireland have described to me over the years, when he said “In all of us, there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from.  Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness.”

The right to know who you are is so fundamental, so necessary and so basic. Its absence can be a source of considerable pain and anguish. Its absence, where the necessary information exists but is being withheld, can leave people with a feeling of deep injury and injustice.

By focusing on the right to identity I in no way wish to undermine or diminish the identity that an adopted person has developed in their life with their adopted parents and families.

There are many adopted people who have no desire whatsoever to access their birth information.

However, there are many for whom the information is a burning need.

I have spoken in this House on several occasions about forced and illegal adoption.  All too often we have cloaked adoption in secrecy and as a society we have been complicit in supressing women, their children and their respective rights.

A startling figure by Claire McGettrick of the Adoptions Rights Alliance that in 1967, a staggering 96.95% of all children born outside marriage were adopted, typifies this.

We cannot allow our shameful past or fear that further shames may be exposed justify the perpetuation of a shameful practice against at least 50,000 people in Ireland. And yet we do?

This is why the Bill is so necessary, so important and indeed so overdue.

We need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland. Our current system of closed adoptions, which automatically extinguishes a child’s and then adult’s right to their identity, will ideally be changed to an open system where biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact from the outset.

In the meantime, this Bill will ensure, however retrospectively, the adopted person’s right to identity.

We are here on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  How fitting it will be if we can give life to the Convention’s express recognition of a child’s right to know and preserve his or her identity

This has been the law in Scotland since 1930 and in England and Wales since the mid-70s with no dire consequences or legal wrangling over rights to privacy.

According to the Supreme Court in I’OT v B, an adoptee’s right to their identity is not absolute and is subject, in particular, to the right to privacy of the natural parent. However, it also pointed out that the right to privacy does not automatically trump the right to identity. The court stated that the two rights must be balanced against each other. It is clear from Supreme Court decisions such as Tuohy v Courtney [1994] 3 IR 1 that the precise balance to be struck is a matter for the Oireachtas to determine. This bill achieves that balance in a way that is sensitive to the needs of all parties.

We must let in the light; we must start now in a new era of openness and understanding.  We should not stand in judgement and I believe that this Bill strikes the balance, mooted by the Supreme Court, as longed for by many adopted people, their families and their friends.

Let’s do this. Let’s do this now.

Protecting Childhood: Motion on the Marriage Age

Wednesday, 25th June 2014

“That Seanad Éireann:

– notes the need to ensure adequate protection of children and of children’s rights in our laws, and in particular to ensure that children are not coerced or forced into ‘arranged’ marriages;
– notes that sections 31 and 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 allow exemptions from the normal rule that parties to a legal marriage must be over 18; and that the possibility of seeking this exemption by way of court order was retained in section 2(2) of the Civil Registration Act 2004;
– notes further that this exemption was criticised by the High Court in a judgment in June 2013 in a case concerning an ‘arranged’ marriage; and
– proposes that the Government would consider whether to remove or amend the statutory provision allowing minors to marry on the basis of a court exemption.”

Senator Jillian van Turnhout:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I would like to thank Senator Bacik, who like me has worked on this issue, for initiating the motion before us. I am very happy to second the motion and thank her for her co-operation.

I raised this issue back in May during the Seanad debate on the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria that Boko Haram had threatened to sell into forced marriage. Like many people, I felt helpless looking on at the situation and it made me wonder if there was anything we could do. For me, this is one area that we can do something about. We can send the clear message that the age for marriage is 18. That is something that we must take responsibility for doing. During the debate I made the worrying correlation between Nigeria and Ireland because, in certain court ordered special circumstances, exemptions to the ordinary legal age for marriage of 18 years can be made. That means Ireland does not currently prohibit all child marriages.

It is important to note that Ireland is bound by a number of international human rights laws and standards, the provisions of which are profoundly incompatible with child marriage, for example, the International Bill of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, CEDAW, the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the slave trade, and institutions and practices similar to slavery.

In September 2013, Ireland, with its fellow EU member states, supported the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution, Strengthening Efforts to Prevent and Eliminate Child, Early and Forced Marriage: challenges, achievements, best practice, and implementation gaps. The European Union as a negotiating block at the international fora condemns the prevalence of child marriages yet makes provision for it in a number of its own jurisdictions, for example, in Germany and Italy. In Germany, if one of the parties to be wed is at least 16 years old, but not yet 18 years old, the German age of emancipation, that party needs to seek approval from the family court in order to be wed. Consent of the concerned party’s parents is not sufficient. In Italy, a sworn statement of consent to the marriage is required by the parents or legal guardian if the child is under the age of 18.

Exploitation of young girls through violence and abuse, including forced and arranged marriages, is a global problem. According to Girls not Brides, every year, approximately 14 million girls are married before they turn 18 across countries, cultures and religions. They are robbed of their childhood and denied their rights to health, education and security. According to UNFPA, by 2030, the number of child brides marrying each year will have grown from 14.2 million in 2010 to 15.1 million, a 14% rise if the current trend continue.

In March 2014, the Iraqi Justice Minister tabled a Bill to allow girls as young as nine years old to marry. While reports have indicated that it is unlikely that the law will pass, it represents a worrying trend toward religious tendencies usurping girls’ human rights. In response to the Bill, prominent Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar said: “The law represents a crime against humanity and childhood. Married underage girls are subjected to physical and psychological suffering.” This contention is known to be true. The more than 60 million girls married under the age of 18 worldwide have a higher risk of death and injury during childbirth, fewer marketable skills, lower lifetime income, a higher rate of HIV, exposure to domestic violence, and illness for themselves and their families than their unwed peers.

It is inappropriate and, frankly, contradictory that we in Ireland speak out against child marriage in countries such as India, Nigeria, Malawi, Iraq, Nepal, Ethiopia and Bangladesh while our Statute Book still allows for exemptions to the normal marriage age, and fails to specify a minimum age for such exemptions. As outlined by Senator Ivana Bacik in 2012, some 28 marriages were registered under the exemption. As stated by the Senator, the exemption threshold is very broad and it uses standard language giving the court wide discretion. This means that decisions pertaining to allowing children to marry are made behind closed doors, often subject to the in camera rule since the parties to the application are children. Yet, from the moment they are married, they become adults and are outside all the child protection laws. We never hear about those decisions and those vulnerable children. In this regard, the Family Law Reporting Project has come across many of these cases, and may be able to shine a light on the prevalence and general circumstances in which they occur.

There is no written judgment in the High Court case referenced in this motion. The case concerns the annulment of a 16 year old girl’s marriage to a 29 year old man on the basis of the girl’s lack of capacity to give true consent. How can a 16 year old girl give consent to a marriage to a 29 year old man? I am not speaking of a case in Iraq but in Ireland. This happened in Ireland. However, Mr. Justice MacMenamin felt the case raised concerns of such a magnitude that it warranted his making a general comment about the danger of the legal loophole to children. We are faced with a choice. As the Legislature, we must provide guidance for the courts to implement the statutory provisions as intended or, and this would be my preference, we can lead by example and remove or amend the statutory provision currently allowing minors to marry. I believe Ireland should send a clear signal to children here that we protect childhood and that the age for marriage is 18 years. We have had excellent debates here on protecting childhood. We are talking about consent, the age for which should be set at 18 years. That would mean that Ireland, as part of the European Union as a negotiating block, is not saying that it can understand cultural differences and our courts can adjudicate, but we do not trust the courts in other countries. We need to send out a message that we are setting the age at 18 years without exemption.

Link to full debate here.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness on Children’s Rights in Ireland

Thursday, 19th June 2014

“I welcome Judge Catherine McGuinness. It was a joy to listen to her, but her words have provided us with a stark reminder and challenged us in this House for work ahead. I note her work on the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card, and she rightly pointed to the work of Tanya Ward, Maria Corbett and all the team at the Children’s Rights Alliance. She also pointed to work of the member organisations of the Children’s Rights Alliance which come together to provide evidence and put together the Report Card. I am delighted to welcome representatives of many of them to the Gallery. In fact, we could not fit them all in, so there are people in the wings waiting and listening. I could use up all my time listing every organisation, but I want to focus on some current issues. I want also to note the work being done by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, and his annual report. His report and that of the Children’s Rights Alliance provide an invaluable tool for me as a legislator and policymaker. It is good to see that the state supports these initiatives.

The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 set out an ambitious reform agenda for children and family services. Senator Bacik has listed many of the things that have been accomplished since then. Equally, there are areas of concern that impact on the daily lives of children and we need to shine a light on those. As I am sure Ms McGuinness and my colleagues in this House will know, I am strongly committed to pursuing the gamut of children’s rights through my “senatorship”. We have had in this Senate excellent debates on children’s rights, most recently on beauty pageants and protecting childhood. In the autumn, we had a interesting debate on direct provision and valuing youth work. They were really good, informative debates and I pay tribute to my colleagues.

Other speakers have mentioned survivors. When I have met survivors over the years – we were campaigning before the children’s rights referendum became a reality – many said to me that the real testament would be to see children’s rights articulated in the Constitution of Ireland. Chief among the advancements that we have made was the passage of the children’s rights referendum on 10 November 2012. Unfortunately, the enactment of the amendment Bill, the will of Irish people, has been subject to lengthy postponement pending finalisation of the second part of a legal challenge by Mr. Justice McDermott in the High Court before a full appeal can proceed to the Supreme Court. The delay in the legal process is a source of frustration when I think of the body of legislation that has been passed since November 2011 that could have benefited from a constitutionally recognised best interests of the child principle. I also feel sadness when I think of the number of children of married parents, many of whom have spent the vast majority of their childhoods in the care system, who have now turned 18 since we voted as the people of Ireland and are eligible for adoption. Their rights have been expunged. It is my sincere hope that priority is given to the delivery of the judgment in the High Court, that the challenge will be given priority listing in the Supreme Court and that it is ruled upon as expediently as possible.

While Ms McGuinness is before us, I want to address two specific issues that are facing children today and seek her guidance. Chapter 5.4 of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card looks at children in detention. It states that, according to a communication that the alliance received from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 103 young people were detained on remand in 2013 for 138 different periods ranging from one day to several months. We have to bear in mind that a young person may be remanded more than once pending the outcome of proceedings. The number of children detained on remand, particularly the significant percentage of them who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, raises serious concerns about Ireland’s compliance with the international and domestic principles of detention as a last resort for children, which incorporate a presumption against detention of children accused of criminal offences. I want to ask Judge McGuinness’s opinion on the practice of the Children Court of remanding children for assessment despite section 88(13) of the Children’s Act clearly stipulating that the court should not remand a child in detention on the basis solely of care or protection concerns. I want to ask her how the absence of a formal system of bail support and services in Ireland impacts on a child’s ability to meet their bail conditions, with the consequent risk of their receiving a custodial remand for failure to comply.

The second issue that I want to raise is that of direct provision, which Ms McGuinness mentioned. Chapter 6 of the Report Card opens with a piece by Dr. Liam Thornton entitled, “Closing Our Eyes: Irish Society and Direct Provision”. Dr. Thornton has done some excellent work, as have many NGOs such as the Irish Refugee Council and Doras Luimní. I put forward a motion on direct provision in this House last October. We were all at one on this issue. Unfortunately, the Minister then was not at one with us, but we will keep pursuing it and we have a very good Seanad cross-party group working on the issue. We know the high number of children who are in the 34 direct provision accommodation centres. Can Ms McGuinness give us advice on what immediate action could provide greater protection to children who are caught in the direct provision system? What could we do in the immediate future? All Senators in this House have agreed that such centres are not places for a child to be accommodated, especially beyond three-month or six-month period. I thank Ms McGuinness again for her address. She has given us many challenges.”

Full debate transcript available here

Mother and Baby Homes: Statements

Wednesday, 11th June 2014

I warmly welcome the Minister to the House. Everyone in the Chamber will agree that the recent revelations are yet another deplorable stain on our collective conscience. In preparing for my statement, my personal shame as a member of the collective that turned a blind eye to the abuse and suffering of women and children, out of fear and deference to the powerful, is as acute as ever before. It is the same shame I felt reading each of the reports – Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne – into the systematic abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children in State and church institutions in Ireland. It is the same shame I felt reading the harrowing testimony from survivors of the Magdalen laundries and symphysiotomy procedures performed by medical professionals in Irish hospitals.

I share the overwhelming sense of shame and compunction over the unthinkable fate suffered by our sisters, cousins, friends and daughters labelled “fallen women” by church and community for becoming pregnant out of marriage and sent to these homes for their sins and rehabilitation. The isolation, hardship and suffering to which these young women were subjected in the name of honour and respectability is almost unthinkable in contemporary Ireland. How many of these young women fell pregnant against their will, by way of rape, incest and familial abuse, and found themselves arbitrarily and extra-judicially detained in these homes? It is the worst injustice imaginable when the victim is punished. It reminds me of punishment by stoning for adultery under Sharia law for women who have been raped.

Due to the time limit, I will limit my main observations to the issue of adoption, including the legality of adoptions prior to the Adoption Act 1952. Although the national adoption contact preference register contains data on only a small number of adoptions, the 2011 Adoption Authority of Ireland audit of the records found 50 cases of illegal adoptions. Given that the vast majority of adoption records are held by the Health Service Executive, HSE, and Child and Family Agency, CFA, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg of illegal adoptions. The area of adoption legality is extremely complex and technical and the commission will need an expert on adoption law to deal with what is likely to be a huge body of work. The Mahon tribunal had two to three experts working together.

So many of the issues thrown up by the mother and baby homes are not just legacies of the past but prevailing issues today, from which an examination of the past can yield lessons for legislation and policy today. Earlier today, I met several survivor groups, and we must ensure any inquiry, and the process to establish it, will hear their voices and involve them. The latest revelations have once again brought to the fore the trauma and suffering of many of the survivors. We must ensure we care for the living. I welcome, so early in the Minister’s new term of office, his speedy and committed response to establish a statutory commission of investigation. We are all waiting to find out the scope of the inquiry and which homes and what period will be included. Will the State take responsibility for collating all the records or will it do the same as in the report into the Magdalen laundries, namely, receive the records and then return them to the church-run institutions?

The inquiry must deal with many inter-related matters. The prevailing issues are adoption, the right to identity, lone parents, the role of women, poverty, social strata, and the rights of unmarried fathers, whose names are still not necessarily recorded on birth certificates. Will the investigation have the resources it needs and the appropriate expertise to deal with the myriad issues I have outlined? We must find a way to prioritise the truths from which there can be learning. We have recently seen the role social historians and archivists have played and can continue to play in investigative teams. Can we learn from the Murphy report experience? Should the inquiry find a way to do its work by sampling to find the appropriate balance between truth, expediency, bearing witness, and establishing and identifying causal and contributing factors, thereby maximising the scope to learn lessons?

Lest we forget, each and every one of these children had a name, and to ensure they get the memorial they deserve, their names must be listed in their honour. They are the children we promised, at the formation of the State, to cherish equally.

5 Key Organisations join Senator van Turnhout to Endorse Yes Vote

Press Release: For Immediate Release

30th October 2012

5 KEY ORGANISATIONS JOIN SENATOR VAN TURNHOUT TO ENDORSE YES VOTE

Arc Adoption, Childminding Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, Irish Youth Foundation and Treoir joint with Senator van Turnhout to call for a YES vote in the Children’s Referendum on 10 November 2012

Senator Jillian van Turnhout today, Tuesday 30 October 2012, hosted a joint press conference to announce the support and share the views of some key NGOs who through their work will be affected by the provisions of the Children’s Referendum.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout says: “the question I have been asked most frequently about the Referendum is whether I think strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution is really necessary? My answer is an unequivocal YES. This is not a time for complacency. I believe by strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution we will protect and support children in Ireland.”

The NGO’s participating in the press conference; Arc Adoption; Childminding Ireland; Inclusion Ireland; Irish Youth Foundation and Treoir were equally unequivocal in their support for a YES vote:

Shane Downer, Arc Adoption says: “This referendum will allow us, as a society, to choose to protect and cherish our most vulnerable children. It is time to vote yes. It’s time to make a clear, strong statement that all our children matter, and that Ireland can be a great place to be a child. Arc Adoption urges everyone to vote yes on November 10th.”

Paddy Connolly, Inclusion Ireland says: “The rights of children with an intellectual disability and autism have been disregarded by successive Governments. Inclusion Ireland, in calling on its members to vote Yes, believes that the Children’s Referendum marks a progression towards the recognition of the rights of all children, including children with a disability. A Yes vote on the 10th November will tell parents of children with disabilities that the people of Ireland support the rights of their children to the supports and services they need.”

Niall McLoughlin, Irish Youth Foundation says: “The Irish Youth Foundation (IYF) supports children who, due to a wide range of social factors are denied their most basic rights – the right to be supported by caring adults, the right to a way of life that is free of fear and discrimination and the right to an education which meets all of their needs. The IYF strongly supports a strengthening of the rights of children in Ireland and encourages a Yes vote in the Children’s Referendum.”

Margot Doherty, Treoir says: “The Children’s Referendum, if passed, will mean that for the first time there will be a clear statement of children’s rights in the Irish Constitution. Treoir believes that inherent in these rights are a child’s right to identity and to a relationship with both parents.”

Patricia Murray, Childminding Ireland says: “Childminding Ireland urges every man and woman over 18 to remember our own childhoods, whether happy, wholesome, and healthy, or difficult, even dangerous, to vote YES in this referendum so that everyone of us will play our part to secure for each child the right to fair play, i.e. equal treatment with other children, as a young citizen of Ireland and the right for each child to have his or her own voice heard.”

ENDS

For Media Enquires please contact:

Senator Jillian van Turnhout, on 087 2333784
Shane Downer, Arc Adoption, on 087 207 0634
Patricia Murray, Childminding Ireland, on 01 2878466
Siobhán Kane, Inclusion Ireland, on 01 8559891
Niall McLoughlin, Irish Youth Foundation, on 01 676 6535
Brenda Forde, Treoir, on 01 6700120

Note to Editors:

– Senator Jillian van Turnhout is a leading children’s rights activist and Leader of the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees)

– Arc Adoption is an intercountry adoption mediation agency enabling ethical adoption of eligible and available children in need of loving and secure home, into suitable adoptive families.

– Childminding Ireland is a membership organisation founded in 1983 to promote the development of quality in family based care for children

– Inclusion Ireland is a national organisation advocating for the rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families.

– Irish Youth Foundation is a non-governmental organisation seeking to provide opportunities for children and young people facing adverse and extreme conditions to experience success in their lives.

– Treoir is a membership organisation which promotes the legal and social rights of unmarried parents and their children in Ireland. Treoir provides a National Information Service to unmarried families and those involved with them.

19 April 2013: Questions to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, for answer before the meeting of the Committee on Health and Children.

Question 17: Child and Family Support Agency

Question 16 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Question 18 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Question 17: Child and Family Support Agency.

To ask the Minister to share with the Joint Committee on Health and Children the Implementation Plan for the new Child and Family Support Agency; including details of the transfer arrangements from the NEWB, Family Resource Centres and HSE; and the referral pathways for children and families to the new agency.

Vision for Child and Family Agency
The Programme for Government commits to “fundamentally reform the delivery of child protection services by removing child welfare and protection from the HSE and creating a dedicated Child Welfare and Protection Agency, reforming the model of service delivery and improving accountability to the Dáil.”

I established a Task Force to advise on the establishment of this new Agency. I requested the Task Force to base its work on “best practice in child welfare, family support and the delivery of public services, and according to principles that:

• The welfare of the child is paramount;
• Children and families should be supported in their local communities to the greatest extent possible;
• The welfare of children is founded upon strong and loving families and supported by the purposeful and shared responsibility of the state and society to always protect and promote their welfare;
• The Agency will operate to the highest standards of performance and value for money;
• Children will receive the best parenting when received into the care of the state.”

The final report of the Task Force was published in July last year and made recommendations on a number of key issues. The Task Force provided a specific chapter on the vision for the Agency, amongst which included the following:

“The Child and Family Support Agency, working in collaboration with the Department, provides leadership to relevant statutory and non-statutory agencies, ensuring that the conditions needed to achieve children’s wellbeing and development are fulfilled.

The Agency is responsible for the wellbeing of children and families who require targeted supports due to family and social circumstances. These range from support to families in the community to highly specialist interventions where children are at risk of being unsafe. Such children and families are not an isolated grouping nor are they a static grouping as children and families can move in and out of needing support as their life circumstances change.

In fulfilling its statutory role, the Agency ensures that:
• The needs of such children and families are identified at the earliest sign of their emerging need;
• A coordinated set of supports that addresses all the facets of a child’s wellbeing is put in place which incorporates and utilises well-developed interagency working mechanisms;
• The effectiveness of the supports is monitored;
• For the services provided directly or funded by the Agency, service delivery systems and practice are continuously reviewed to ensure they respond successfully to changing needs, and unmet need is clearly identified as a part of ongoing planning and reporting processes to the Department and the Minister;
• It provides mechanisms to engage with children, families and communities regarding the design and quality of service provision.”

I share the view of the Task Force that in order to achieve genuine improvements for children and families, the Agency must have a broader focus than child protection. Prevention, early intervention, family support and therapeutic & care interventions are all key to the provision of integrated multi-disciplinary services for children and families based on identified need.

It is my intention that the new Agency will address the persistent and difficult issues which have been found regarding the standardisation of services, communication, professional collaboration and coordination, and sharing of risk assessment, management and treatment for many children and families with the most complex needs. At the same time, the Agency will have a role in supporting families more universally – providing less complex, less intrusive, less expensive responses which have a preventive function.

The new Child and Family Agency and the wider transformation of children’s services represent one of the largest, and most ambitious, areas of public sector reform embarked upon by this Government. The reforms are much deeper than structural or organisational change as they embrace operational, cultural and inter agency improvement. As such, they will not be delivered overnight and the organisational arrangements are intended as an enabler of the improvement in outcomes which will be the real service goal in the years to come.

Progress on Planning and Implementation
On 13th July 2012, Government approved the drafting of Heads of a Bill to provide for the establishment of the Agency. The detailed policy decisions to inform the drafting of legislation were set out in these Heads of Bill and approved by Government in November last. Such policy includes:

• The functions and legal remit of the Agency;
• The constituent services that are to make up the new Agency;
• The governance arrangements between the Minister and the Agency and between the Board and the Executive;
• The funding relationship between the Minister and the Agency;
• The arrangements for the Agency to contract others to provide services on its behalf;
• The arrangements for dissolving the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board; and
• Provisions for the transfer of staff, assets, liabilities and contracts.

The Government decided that the constituent elements of the Child and Family Agency on establishment day will be made up of:

● Child welfare and protection services currently operated by the HSE including family support and alternative care services.
● Other child and family related services for which the HSE currently has responsibility including pre-school inspections and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services.
● Psychologists working in the community setting in relation to children and families
● The Family Support Agency.
● The National Educational Welfare Board.

The scope of these services is sufficiently broad to capture an enhanced range of both universal and targeted services operating to a unified management structure. These will constitute the immediate service responsibilities of the new Agency. Further consideration will be given to the subsequent transfer of additional services to the new Agency after the initial set-up phase and following further consideration of relevant recommendations of the Task Force in consultation with relevant departments.

The Agency will function as a separate statutory body with strong governance and a framework of public accountability underpinning its operations. The Agency will have a board appointed by the Minister based upon expertise and competency. Therefore, accountability and transparency will be a key feature of the governance and performance management frameworks to be introduced in the legislation.

The legislation must provide for the reassigning, under law, of the sensitive and complex legal responsibilities which arise in relation to the care and protection of children and the promotion of their welfare. Particular care is also being taken in respect of the disaggregation of the functions from the HSE to ensure that there are no unintended consequences (for either the Agency or the services remaining within the HSE) in the separation of functions, either in legal terms or in terms of the practical operation of day-do-day services for children and their families or other HSE clients.

Work on the drafting of the legislation has been progressing in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. The legislation is at an advanced stage and once it is finalised it will be brought to Government for the purposes of approving its introduction to the Oireachtas. The legislation is on the A list of the Government’s legislative programme and I intend to bring it before the House in this current term.

While the legislative process is under way, all necessary organisational preparations are continuing in parallel. These preparations are being led by the Programme Director/CEO Designate of the Child and Family Agency, Mr Gordon Jeyes. The preparations are being supported by an oversight group chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. In addition to the CEO Designate, its membership includes officials of the departments of Children and Youth Affairs, Health and Public Expenditure and Reform; HSE Children and Families and a representative of the CEO of the HSE.

The oversight group is supported by a joint Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Child and Family Agency project team (led by the CEO Designate) which is driving day to day delivery of the overall project. Its responsibilities include the full range of activities required to bring the project to completion. Representatives of the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board are also members of the team and are actively involved in leading the requisite change management programmes within those agencies. The project team undertakes integrated project planning, risk management and reporting. It reports to the Oversight Group and relevant matters are escalated to the Oversight Group if necessary.
Progress achieved to date in preparation for the Agency includes:
• the separation of children and family services within the HSE from other health and personal social services, with discrete management responsibilities and budgets;
• recruitment of a senior management team to lead the agency. All positions with the exception of the Chief Operations Officer and Head of Education Welfare are currently filled. These two positions are currently being re-advertised/advertised;
• the establishment of a dedicated sub-head for children and family services within the HSE Vote to bring transparency to the current budget of HSE children and family services;
• the undertaking of an external due diligence process, under the auspices of the two Departments, to inform the reassignment of budgets from the HSE to the Child and Family Agency;
• the establishment of an industrial relations process to communicate with staff representatives and resolve issues to facilitate the transition to the new Agency;
• the issuing in January 2013 of personal letters to almost 4,000 staff across the HSE, NEWB and FSA informing them of the plans to establish the new Agency and that it is intended that upon establishment their employment will transfer;
• commencement of external inspection by HIQA of the child welfare and protection services, in line with the goal of promoting enhanced transparency;
• the continued implementation of a comprehensive national change programme for the operational improvement of children and family services. This includes detailed design of referral pathways and assessment frameworks in order to ensure national consistency;
• continued implementation of the integration of education services within the NEWB and the development of the Family Resource Centre network in advance of the relocation of responsibilities to the new Agency;
• the appointment from January 2013 of Mr Gordon Jeyes as fulltime Programme Director for the establishment of the Child and Family Agency; and
• the recent approval of the Government that name of the new Agency will be the ‘Child & Family Agency’.

In line with the public service reform programme the replication and duplication of transactional or support functions such as payroll, financial transactions and property management will be avoided. These can be more effectively provided on a shared service basis in order to ensure that costs associated with disaggregation are entirely minimised. Accordingly, preparations are in place for the HSE to provide significant levels of such shared services to the new Agency. This will involve process and technical development within the HSE. HSE has recently received approval to contract for IT system enhancements necessary to facilitate this service which will be implemented this year.

In addition to these organisational preparations the decision has been taken to commence governance preparations on a shadow basis pending the enactment of legislation including its provisions for a Board. The Government has approved the appointment of Ms. Norah Gibbons as first Chairperson of the board of the new Child & Family Agency. Ms Gibbon’s expertise and experience in the area speaks for itself. It is intended that Ms. Gibbons will initially be appointed as Chairperson of the existing Family Support Agency which is one of the agencies being incorporated into the new Child & Family Agency. The appointment process will include appearance before the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee in line with procedures for the appointment of the chairpersons of state bodies. My Department will also be seeking expressions of interest for other board members by means of advertisement on the publicjobs and Department websites.
These appointments will reflect the intention, pending the legal establishment of the Child and Family Agency, to have the FSA Board prepare in advance for the governance task associated with the new Agency and provide oversight and direction to the preparations at an organisational level which are underway for the new Agency. The newly appointed board of the Family Support Agency will play this role on an administrative basis in addition to its existing statutory functions. Day to day statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection services and education welfare services will remain with the HSE and the NEWB respectively until these are transferred on the enactment of the necessary legislation. This approach reflects the overall strategy to undertake as much preparation as possible in advance of legislative enactment and the consequential transfer of onerous operational responsibilities.

It is important not to underestimate the scale of change involved and the absolute necessity for a carefully planned approach to be adopted while embarking upon such large-scale change within this crucial area of the public service. The approach to the project is informed by learning from the establishment of other major agencies, particularly where preparatory time was inadequate. Such preparations include allowance for sufficient consultation and consideration of the legislation by the Oireachtas and stakeholders in the period immediately ahead. A precise date for the establishment of the Agency will be set when consideration of the legislation by the Oireachtas has advanced.

Conclusion
In conclusion, it is considered that the intensive preparations underway and summarised here will provide for the effective establishment of the Child and Family Agency and will bring a dedicated focus to child protection, family support and other key children’s services for the first time in the history of the State, contributing in time to the transformation of what are essential services for families and communities.

Question 16 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to set out and provide details on the process for the selection of the sites; programmes; interventions; and supports to be provided under the new Area Based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative in 2013.

Written Response
The Area-Based Approach to Child Poverty Initiative was allocated €2.5m in Budget 2013. The amount allocated will rise to €4.75 in 2015. It is hoped that this Initiative will be co-funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and discussions are ongoing to this end. This Initiative will build on and continue the work of the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme (PEIP) which supported projects in Tallaght, Ballymun and Darndale/Belcamp/Moatview.

The new Initiative reflects the Programme for Government commitment to adopt an area-based approach to child poverty in co-operation with philanthropic partners, drawing upon best international practice and existing services, to break the cycle of child poverty where it is most deeply entrenched.

I can confirm that the focus will be, very firmly, on outcomes, rather than inputs and outputs, and these will be referenced in (a) the selection of areas where children are most disadvantaged, and (b) in measurement of the success of interventions.

It has been proposed that the Initiative will consist of the following components:

• Continuation of interventions, where appropriate, in the 3 existing PEIP sites, subject to those programmes being supported by positive evaluations and evidence regarding impact and cost effectiveness
• Selection of 6 sites (including as appropriate proven programmes in existing PEIP sites), where multi-faceted approaches to addressing Child Outcomes via evidence based programmes will be implemented. The impact of these interventions will be monitored in a cost-effective manner, to ensure they have the intended outcomes on child well-being
• In time, the mainstreaming of proven, cost-effective evidence-based programmes into service delivery in a wider context than the areas specifically participating in the Area-Based initiative.

The Initiative is being overseen by a Project Team, chaired by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with participation of the Departments of An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste, Public Expenditure & Reform, Environment Community & Local Government, Education & Science, Health, Social Protection, HSE, and including Atlantic Philanthropies. The Project Team is supported by the Centre for Effective Services (CES) and Pobal, which has been asked to act as the fiscal agent for the Initiative.

A Working Group to Support the Project Team has been established. At present it consists of DCYA, CES, Pobal and Atlantic Philanthropy.

My Department published details on its website on 12th April last outlining the overall selection process. Details of a seminar arranged for 25th April where the Initiative will be explained to potential applicants have also been published. It is intended that Applications will close by the end of May, and Stage 1 of the selection process is expected to be completed at the end of June. It is inspected that the finalisation of proposals may be effected more quickly in the case of some successful applicants than with others, depending on their readiness. Shortly and in advance of the seminar my Department will publish detailed guidance for applicants and an application form. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will be happy to supply the committee with copies of these documents as soon as they are published.

The criteria for selection of proposals to attract support under the programme are as follows:

• Evidence of need – The level of poor outcomes for children in the target area
• The quality of the proposal
• Additionality & Sustainability – The degree to which the proposal leverages other resources
• Understanding & ability of the applicants to capture outcomes

The Working Group and Project Team will conduct assessments of the proposals and recommend projects for selection.

Who should apply?
Applications are invited from area-based groups of not-for-profit organisations, with a proven track record of working with statutory and non-statutory service providers and local community groups with a capacity to form consortia. These consortia must be in a position to propose and deliver an area based initiative that delivers on the programme’s objectives of:
Breaking the cycle of child poverty within areas where it is most deeply entrenched and where children are most disadvantaged, through integrated and effective services and interventions that address:
1. Child development, and/or
2. Child wellbeing and parenting, and/or
3. Educational disadvantage,
From pre-natal to 18 years of age.

Proposals are invited across all elements but particular consideration will be given to proposals that focus on the quality and effectiveness of services and interventions from birth to 6 years of age.

What will the programme provide?
Successful applicants will receive funding to implement proven and cost-effective early intervention and/or prevention programmes and practices. The level of funding which will be available to individual projects for the duration of the programme will vary depending on the scale and impact of each initiative and the level of existing resources allocated to the area concerned. It will be a requirement of funding that the programmes and practices are implemented collaboratively by all relevant service providers in the area, both statutory and non-statutory, using existing resources. Applicants should have regard to the fact that, while the initiative is expected to provide additional levels of funding until 2016, the objective is to work towards withdrawal or reduction of additional funding from then on.

Research and evaluation
Research and evaluation were key elements of the PEIP and will continue to be important components of the new initiative to ensure that the outcomes from the interventions are evaluated and measured. Given that the new initiative will build on trialled and proven leaning from the PEIP, and other prevention and early intervention projects funded by the State and/or Atlantic Philanthropies, the research and evaluation component is expected to be less onerous and will be centrally directed.

Successful applicants will be subject to on-going research and evaluation requirements, overseen at central level by an Expert Advisory Committee. This process will be assisted by the Centre for Effective Services, acting on behalf of the Department.

Mentoring
With the exception of applicants who demonstrate an acceptable record in the delivery of prevention and early intervention programmes (e.g. the existing PEIP sites), successful applicants will be expected to avail of mentoring assistance over the course of the new initiative.

Systemic Change
It is anticipated that the initiative will expand over time, both in terms of the number and type of area based interventions and the degree of systemic change and mainstreaming of evidence based programmes and practices which is taking place. In tandem with this, it is anticipated that the range of area based projects which will be included in the initiative, will broaden.

Applications will also be required to demonstrate an approach which is based on additionality to existing levels of service provision and resources both statutory and non-statutory i.e. the proposal should demonstrate how existing services, practices and resources will be made more efficient and more effective as a result of the proposal. In effect, the initiative is expected to promote improved inter-agency collaboration at local level leading to systemic change which is capable of being replicated on a broader or national scale.

Question 18 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

In light of the Fifth Report (July 2012) of the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, to ask the Minister to confirm the status of:
• The examination he called for to establish whether the system of Direct Provision itself is detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether, if appropriate, an alternative form of support and accommodation could be adopted which is more suitable for families and particularly children.

• The establishment in the interim of an independent complaints mechanism and independent inspections of Direct Provision centres and the recommendation that consideration to these being undertaken through either HIQA (inspections) or the Ombudsman for Children (complaints).

Written Response

No answer provided.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”