Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Child Care Inquiry Report: Statements


2:00 pm

Photo of Niall Ó BrolcháinNiall Ó Brolcháin (Green Party)

I welcome the Minister of State to debate this difficult issue. This is an important debate which should not be overshadowed by any of the other issues going on currently. I welcome the report and would like to read part of the first paragraph of the conclusion:

The Inquiry team concludes that the six children of the A family were neglected and emotionally abused by their parents until their removal from the home in 2003 and 2004. Some of the children have spoken of severe physical abuse by their parents. Some of the children were also sexually abused. There is no evidence that either parent understood or sought to consistently meet their children's needs.

This is always an extremely difficult issue to discuss. I accept the point made by the Minister of State that we do not want to discuss the particular issues of this case rather than look at the overall picture. I respect the anonymity of the family in question and their wishes in that regard.

A number of policy changes were recommended in the report, but the key one for me is the one referred to by Senator Norris. The report recommends that the HSE ensures that all appropriate policies and procedures are compliant with the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and for children to be heard in all matters that concern them. That is the key point. The Minister of State said the proposed referendum on children's rights would not have materially affected this particular case. I accept that. However, an issue that consistently arises in all child protection matters is that the rights of the child to be heard are not covered in legislation or by our Constitution to the extent many people feel they should be. We need to enhance the Constitution to get the balance right. Currently, the views of parents and of the family overall are given primacy.

I accept that no matter what legislation we provide, there will always be some level of child abuse in society and it will not always be possible to sort everything out through legislation. I accept the report's conclusion on the dereliction of duty and the fact that local people did not do their job properly. I welcome that the Minister of State has apologised on behalf of us all to the family in question for what occurred.

It is always said in this type of debate that we must ensure this can never happen again, which I do not believe is 100% possible. Nevertheless, we must do the maximum possible to ensure we prevent what happened in this case from recurring. Having read the report and listened to what the Minister of State had to say, I believe there should have been earlier intervention in this case. There are things that should have been done that were not done. I know the Minister of State will try to ensure this matter is rectified. It is obvious structural changes will need to made in this area. We need to learn the lessons from this case and to tighten up procedures.

The first recommendation of the report deals with organisational change and states that the post of national director for child and family services should be supported by a clinical team, professionally qualified and experienced social workers and other suitably qualified staff to drive and support practice in child welfare and protection services and ensure national standards are set, monitored and delivered. The key word in this regard is "delivered". It was the fact the staff did not act as they should have, rather than a lack of staff, that was the problem in this instance.

Victim impact statements are important. Guidelines regarding the preparation and presentation of victim impact statements and the rights to privacy of children in care should be issued to HSE staff. We need in this particular case to be as unemotional as is possible and to respect the right to privacy. I do not believe a debate which is emotional and over the top is good. The family, rather than the State, is the best care giver for children. It has been suggested that we should return to the type of intervention we had in the 1940s and 1950s and consider taking children into State care. We all know what happened in that situation. We must get the balance right, which is not what happened in this particular case or in respect of the institutional care provided in the past. It is difficult to get the balance right.

The Minister of State said that the answer to this particular case is not the holding of the children's rights referendum. I accept Senator Cannon's point that we need to set a date for the holding of that referendum because its context is something the people of this country believe to be important. We need to set a date for the holding of the referendum before Christmas. I do not mean that we can reasonably hold the referendum before Christmas but that we need to set a date before Christmas for the holding of the referendum. People are losing patience in relation to this referendum and it is time we got on with it.


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