Thursday, 28 October 2010
Child Care Inquiry Report: Statements
Maria Corrigan (Fianna Fail)
I join colleagues in welcoming the Minister of State. The speedy way in which he made himself available to the Seanad and the amendment to the Order of Business this morning to accommodate this debate sends a powerful message.
Like the Minister and other colleagues, I have not had the opportunity to read the report in-depth but I have read parts of it and, to put it bluntly, the report is devastating. It is devastating to read about what was endured by children and the efforts at intervention throughout the years, to be aware of the State's knowledge and that of agents of the State and the efforts that were being made by relatives to try to protect these children.
I accept fully the point made regarding the children that there is no desire to cause further hurt to them or retraumatise them in any way. I will try to be conscious of that in what I say but throughout every sentence of the report I managed to read one aspect stood out. This report will shake child protection services throughout the country to the core because the one thing that came to my mind is whether the State has knowledge of other children in similar circumstances with whom it is trying to intervene. The Minister might clarify that.
There is talk of a national audit of vulnerable children. We need to do two things. First, we need to make sure that any child we have knowledge of is as safe as we can make him or her at the moment. Second, we must ensure that procedures and mechanisms are put in place because we cannot prevent abuse. We can try education, awareness and improving parenting skills but, as the Ombudsman for Children said at lunch time today, there is nothing, not even constitutional change, that will prevent abuse of children taking place. We must make sure, therefore, that we have some measure in place whereby if children are abused we will become aware of it as quickly as possible and act to ensure the safety of those children as quickly as possible.
I am conscious that we are talking about children but the Minister of State will be well aware that I have major concerns for the vulnerable adults in our society who may be victims of abuse. Can we please keep them in mind in terms of any step we take to shore up safety in that area? I welcome that the new sub-committee for the protection of children was established and held its first meeting last week.
We must take the opportunity to dissect this report in detail. Because of what we have been asked to do in regard to the children involved I ask that the report go before the new sub-committee on the protection of children. I am disappointed it is not a committee on the protection of children and vulnerable adults, but I ask that this report go before the new sub-committee, if necessary in private session, and that the HSE come before the sub-committee to discuss the way in which it will apply the lesson to be learned from this report, and we must learn from it. The report is clear, strong and to the point. It does not pull any punches and therefore there is a great deal to be learned from it.
Something that comes across strongly in the report is that there seemed to be concern at all stages about the threshold for intervention and that if the HSE went to court it would not succeed in getting a care order. That uncertainty exists everywhere and some of it has its origins in the fact we do not keep records and make available the applications to court for child care orders. It was one of the recommendations of the all-party committee on the proposed referendum on the rights of the child that we would set up something that would not compromise the anonymity of the children for whom the care orders were being sought but we need to know about the circumstances in which those care orders are being applied for and the circumstances in which they are granted. We must have evidence. We cannot always come back to either anecdotal evidence or to those cases that make it to the High Court. I ask the Minister of State to consider that.
I welcome the commitment the Minister has given today regarding the referendum on the rights of the child. I understand the point he is making. He wants to make sure the wording is as robust as possible. I believe the concern is that we would have a timeframe on that and that it would not go on indefinitely. None of us wants a wording that is not fit for purpose.
There is a glimmer of hope in the report in the fact that relatives consistently tried to seek intervention. Often there can be cases of abuse where nobody ever comes forward. In this instance relatives were coming forward, and there is a glimmer of hope in that for us all.