Seanad debates

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage


12:00 pm

Photo of Tom ShehanTom Shehan (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish to speak about a case I have been dealing with for a number of years and it disturbs me every time it comes across my desk. In 2006, a young mother committed suicide and left two children after her, one aged 18 months and the other aged three years old. That day her sister went to collect those children in another province and brought them home. She has cared for them, is educating, clothing and feeding them, and is treating them as her own. She has two children of her own. To this day she has got no assistance from the State. She did not qualify for guardianship because the father was still alive. Six weeks after the mother committed suicide, the father had a stroke, is incapacitated and cannot look after those children.

We are discussing the Children and Family Relationships Bill and this represents the best opportunity for me to raise the matter. That woman went to collect her nephew and niece that day with the best of intentions for them. It is my understanding that if those children were taken into care for one day or one night, she would have been afforded every assistance from the State from that day to this. However, she did not want those children to go into care. She provided a family unit for them. They have struggled. Her husband lost his job and was out of work for a number of years. She does not want a big a payment and has told me on several occasions that all she wants is a little help from the State.

As I said, their mother committed suicide and six weeks later their father had a stroke, leaving him incapacitated. We applied for guardianship and the reason they were unable to award payment was that they did not consider the children to satisfy the definition of orphans. Given that those children lost their mother at 18 months and three years of age and their father is incapacitated following a stroke, that is as near a definition as I would see to an orphan because the father is unable to care for them. They were lucky to have an aunt who is to this day looking after them. She will continue to raise them regardless of whether the State helps her.

I will give an idea of the family unit they have created for these two children. The social care worker told me, "I didn't know they were there, so she must be doing a good job".I thought that was as much praise as could be heaped on any woman substituting as a mother, which is what she is, yet she has received no assistance whatsoever from the State. The couple applied for guardianship but it was not granted. They also applied to foster the children but they did not qualify for that because the children had not gone into care and their father is still alive. I plead with the Minister to do something. We are talking about modern parenting and the Children First approach to parenting in the 21st century. While legislation may look and sound right and might be right in theory, I want it to be workable in practice. The woman and her husband in this case are giving some service to the State and that must be recognised. I will give the Minister the details in the hope that she can get her officials to examine the case. From a human perspective, as the social care worker said, "I did not know the children were there, so she must be doing a good job". The lady in question will continue to care for the children. All she wants is a little help.


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