Children and Youth Affairs, Dáil Issues, Oral Questions

Minister Reilly  tackles the outstanding issues in relation to the new Adoption Information and Tracing Bill, in terms of concerns over the one year lead in time and pledges to actively consider how best this could be shortened… Meanwhile the importance of the Childcare  Reporting Project has been revealed this week with the publication of its last report revealing important trends in Family Court hearings. This is a vital service which should be extended…

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in view of the publication of the Child Care Law Reporting Project his views on the need to extend this worthwhile project; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Clare Daly T.D.
REPLY.
The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) is an independent project authorised under Section 29 of the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended by the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007), and in accordance with Regulations made under that Section to report on child care proceedings. The project is supported in this work by my Department, the One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies.

The aims and objectives of the project are to:
· Provide information to the public on child care proceedings in the courts;
· Conduct research on these proceedings in order to promote debate and inform policy-makers;
· Make recommendations to address any short-comings in the child care system identified by the research;
· Assist in the implementation of these recommendations; and
· Promote confidence in the child care system.

The project pursues its aims and objectives by attending the courts where child care cases are heard in order to report on those proceedings while protecting the anonymity of the children and their families. The CCLRP publishes reports of child care cases for the public and all relevant stake-holders, collects and analyses data from the proceedings, publishes reports on the nature and outcomes of the child care proceedings and seeks to promote a public debate on the issues raised through seminars and conferences. One such conference took place in April of this year in the form of an International Conference on Child Protection and the Law, which considered some of the findings up to that point, and heard from international contributors in relation to alternative models of care and child protection.

Child care cases, heard mainly in the District Courts, involve applications by the Child and Family Agency for orders to protect children, including supervision orders, emergency and interim care orders and full care orders. Under supervision orders, families receive help and supervision from the Agency; under care orders, the child is placed on either an interim or more permanent basis in care. The cases are heard in camera in order to protect the privacy of the children and their families. There are rarely written judgments in the District Court.

To date, the project has published 11 volumes of case reports – four volumes each year in 2013 and 2014 and three so far in 2015, the most recent of which was published on the 1st of October, 2015 and which contained 37 case histories. It has also published two interim reports, in November, 2013 and October, 2014. As the Deputy will be aware, the final report was published on Monday last (the 30th of November).

Thus far, the project has highlighted variations in child care applications and outcomes, including by region, ethnicity and by family status. These require further research to determine the reasons for the variations and to see how more targeted interventions can, where possible, ensure that the level of intervention is the most appropriate.

Overall, the project will provide a measure of the effectiveness of current systems and policies in the area of child protection and that of court administration, and assist in identifying areas where corrective action may be required. Ultimately, it will assist my Department in gaining a greater depth of knowledge and understanding of child care cases and will increase the evidence base on which future policy formulation is based.

The Deputy will be interested to learn that my Department will continue to fund the project until 2017.

QUESTION NO: 8

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Dr. James Reilly)
by Deputy Clare Daly
for ORAL ANSWER on 02/12/2015
To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will reconsider the one year lead in time included in the Heads of Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, given that further delay for an ageing community of adoptees and natural mothers may result in missed opportunities for reunions..

Clare Daly T.D.
REPLY.
Efforts have been on-going for many years to provide a statutory entitlement to information to persons separated as a result of an adoption. In this regard, the Government approved the publication of the Heads and General Scheme of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015 last July. The Bill is intended to facilitate access to adoption information and operates on the basis of a presumption in favour of disclosing information in so far as is legally and constitutionally possible. The Bill will, for the first time, provide a statutory basis for the provision of information related to both past and future adoptions. It will provide clarity around the information that can be provided and the circumstances in which it can be provided.

I referred the Bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Health and Children for pre legislative scrutiny. The Committee published their Report last week and my officials are currently examining the recommendations of the Report. I note that one of the key recommendations, relates to the length of time being provided for the operation of information / awareness campaign.
The Awareness Campaign will be a high level campaign to publicise the provisions of the new legislation, outlining what information can be provided to adopted people and birth parents and the circumstances in which it can be provided. It is part of a suite of measures that the Bill provides in order to ensure the balancing of parental privacy with an adopted person’s right to information.
I would point out that during the period when the campaign is underway the information required to apply for a birth certificate will be provided to an adopted person where a birth parent consents, or where a birth parent is deceased. In this regard, the campaign will not impact on the sharing of information and/or contact between birth parents and adoptees, where there is agreement by both parties.
I am aware that there is a level of dissatisfaction around some of the the requirements of the proposed scheme. However, as you will appreciate, for the Bill to be legally sound, it must include safeguards to protect that constitutional rights of parents to privacy and adopted persons to their identity. I believe that the safeguards proposed in this Bill i.e. the awareness campaign, the statutory declaration, the offer of support and guidance, and the possibility of an appeal to Court, provide sufficient protection of birth parents constitutional right to privacy and balance the right to identity information with protection of privacy. Any amendment to the Bill must be considered in this context.
My Department will fully examine all the recommendations of the Committee with a view to incorporating the views of the Committee where appropriate and subject to legal advice.