Professionals who represent children and vulnerable teenagers in the family court or social services system will be legally obliged to stay with their clients throughout the cases under new rules.

Cabinet agreed the move to a new statutory guardian ad litem service at its last meeting until September yesterday, saying that it is needed to ensure people in the systems have their rights fully protected.

Under current rules, while a vulnerable child or teenager is given an independent representative to look after their needs in hearings, this person is not obliged to look after their client until cases conclude.

As a result, they are at risk of being left without the vital support or having to change guardian midway through a court or social service process.

However, under new rules agreed by cabinet yesterday, a statutory guardian ad litem service is set to be introduced making it mandatory that the person’s original guardian continues to represent their client throughout their journey through the system.

The move will also mean that unlike the current ad hoc approach where a guardian can be appointed by a private group involved in the cases such as Barnardos or another organisation, in future they must be agreed through a statutory appointments process.

Barnardos, which operates the largest and most established national guardian ad litem service in the country, represented more than 800 children in the court and social services systems in 2014.

It currently employees more than 30 guardians, who are selected after a thorough interview process, Garda vetting, training, and presentation of full references.

A guardian ad litem — Latin for “appointed to act” — is only allowed to represent a child in an official capacity upon a judge’s ruling.

The decisions are most often limited to incidents where the national child and family agency, Tusla, has applied to the court for a care order, an interim care order or a supervision order, or where the child has been in long-term care for a substantial period of time.

Rulings seeking the representation can also be made in special care application cases, when a parent is unwilling or unable to fully take part in court or social services hearings, or when there are significant language or cultural issues.

Meanwhile, Cabinet also agreed yesterday to re-appoint Geoffrey Shannon as the State’s special rapporteur for child protection. Mr Shannon was originally appointed on July 9, 2013, for three years and has been to the forefront of raising child protection issues.


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