Family Court set-up must be prioritised by Government

The Government must prioritise the setting up of a dedicated Family Court — as promised in the programme for government — to avoid crowded lists, repeat adjournments, and chronic delays, a new report has urged.

Family Court set-up must be prioritised by Government

The four-year research project, which put Ireland’s childcare courts system under the microscope for the first time, also calls for:

  • The development of a uniform template or guidelines on the presentation of evidence, especially DVD interviews, in child care proceedings where child sex abuse is alleged;
  • The replication nationwide of the Bessborough Centre model in Cork, where psychotherapy and addiction counselling are offered alongside parenting courses, to help young parents overcome substance abuse;
  • More cultural mediators outside Dublin to engage with migrant families;
  • Better cultural diversity and legal training for social workers;
  • A national strategy for the provision of services to children with mental health and behavioural problems;
  • The development of a special child protection strategy for Travellers.

These are among a raft of recommendations contained in the final report of the four-year Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP).

Set up in November 2012 under new regulations arising out of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007, the CCLRP was given special permission to report on child care court proceedings with a view to bringing transparency to the legal process and to collect information which would assist in the better operation of the Child Care Act.

Led by CCLRP director Carol Coulter, the project team covered 1,272 cases — 1,194 at the District Court level and 78 in the High Court.

With about 3,664 children in court-ordered care and 2,666 in voluntary care, it is estimated that the CCLRP report captured data on about 30% of all the cases that go before the child care courts.

The report found that more than half of the cases concerned mental or cognitive disability on the part of the parent or of the child, alcohol or drug abuse by one or both parents, cultural differences, or allegations of sexual abuse.

It found African families were about seven times more likely to face child protection proceedings than Irish people, with the disability of a parent highlighted in lots of these cases, with Eastern Europeans about 1.5 times as likely as Irish people to face the child care courts.

Travellers were also significantly over-represented in the child care courts, with allegations of sexual abuse in six of the 38 cases where alleged sexual abuse was the main issue.

While drug or alcohol abuse was a major factor in several general cases, there appeared to be little co-ordination between drug treatment services and child protection services, the report found.

“There are very few mother and baby residential places in Ireland, and only one, in Cork, which accepts and treats drug-users. Residential drug treatment centres do not accept parents with children,” it said.

The report also calls for the introduction of a Holding Order to replace Emergency Care Orders, normally sought immediately after the birth of a child considered to be at risk, and for reforms in the Interim Care Order process, amid criticism of a system which requires such order to be renewed every 29 days.

The CCLRP report, which was supported by philanthropic funding from the One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, and by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will be launched this morning by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Susan Denham.

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