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[personal profile] underthewillows
I've mentioned several times a referendum held in 2012 in Ireland to introduce an amendment to the Constitution.

It was touted as recognising, for the first times, the rights of children as individuals in their own right and not as secondary to their parents. Everyone who was anyone in children's advocacy bodies, from voluntary to the state sector, was all over the place pushing for this.

Some people were not so enthusiastic. I was one of them. Because I'm a bitter old hag who wants to force children to remain in bad homes where drunken, violent adults beat, starve and rape them.

(I mean, that's the only reason anyone could not want the sunshine-and-puppies amendment passed, right?)

Here's what was passed, as a result of the majority "Yes" vote on the referendum:

Article 42A

1 The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2 1° In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such an extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2° Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3 Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4 1° Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings—
i brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or
ii concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

2° Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1° of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.

Call me old-fashioned, but the language about the "natural and imprescriptible rights of the child" seemed rather vague. Just imagine two sets of lawyers duking it out over what that means in a nasty custody fight!

And I didn't quite like the notion that the State could put a child up for adoption without the consent of the parents after a "period of time" to be defined by the State. How long? Six months? Three years? Some families need help and support to get things back to normal. There are plenty of condemnations of the Bad Old Days where when a woman died and a father was left to raise a family, the Authorities (Church and State) swooped in to put the kids in an orphanage or industrial school if they judged he wasn't up to the task. How is this any better?

The rationale was that there were loads of kids in care and foster situations where families wanted to adopt them but couldn't due to the parents not giving consent, yet they would realistically never go back to their natural families. I was sceptical about that, firstly because we never got any actual numbers of these alleged potential adoptions and secondly, I wonder how many foster families do end up adopting one or more of the children in their care?

But mostly I was opposed to expanding the powers of the State in this area based on my experiences with the social workers, health boards, and other state agencies that I underwent in my time working as clerical support in a school.

Now there are a lot of hard-working people out there trying to do their best, but the system as it is set up is not one bit helpful. I know that "anecdotes are not data", but one example may help you see where I'm coming from.

A particular girl in the school had a social worker appointed to her case. Over the five years, it went like this:

Social Worker A phones up or calls to school. Hi, I'm X's social worker, tell me all about her. Deputy Principal (who interested herself in X's case and did the lion's share of looking out for her) would give me all the notes to date to type up in confidence and hand them over.

If needs be, we would ring up Social Worker A for any problems/discussions involving X. Always a crapshoot as to whether A was available; often the Deputy Principal ended up making the decisions about X for want of anyone else around.

Six months or so down the line, when X had finally established some kind of relationship with Social Worker A, trusted them, had a rapport - we might need to ring A, or ask A to call into the school, or A would write to notify us.

Hi, I'm not on X's case anymore, that's been handed over to Social Worker B.

We might not even find that out until we rang up looking for A and were told "No, it's B dealing with X now."

Social Worker B phones up or calls to school. Hi, I'm X's new social worker, tell me all about her. Entirely new set of notes gets typed up because apparently old set weren't handed on. Rinse and repeat as above over five years.

For a child in a vulnerable situation, without a stable home life, how is he or she to develop any trust or expectation that the adult in charge of making decisions about them is going to be there to take care of them with that kind of carry-on?

And this is why I voted "No" in the Rainbows and Kitties Referendum. And as we see from the two recent cases, the existing amendment to the Child Care Act

"Where a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that—

(a) there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, and

(b) it would not be sufficient for the protection of the child from such immediate and serious risk

would seem to be saying that "reasonable grounds for believing" means "you have blue eyes and your parents have brown eyes".
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