Need for Referendum
The purpose of the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution is to expressly recognise children in their own right within the Constitution. The proposed amendment will recognise children in their own right and that each child enjoys rights and deserves certain protections from the State by virtue of the fact that, as a child, they are vulnerable.
The incorporation of dedicated provisions for children into the Constitution has long been called for by expert groups, including the Kilkenny Incest Investigation (1993), the Constitution Review Group (1996), the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (2006) and the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children (2010).
Last year there were about 30,000 child protection and welfare concerns reported to the welfare services, the vast majority of which are dealt with by way of supports to the parents and family. Of these 30,000, over 16,000 were child welfare concerns and 1,500 were confirmed cases of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Programme for Change
The Government has started a Programme for Change for Children and is bringing in new laws on the reporting of child abuse and safer practices for organisations, where children spend time, and is also reforming Ireland’s child protection services by transferring them from the HSE and establishing a dedicated new Child and Family Support Agency.
This Referendum is the fundamental backdrop to the wider Programme for Change for Children being pursued by the Government. These reforms focus on intervention to ensure the safety and welfare of children, and to ensure that child protection services can respond proportionately to all child protection concerns.
The schedule to the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012 contains the wording of the proposed amendment to be put before the people.
A new article (Article 42A) on ‘Children’ is proposed for the Constitution. This would be inserted under the part of the Constitution which sets out ‘Fundamental Rights’. This Referendum proposes a dedicated Article which has children as its focus.
The Amendment proposes constitutional change based on the following key objectives:
o Protecting Children;
o Supporting Families;
o Removing Inequalities in Adoption;
o Recognising children in their own right.
For children at risk, this Referendum seeks to ensure that they are protected from harm.
It sets out when and how intervention should occur, with the focus on the child, and referring to the impact of parental failure on the child’s safety and welfare, rather than solely on such failure and the reasons for it.
Overall, Article 42A focuses on the protection afforded to children under the Constitution, while respecting and preserving the rights of parents and the family.
This Referendum will re-affirm and underpin the continuing development of early-intervention and family support services which play a vital role in responding to child welfare concerns, thereby preventing more serious problems arising, and with the objective of protecting children in the home and preventing children being taken into care at a later stage.
Removing Inequalities in Adoption
On the passing of this Referendum a clear standard will apply across areas of law relating to child welfare and protection and family law, such that the rights and protections set out are to be enjoyed by ALL children, irrespective of the marital status of their parents.
o Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child, irrespective of his or her birth status. This will provide greater opportunity for children in foster care to be adopted where it is in the best interests of the child
o Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption of any child (again, irrespective of birth status)
There will be a revision of existing adoption law to more readily facilitate the adoption of children in certain well-defined circumstances. These are children who have been reared by foster parents, for a considerable period, by reason of the failure of their parents to look after or care for them. It will give them a better opportunity of certainty and permanence of living in a loving, caring family.
To assist the understanding among the public of what is intended, the Minster for Children & Youth Affairs is publishing the Draft Adoption (Amendment) Bill at the same time as the referendum wording. The draft bill sets out in detail how it is proposed to address the issues of voluntary placement, the adoption of children in long-term foster care as a result of serious and persistent parental failure, and the role of the High Court in deciding on such matters.
Recognising children in their own right
Sub-article 1 of the proposed new article 42A will provide, for the first time, a strong affirmation of each individual child’s inherent rights. It provides that the rights and protections enjoyed by children are to be enjoyed by all children, irrespective of their parent’s marital status, while continuing to respect and preserve the rights of the family as set out in the existing Article 41. This subsection is for the benefit of all children.
This Referendum proposes that provision shall be made by law, that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration in the resolution of all proceedings concerning the protection and welfare, adoption, guardianship, custody, and access in respect of any child. This Referendum also proposes, for the first time, to give Constitutional recognition to the ascertaining and giving due weight to the views of the child in such proceedings.
FIND OUT MORE AT: http://www.childrensreferendum.ie/