Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I thank Senators for their contributions. The main objective of the Bill is to safeguard the best interests of children who are in need of special care, as we have been discussing. What is being enshrined in the Bill will support its achievement. Special care is a last resort but it is an important part of child care which does meet the express needs of a very small number of children. It is only used when other forms of residential or community care are considered to be unsuitable. It is appropriate that these cases should continue to be presented to and determined by the High Court.  That will allow for the consistent, well managed and structured presentation and consideration of the applications which come before the court for special care orders. I thank Senators for their response and their support for the amendments.
As this Bill was brought forward by the last Government, naturally we did not intend to oppose it. We welcome it. The Minister’s Department is one of the most important in the State, particularly now, and I believe this Minister has a great grasp of the issues. I welcome her clear and well articulated comments on the Donegal case and the Cloyne report. Well done to her.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: The Minister’s determination and commitment to the issues dealt with in the Bill are evident. I hope she knows that Members of the Seanad are anxious to support her in her role and to inform the policies she will bring forward in the future. Now that the new Department has been established we wish to make it a success. What the Minister has done in the Bill today is very important. The Government amendments took on board much of what was said in the debate regarding guardian ad litem and I welcome the fact that the Minister moved so quickly to do that. I look forward to working with her in the future.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): With regard to the guardian ad litem, the amendments I committed to bringing forward will remove the discretion of the judge as to whether a guardian ad litem is legally represented and provide that the guardian ad litem may instruct a solicitor and, having regard to the circumstances of the case, may instruct counsel. The effect of the amendment is to continue the practice for the guardian ad litem to be in a position to appoint legal representation in care cases and special care cases, and the judge has discretion regarding the appointment of the guardian ad litem in the proceedings.
I thank Senators for supporting the amendments. I appreciate the support of the House for this Bill and the very constructive comments from Members. I am sure I will return to the House to discuss the detail of some of these areas when we establish the new child and family support agency and as work progresses on putting the Children First guidance for the protection and welfare of children on a statutory basis. Undoubtedly, some of these issues will arise again, particularly aftercare services. I note how strongly people feel about those services. As I said previously, we will gather information on the current practice in this country and examine what is being done, where there are gaps and how we can best deal with them.
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