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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Column: ‘I want the best for children, which is why I am voting No’

Pat Kavanagh says she has serious questions about the new Child and Family Support Agency.

Pat Kavanagh

HAVING TRAINED AND gained professional child care qualifications, and then having worked with children in a professional capacity for over 30 years, I, like all concerned citizens, obviously want the best for children – and for this reason I will be voting NO in the upcoming children’s referendum. I have spent 16 years as a social care worker working with the most vulnerable population of children in residential care. I have fostered 5 young people and have also worked with the HSE in areas of Child Protection, so feel qualified to state my concerns as outlined below. Do I have confidence in this state to provide for the best interests of children?

No. Unfortunately I do not.

Questions

Firstly, I have serious questions regarding the proposed Child and Family Support Agency which would assume responsibility for children from the HSE. As outlined, this new agency would be put in place to strengthen children’s rights under the proposed constitutional amendment. The following questions need to be answered:

1. Has a new board been established yet, and if so, who is on it, and in what capacity?

2. Will this agency go ahead, regardless of whether the amendment is passed or not?

3. Will the new agency be staffed by personnel from the HSE (admin and frontline?)

4. How much from the budget will be invested in the establishment and ongoing costs of this proposed agency, and how much of this budget will be taken from the HSE?

5. Who is responsible for regulating same?

There are serious concerns across the board that while the aspirations for this new agency may appear ‘good on paper’, the reality, coupled with proposed swinging cuts across the board, may render a new agency less effective than it could be.

Anyone who is concerned about the welfare of children agrees that early, intensive family intervention, and supporting the family unit is the primary objective in child welfare. Any discussion regarding removal of children from their home can only occur where the child is at immediate risk or where all other interventions have failed. Research has shown it is not always the parents who fail in their interventions, as documented from various, shocking indictments of the HSE.

Were a Child and Family Support Agency underfunded (and there is a strong likelihood of same) and if personnel from the HSE are transferred to this new Agency, there are serious concerns that due to lack of resources, both financial and imaginative, the removal of children from their homes on a temporary or permanent basis could be seen as an early, rather than a last resort.  Also, ‘Insofar as is practicable’, will adoption be used as a cheap and easy way to deal with difficult situations, rather than apply the necessary intensive family intervention?

In a nutshell, the State appears to want to unburden itself of its financial obligations to children, by having them adopted instead of fostered. Foster parents receive €325-€350 per child per week, (plus any additional one-off expenses such as school tours, orthodontic treatments, sports membership or equipment, therapeutic interventions etc) – adoptive parents get nothing.

The Child’s Right to know his/her own family

Parental rights and children rights are intertwined under Article 42 of the Constitution. Every child has the ‘inalienable and imprescriptable right’ to know who its own family is. The proposed amendment would result in abolishing these rights. Quite aside from any cost involved in access visits, so that the child can keep in contact with his/her natural family, this is still a time-consuming and labour intensive strategy for the HSE. Cynically then, the State, by using adoption, would, in one fell swoop, release itself of these costs.

There are, of course, parents who cannot be allowed to care for a child, and nobody can condone leaving any child at risk. However, there are many documented cases where parents can be supported to work through their own particular traumas and result in a united, happy, and healthy family Unit. Parents who thrive through support agencies to overcome personal difficulties and traumas should have the right to have their children returned to them.

The child’s right to decide for themselves

Adoption and fostering have always been helpful in supporting children to reach safe adult lives. They both have an extremely important role to play in Irish society. The selfless commitment of adoptive and foster parents, who by and large are warm, caring people, cannot go unrecognised. One of the legal purposes of adoption is so that adopted children will have the same inheritance rights as the other children of the family. Does this decision need to be made when the child is very young? Why not defer such a life-changing decision until the child is old enough and mature enough to understand the full implications of adoption?

Finally, the new proposals suggest that foster homes be subject to HIQA inspections in the future. Of course there is a need to monitor children in state care, but this can be seen as a cynical service-cutting measure by the State that makes adoption a less expensive option than correct early intervention and fostering. We, the Irish people, who are the guardians of our children, must never allow the State, which has shamefully failed so many children in the past, the right or the legal means to forced adoption.

These issues have to be raised now as we cannot revisit this Referendum in twenty years time, and discover a whole generation who were taken from their parents, just to convenience the State coffers.

I urge you to vote NO in this Referendum on November 10.

Pat Kavanagh was elected to Wicklow Town Council in 2009 as a Green Party candidate, but resigned in 2010. Since then, Pat has been involved in the setting up of a new political party, Fís Nua (New Vision). Pat qualified with a degree in Social Care and worked as a care worker. She has also worked in the area of child protection with the HSE.

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