A new way of dealing with juvenile justice
Irish Association of Social Workers Seminar – The Children Act, 2001: Implications for Children´s Services for the Future
“The Children Act, 2001 provides a new framework for the development of juvenile justice with an emphasis away from residential and custodial care, to care in the community” declared Minister for State with Special Responsibility for Children, Mr Brian Lenihan TD. “As the Minister with responsibility for the co-ordinated implementation of this Act, I am supported by the National Children´s Office” continued the Minister. “I have convened a Working Group with high level representation from the National Children´s Office (NCO), Departments of Health and Children; Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science, to drive its implementation”.
“This Act draws on a wide variety of experiences, approaches and international best practice on preventing offending and re-offending by children and meeting the needs of non-offending, out-of-control or troubled children” stated Minister Lenihan. He explained that a key aim of the Act is to retain the distinction between offending and non-offending children by providing two distinct pathways for addressing the individual care needs of each child:
- a juvenile justice route which emphasises a diversionary and restorative justice approach;
- a health board welfare route which emphasises a care and protection approach.
The NCO has commissioned a guide to the Children Act, 2001, aimed at making it accessible to a wide range of users, including health board officials, Garda Síochána, probation and welfare officers, prison officers, social workers, special school teachers, court service officials, journalists, academics and law students. The NCO has also established a Communications Sub-Group to promote awareness of the Act and its implications through publication of the guide, the development of an information pack and the hosting of a series of regional inter-agency seminars.
“The Act represents a major shift in how children in the juvenile justice and welfare systems will be treated” stated Minister Lenihan. “The family conferencing provisions and other aspects of the Act have implications for social workers in enabling young people and their families to identify options and make decisions to improve the quality of their own lives” he continued. “In line with the National Children´s Strategy, the aim will be to deliver services to children at risk and their families, in partnership with voluntary organisations and the local community, through prevention and early intervention initiatives. However, there will always be cases where a period of detention in a residential facility will be necessary” added Minister Lenihan.
The Minister went on to say that progress has been made since the passing of the legislation and it is envisaged that 11 out of the 13 parts of the Act will be commenced by the end of 2003.
In order to implement the Act, the Government has approved:
- the recruitment of 30 additional Probation and Welfare Officers and
- the appointment of 12 staff to facilitate the establishment of the Special Residential Services Board (SRSB), to ensure the appropriate and efficient use of detention schools and special care units.
“Inter-agency co-operation is at the heart of the Act and effective co-ordination and communication are fundamental to its successful implementation. With the co-operation of professionals and agencies involved in delivering services to children at risk and the involvement of children, parents and guardians we can all work to ensure that the most appropriate course of action is taken to meet the needs of each individual child” concluded the Minister.