Curfews, fines and parental accountability for children in trouble as Children Act, 2001 is to be commenced
Ms. Mary Hanafin T.D., Minister for Children, today, 27 March, 2002, announced that the Cabinet Committee on Children has approved proposals to commence the implementation of the Children Act, 2001. The Children Act is a major piece of legislation which provides a new framework for the development of the juvenile justice system and makes provision for addressing the needs of out-of-control non-offending children, who have been appearing in the High Court in recent times. The Act provides two distinct pathways to meet the needs of both groups of children:
- a juvenile justice route which emphasises a diversionary and restorative justice approach, and
- a health board welfare route which emphasises a care and protection approach.
Speaking after the Cabinet Committee meeting Minister Hanafin said that “The Act represents a major shift in relation to how children in the juvenile justice and welfare systems will be treated. There is a significant new emphasis in the legislation away from residential and custodial care, to care in the community for these children. The new Family Welfare Conferencing arrangements and the establishment of the Garda Diversion Programme on a statutory basis, which are key features of the new approach will be introduced immediately. They will be followed by the introduction of a wide range of non-custodial sanctions.”
The Minister said that the implementation process is complicated by the inter-dependent nature of most of the sections. This will require parallel action on an agreed timetable by the three Departments (Justice, Health and Education) and their agencies. Significant levels of inter-agency co-ordination and co-operation will be necessary to manage what will be a complex and phased implementation process. The National Children´s Office is co-ordinating the implementation of the Act.
Some key features to be commenced during 2002 include:
- the establishment of the Garda Diversion Programme on a statutory basis and the introduction of a “Diversion Conference” based on restorative justice principles as pioneered in New Zealand (April/May 2002);
- the establishment of the Children Court (April/May 2002);
- the introduction of a fines structure for children found guilty of offences and the payment of compensation by parents in respect of offences committed by their children (April/May 2002);
- the introduction of a curfew for children found guilty of offences (April/May 2002);
- court orders to parents to exercise proper control over their children (April/May 2002);
- the updating of the law in relation to cruelty to children and persons who cause or encourage a sexual offence on a child (April/May 2002);
- reversing the burden of proof on parents whose children are found begging (April/May 2002);
- a limited “clean slate” in respect of most offences committed by children (April/May 2002);
- provisions relating to the safety of children at entertainments (April/May 2002);
- health boards to be given additional powers which will allow them to seek Special Care Orders in the District Court for children in need of special care and protection (Summer 2002);
- the introduction of Family Welfare Conferencing by health boards (Summer 2002);
- the replacement of reformatory and industrial schools with Children Detention Schools (Summer 2002);
- the establishment of the Special Residential Services Board on a statutory basis (Summer 2002).
“The Children Act, 2001 is the most significant piece of legislation in relation to juvenile justice since 1908. The commencement this year of major sections of the Act gives greater protection to children, diverts young people from detention, ensures greater parental responsibility and encourages a multi-agency approach to meet children´s needs” said the Minister.