Minister Lenihan Announces Commencement of Family Welfare Conferencing and Special Care Provisions – (Parts 2 and 3 of the Children Act, 2001)
The Minister for Children, Mr. Brian Lenihan T.D., today (29 September 2004) announced that Parts 2 and 3 of the Children Act 2001 have now been commenced. Part 2 of the Act provides for Family Welfare Conferencing to be convened by Health Boards. Part 3 provides a statutory scheme for non-offending children in need of special care or protection to be placed in Special Care Units.
Family conferencing is a key theme of the Children’s Act and provides a forum for parents, children and various state agencies to talk to a child and to discuss issues of concern.
Conferencing has already been provided for young offenders under Part 3 of the Children’s Act. Under this provision young offenders who come to the attention of the Gardai can be afforded conferencing sessions by Garda Youth Liaison Officers. Officers have reported that this scheme has proven highly successful and effective to date.
Part 8 of the Children’s Act has provided for conferencing to be facilitated for young offenders who have come to the attention of the Courts. This is convened by the Probation and Welfare Services when deemed useful by the Court.
The final element of conferencing now being commenced under Part 2 of the Children’s Act is for Family Welfare Conferencing to be provided by the Health Boards.
“Family welfare conferencing,” the Minister said, “provides a multi-party forum, that allows a family to determine, with the help of the health board, how their child’s need for care or protection can best be met. It aims to maximise the use of a child’s social and family support networks at a time of crisis in their lives and helps families to find and agree solutions for their child’s problems in co-operation with appropriate professionals”.
The Minister stated “One of the most significant and progressive elements of the family welfare conference is that children will be present at the conference. Two core principles underlying the family welfare conference are that the child’s interests are paramount and that insofar as it is possible, the child is best looked after within his or her own family.”
Funding for family welfare conferencing services has been made available to each health board and these services are now available. Additional high support and special care places have also been developed in recent years along with intensive community based services such as the Youth Advocacy Projects in the Northern Area Health Board and the Western Health Board.
The provisions in Parts 2 and 3, together with Part 11 concerning the Special Residential Services Board provide a statutory scheme for non-offending children in need of special care or protection to be placed in Special Care Units, on foot of a special care order made by the District Court (or Children’s Court as it has now been renamed in relation to child welfare matters). Such detention is sought, in appropriate circumstances, as a last resort and for as short a period of time as possible on the application of a health board.