Speeches

Speech by Minister John Moloney, TD, Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health for the launch of the CARI (Children at Risk in Ireland) Annual Report

I wish to thank Caroline O’Connell, Director of Development of the CARI Foundation for the invitation to launch CARI’s 2007 Annual Report.

I would like to begin by paying tribute to the CARI Foundation – your professionalism and indeed your dedication to the welfare and protection of children has greatly improved the lives of children and parents throughout the country.

Those working with children who have been abused know of the importance of supporting children and families in such circumstances. They should have every support and all aspects of their needs should be responded to. Undoubtedly the whole family will need interventions and supports and both statutory and voluntary agencies must work closely to ensure that this happens.

Our duty as a Government and a Nation is to ensure that proper child protection practices are in place and that they operate to the highest achievable standards.

Annual Report

The report highlights an important year in the organisation’s life. It refers specifically to the proposed referendum on the rights of children and the continuing high demand for CARI’s services nationally, whilst also highlighting some developments within the therapy department during the year, in particular the establishment of the Court Accompanied Support Service and the proposed new Limerick Centre due for completion in the summer of 2008. The report also outlines the successful completion of a National Service Level Agreement with the HSE. I am very pleased that CARI is of the view that the referral system from HSE sources has been improved and that there is now more openness to referring to CARI.

Helpline and Media

An important aspect of CARI’s work is the information service they provide to parents and caregivers through the Helpline. I note in the Report that the stand out statistic from the Helpline is the 22% increase on the number of calls received throughout the course of the year from January to December 2007. CARI help to dispel the myths surrounding child abuse such as that all abusers are strangers. Indeed it can be clearly seen in the Report that amongst callers to the Helpline in 2007 it is still incestuous abuse which is the most likely to be an issue, followed closely by extrafamilial abuse. CARI also provide parents with practical steps to keep children safe. Indeed some media interviews during the year focused on issues such as internet grooming and the dangers of new technologies.

Proposed amendment to the Constitution on Children

I note that Cari hopes to celebrate 20 years of existence with the progression of the 28th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2007. I am pleased to say that the Government shares their ambition. There have been calls from many quarters to strengthen children’s rights in Ireland, including by seeking an amendment to the Constitution to reflect the rights of children. As you all know, the Taoiseach, in November 2006, asked the then Minister for Children to initiate a process of consultation and discussion with the other Dáil parties and with all relevant interest groups to prepare an amendment to the Constitution in relation to children. This resulted in proposals being brought to Cabinet on a referendum to amend the Constitution in respect of Children’s Rights, and the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2007 was published in February 2007.

The Programme for Government highlighted the need to examine the proposed constitutional amendment with a view to deepening consensus on this matter. The need for consensus is emphasised in order that the Oireachtas can give the Irish public a considered and united approach on the proposed amendment to the Constitution. Therefore a Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children was established in November 2007.

The Government asked that the terms of reference for the Joint Committee have the general agreement of the opposition parties. Therefore, the then Minister for Children, Mr Brendan Smith, undertook a series of consultations with opposition parties on the terms of reference. The views of the opposition were at all times helpful, constructive and indeed reflective of the expertise that the opposition representatives bring to this Committee. The resultant terms of reference for the Committee will afford all involved in the Committee, both Oireachtas members and those who may make oral and written submissions to this Committee, the opportunity to contribute fully to the process of deepening consensus on amending the Irish constitution to the benefit of children. I know that terminology such as bi-partisan approach and consensus politics are often used in the modern day political arena, but I cannot stress enough the importance of this modus operandi for this Committee.

The provisions of the 28th Amendment to the Constitution Bill are not simple, because the issues involved are not simple. The efforts of all involved must concentrate on how best to protect the rights of children while maintaining a careful balance with other important principles already contained in the Constitution and which, we believe, are equally important in protecting and safeguarding children. These include the duties of parents and the regard in which the family is held by the Irish people.

In general our Constitution strikes a balance between personal rights, the status of the family, the rights and duties of parents and the power of the state as guardian of the common good. The aim of the government is simply to include children in this equation.

I note that some of the previous commentary on the text proposed in the 28th Amendment to the Constitution Bill 2007 has varied between the need for quick action and the need not to rush, given the complexity of the issues involved. I believe that the approach the Government has taken to date in regard to the establishment of this Committee, including the degree to which a consensus approach has been taken to the development of the terms of reference for the Committee, underlines the Government’s desire to “get it right”, while also working as speedily as possible to bring proposals for Constitutional change to the people.

Our Constitution is held in high esteem not only by the Irish people but across the world where it has been a model for many countries. The people of Ireland have a strong attachment to our Constitution. I hope that through the work of this Committee, we will be able to present the people with an amendment that is clear, comprehensive and that represents a real improvement in the legal position of children in our Constitution. This is an enormous task, but it is also an enormous opportunity to make a difference for children and produce a constitutional amendment that properly reflects our commitment to value and protect all of our children.

Office of the Minister for Children

As you are aware, the establishment of the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs allows Minister Andrews to represent the interests of children at the Cabinet Table. This development has allowed for a unified and focused approach to child issues with the coming together of the relevant staff in the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science. The Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme, the programmes and activities of the National Children’s Office, the Education for Early Years programme, Youth Justice and Child Welfare and Protection Policy Unit are now housed in one Office.

Funding

I also wish to underline the commitment of the Government to the welfare of the children of our society. Additional revenue funding of approx €250 million has been invested in the child welfare and protection services since 1997, including an additional €8 million in 2006 to be used for the implementation of the Children Act 2001 including family support services and a further €1 million in 2007 for the enhancement of the Teen Parents Support Programme.

Follow up to Ferns Report

The publication of the Ferns Report has reinforced the public perception that the Government has a duty to ensure that all of its citizens be protected from the insidious effects of sexual abuse.

Minister Andrews’ Office continues to work closely with the HSE and all other relevant bodies in satisfactorily implementing the recommendations of the report.

Working Group on Treatment Services for Children and Families

The Working Group on Treatment Services for Children and Families is one of a number project groups established by the HSE as a response to the recommendations of the Ferns report. Its remit is to examine the need for assessment, treatment and counselling services for children who have experienced abuse and to make recommendations on service requirements in this regard. This Working Group will produce a report detailing a strategic direction for services in this area, within the statutory and NGO sectors and will make recommendations for a model for service delivery.

I understand from the HSE that this Working Group comprises experts from within the HSE, assessment and treatment services and the voluntary sector, including Mr. Niall Muldoon, National Clinical Director of CARI. It is expected that the Working Group, in its deliberations, will consider issues such as standards, staff capacity and the future role of assessment and treatment units and how these services might be integrated with community based services. It is anticipated that the report will be finalised and submitted to the HSE Expert Advisory Group for Children later this year.

Review of “Children First”

One of the key actions after the delivery of the Ferns Report was the announcement of a review of compliance with the national guidelines on child protection “Children First” by state bodies and NGOs. “Children First” was published in 1999 and consists of over-arching national guidelines that apply to all individuals and agencies that come into contact with children.

The Office of the Minister for Children began the review of compliance through first examining previous reviews. The current review differed substantially from the previous reviews in the following ways. It was conducted in a different context in that there was a considerably different climate following the publication of the Ferns Report and it was the first review conducted since the establishment of the HSE. Previous reviews have to a great extent focussed on child protection services in the HSE. This review covers national compliance in all sectors. Previous reviews have also focussed on structures and processes; while this forms a major part of the current review it also has a much greater focus on outcomes in terms of service delivery and outcomes for children. I understand that the review is nearing completion and will be published this summer.

Conclusion

Once again thank you to CARI for your invitation here today and I congratulate you on the achievements of the past year. I am now happy to formally launch CARI’s Annual Report for 2007.