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Rights of parents being
put ahead of children at risk, says law expert
LORNA SIGGINS in Galway
Irish Times, Fri, Sep 23, 2011
THE HEALTH Service Executive is pursuing an “overdeferential”
approach to the rights of parents at the expense of children at risk,
the Government’s special rapporteur for child protection Geoffrey
Shannon has said.
Mr Shannon, who is also chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland,
says that Ireland “squandered the opportunity during the Celtic Tiger
years” to put in place a robust system which might have avoided the
deaths of children in State care.
The child and family law expert has also called for regulation on
surrogacy to protect children’s rights, if Ireland is to avoid
becoming a “safe haven” for assisted reproductive technology.
Mr Shannon was addressing a national conference in Galway yesterday on
the family in Ireland, hosted by the Business and Professional Women’s
Club and chaired by Fionnuala Kenny.
In her brief introductory remarks, Ms Kenny, wife of Taoiseach Enda
Kenny, said that “childcare and protection should never be seen as a
drain on resources” and “early intervention was absolutely
Last year, Mr Shannon and Norah Gibbons were appointed to the State’s
independent review group into the deaths of children in State care,
which is due to report shortly.
Some 27 children and young people in State care or known to the child
protection services have died in the past 12 months, according to HSE
figures issued earlier this year under a new system of recording.
A cohort of 20,000 children are in the child protection system or at
some risk, Mr Shannon told the conference.
This figure comprises 6,175 children who are officially in the care of
the State, and 12,000 who are the subject of “expressions of
He said he “strongly welcomed” the establishment of a Department of
Children, and the new Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, with her officials
had made “more progress in the last six months than we have in the
last 10 years”.
However, Mr Shannon said that his impression of the child protection
system was that the HSE was “over-deferential” to parents, putting
their rights before those of children at risk.
Also, Irish society still did not acknowledge alcohol consumption by
parents as a risk issue for children, when in fact it was a “red
flag” indicator, he said.
There was no mental health assessment of children when they were taken
into care, he noted.
A lack of inter-agency co-operation meant that there were instances
where addiction services were not talking to child protection services,
and HSE offices at regional level were not communicating with
counterparts when families at risk moved address.
He said there was a need for mandatory parental education programmes and
for provision of support services at community level.
“No parent chooses neglect, but some families need better supports
than they are getting,” he said. Family support ranked a “poor
third” in resource allocation, when in fact better investment would
save on expenditure on child protection, and within the criminal justice
The current adversarial family law system was also failing children in
divorce situations, and children were often the last to be consulted, he
Mr Shannon said that in his role as the adoption authority chairman he
was concerned about the absence of regulation on surrogacy, with no
legislative protection for children who might have up to five parents
– as in the sperm and egg donors, the surrogate mother and two family
The “rigorous” procedures involved in adoption contrasted with the
lack of regulation in assisted reproductive technologies. Ireland was
one of the only jurisdictions in the world which didn’t have such
legislation to protect children’s rights in these situations, he said.
Also speaking at the conference, Prof Pat Dolan of NUI Galway, noted
that where some 2 per cent of families in Ireland in 1960 were the
result of non-marital births, this had risen to 32 per cent by 2005.
Some 200,000, or 18 per cent, of all parents were parenting alone in
2006, and 85 per cent of them were female.
The financial crisis was placing enormous strain on families, and yet
there had been no consideration of the impact on families and on the
taxpayer when the decision was taken to bail out the banks, he said.
© 2011 The Irish Times
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is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there
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