March 16, 2011
Reading the Irish Examiner today I see an account of a speech made by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. I am always interested to read what the Archbishop has to say because he often takes a perspective that is different (and to my mind more reality-based) than that of the other bishops. Today he is quoted as saying that “it is not the State’s job to bring up children; it is the job of the parents”. He is referring to the proposed Children’s Referendum and argues that the state’s record in child welfare and protection is so bad that increasing its powers will not improve the safety of children. He is right of course in that the vast majority of children are safest and happiest in the care of their families. He is also right in that our record in this country regarding child protection is abysmal. But he is wrong to imply that there is no way forward.
A Children’s Referendum on its own will not automatically make Irelanda safer place to be a child. What it will do is help create a culture where we think differently about children, where we see children as having individual rights that are equal to those of their families. Hopefully, depending on the wording, an imperative will be created that legislation and childcare practice must make the wellbeing of a child the primary concern in any decisions regarding them. Hopefully too the child will be given the right to be heard in any decisions that concern them. This will bring about real change and make children safer.
March 10, 2011
Listening to the details of our new government yesterday evening I have to say I was disappointed at having only two women in Cabinet. But I am really happy that we have a new full-blown Dept. of Children and I’m delighted that Frances Fitzgerald got the post. Two years ago, after the Ryan Report, we spoke on the same panel at the Humbert Summer School and I was very impressed by her grasp of the issues and her vision for change. Francesis a social worker by profession, and I think this will give her a real insight into the huge reforms that are needed in our child protection system, in addressing child poverty and in dealing with the needs of children caught up in the criminal justice system. I imagine too that she will be able to push forward with the Children’s Referendum. Congratulations on her appointment, and I look forward to working with her.
March 7, 2011
Reading through the new Programme for Government this morning I got bogged down in all the details of bank recapitalisation, fiscal policy and health service reform. And then finally, on page eighteen, there it is: the commitment to hold a constitutional referendum on children’s rights based on the wording agreed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee. Good news indeed.
There is no time commitment, but I did hear Enda Kenny say during the election campaign that it could take place at the time of the presidential elections in November. It is possible that by this time next year we could have in place a new constitutional framework to guide how we think about children and their needs.
We might actually be on the cusp of a major cultural shift in our attitudes to children and in how we need to balance the rights of the family with those of children. We might at last actually have a constitutional imperative to act on all the hundreds of recommendations that have been made over the years to improve the way children are treated and to make this a society where children are safe from harm.
March 4, 2011
All of the One in Four team members working on the sex offender programme attended the NOTA Ireland AGM last Friday. National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers (NOTA) seeks to highlight innovative service provision in Ireland for children, young people and adults who sexually harm.
The conference highlighted to me yet again the many gaps that exist in Ireland in the services and treatment provision for offenders in Ireland. At the same time I was inspired by the focus too on best practice in the area, specifically: the need for community based treatment & monitoring, and the need for support for the family/significant other in supporting the offender in living in a safe way.
With our aim of breaking the cycle of abuse and keeping children safe, One in Four has been working in the background for a number of years on offender treatment. We’re now at a point where we can expand the service and continue to introduce best practice. We’ve just settled this week on a name for the service: ‘Phoenix’, this name comes a number of months into the start of our new programme for the significant others of the offender.
It’s tough work and we’re pleased that the importance and value of the approach we have implemented is starting to take hold. Our aim is to continue to be innovative in our response to child protection, and to support and develop our work with evidence based research.
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March 3, 2011
I am delighted that Sheila Nunan of the Irish National Teachers Organisation has called on the new Government to establish an open forum to look at the issue of patronage of Irish primary schools. Currently the local Bishop is Patron of almost ninety five per cent of schools. This has implications for parents who do not want a Catholic education for their children and for teachers who do not want to teach religion. But there is another aspect. In the Louise O’Keefe case in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that the local Bishop and the Board of Management are the employers of the teaching staff and are ultimately responsible for any sexual abuse carried out by teachers. So, although the State lays down the requirements for teacher training and registration, employs inspectors to monitor the quality of teachers’ work, provides funding for the running costs of schools and pays teachers’ salaries, it is not their employer. Only in Ireland...
This leaves me with two questions. Given what we know now about the Catholic Church and sexual abuse, is a Bishop the proper person to be responsible for child protection in schools? And in the twenty first century, should not the State be ultimately responsible for all aspects of education, including the conduct of teachers? Lets have that forum.