Guardian ad litem reform represents step forward for children’s rights

Tanya Ward
Tanya Ward

The Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) has welcomed reform of the Guardian ad litem service as a step forward for children’s rights in Ireland.

The Government was awarded a B- grade for its commitments to children’s rights in the family environment and alternative care in the CRA’s annual Report Card, up from a D+ last year.

The Report Card, produced each year by an independent panel of experts chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, scrutinises the Government’s performance against its declared commitments.

The enactment of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 as well as the full commencement of the Children First Act 2015 ensured a higher grade.

Positive measures include the announcement to establish a new Executive Office for the Guardian ad litem service, and the commitment to hold a consultation with children and young people on its design.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Court can be a really daunting place for a child and this service should ensure that children are heard in child care proceedings.

“To give effect to the child’s constitutional rights, the reformed legislation should ensure that the child’s right to be heard, along with their right to fair procedures and redress, is respected, by requiring that the Guardian ad litem be given legal standing in proceedings to represent the child.

Ms Ward added: “We also welcome the roll-out of new Child Safeguarding Statements to keep children safe from abuse and the speeding up of the vetting process by the National Vetting Bureau to screen those working with children.

“While a new Victims of Crime Act 2017 is positive, far more support is needed for child victims including a dedicated strategy to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children.

“This strategy should include a plan for the development of specialist assessment and treatment services for children and young people who experience sexual violence.”

The CRA’s Report Card 2018 gives an overall C- grade to the Government, an increase on last year’s D+ grade.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness said: “Over the last decade, the Report Card has reflected the reality of children’s lives and the impact on children of decisions made by national policymakers.

“It is important to give praise where it is due, as well as seeking change where it is needed. This is what the annual Report Card aims to do.”