Child Law Project celebrates 10th anniversary

Child Law Project celebrates 10th anniversary

Pictured (left–right): Dr Carol Coulter, Noeline Blackwell, Judge Paul Kelly and Dr Maria Corbett

The Child Law Project (CLP) has celebrated 10 years of reporting on and analysing child protection proceedings in the courts.

A short seminar and reception to mark the anniversary took place at the Distillery Buildings yesterday, addressed by children’s minister Roderic O’Gorman and the president of the District Court, Judge Paul Kelly.

The event also heard from Noeline Blackwell and former chief justice Mr Justice Frank Clarke in their roles as chair and board member of the project.

The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP), now called the Child Law Project, was set up shortly after the in camera rule was modified to permit reporting of child care applications by nominated bodies, subject to maintaining the anonymity of the families involved.

It was set up with the support of two philanthropic organisations, the One Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies, along with the then Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Since publishing its first volume of court reports in spring 2013, the project has published 859 reports on child care proceedings heard in the District Court and High Court, along with a series of accompanying analytical reports and various observations on proposed legislative reforms.

Speaking at yesterday’s event, Mr O’Gorman said: “For the past decade, the Child Law Project, funded by my Department, has reported on child care proceedings in our courts, and conducted valuable research in this regard.

“This important work has provided policy makers and the wider public with invaluable insights into the practical implementation of the Child Care Acts, which are the cornerstone of our child welfare and protection system, and into the experiences of some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.

“This in turn has assisted improved and evidence-based policy-making. I would like to congratulate the Child Law Project on the significant milestone of their 10-year anniversary.”

Judge Paul Kelly said: “I congratulate the Child Law Project on a decade of superb work shining a light on proceedings in the District Court involving the most vulnerable of our children.

“The jurisdiction of the court under the Child Care Act 1991 is the most challenging and significant of all the work entrusted to the District Court. Decisions in these cases have enormous, life-changing impacts on the children concerned as well as their families and friends.

“They are frequently cases where the miseries of addiction, violence, dysfunction, disadvantage and mental illness coincide in the one family, causing concern for the health, development and welfare of the child concerned. The cases are often harrowing and stressful for all involved – including the judges themselves, who have the huge responsibility of trying to make the right decision for each individual child.”

He added: “The accumulated reports compiled by the project over the past 10 years have given invaluable insight and assistance to judges hearing these cases, and also to professionals working in this area, and as such are a valuable resource to us all.

“In general they show that social workers, medical and psychological professionals, lawyers, guardians ad litem and judges are conscientious and take their responsibilities very seriously.

“I hope the project will continue to be resourced to fulfil its important remit, and that its work will be available to everyone working in or interested in child care law.”

Dr Carol Coulter, the project’s founder and executive director, said: “We are extremely grateful to the philanthropic organisations and FLAC for helping to set up this project, and to the Department of Children for its sustained and ongoing support.

“We could not have done our work without the support of our reporters and Board members, and without the cooperation of the staff of the Courts Service and Child and Family Agency, the judiciary and members of the legal profession.

“I am personally proud that we have been able to provide transparency on the workings of the child protection courts, and am a firm believer that, for democracy to flourish, justice must be administered in public, while protecting the vulnerable.

“I am hopeful that, with the establishment of a new dedicated Family Court, the Child Law Project, under the dedicated leadership of Maria Corbett, can continue to provide this transparency and contribute to the development of child and family law in Ireland.”

Dr Maria Corbett, the project’s chief executive, said: “From our reports, we see that children come into care due to a concern that their parents have neglected or abused them, or where a child is separated from their families and seeking international protection, possibly fleeing war.

“Of concern, however, is that we are also seeing a growing trend whereby children are entering care due to their own emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties, many of whom also have disabilities. As these children require both Tusla care services and HSE mental health and disability services, interagency engagement is essential.

“The project’s reports capture many stories of children flourishing in care and some where the child has been successfully reunified with their parents.

“Unfortunately, we are increasingly witnessing frustration on the part of the judiciary and professionals about the fact that an appropriate care placement cannot be found for a child. The lack of appropriate placements is undermining progress made over the past 20 years. Urgent inter-departmental attention is needed to address the crisis in the availability of appropriate care placements.”

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