Amendment supporters guilty of serious distortions
WITH BARE-FACED dishonesty, proponents of the “children’s rights” amendment persistently cite two landmark childcare cases – the “Roscommon case” and the “Baby Ann case” – as indicating an urgency for constitutional changes to protect children.
Overwhelmingly, however, what emerges from these cases is not any inadequacy of the Constitution in relation to children, but incompetence and dubious practice by social workers.
The Gibbons report on the “Roscommon case” makes clear that there were no definitive constitutional or legal impediments preventing the Western Health Board from intervening in this appalling family situation.
It is true that, in 2000, after 11 years of engagement between the family and the health board, the parents obtained an ex parte order in the High Court in a bid to frustrate a proposed shared parenting arrangement.
But Gibbons tells us that, whereas the health board afterwards took legal advice, which urged immediate steps to challenge the High Court order, social workers appeared to misunderstand the order and ignored their own lawyers’ advice.
Contrary to the assertions of pro-amendment agitators, the High Court order did not extend the parents’ definitive protection from an intervention. It was at all times open to the health board to apply to vary or vacate the order, and/or to seek a care order in the District Court, and/or to apply to the High Court to have the children made wards of court.
For seven months, the health board did nothing. When finally it returned to the High Court, lawyers for the parents were able to observe that there didn’t appear to be much urgency in the matter.
The judge said he would not set aside the order but varied it to facilitate any order of the District Court.
Still, no such application was made, the health board bizarrely interpreting the High Court judgment as an outright rejection of its application.
At no time was any application by the health board rejected by any court, on constitutional grounds or otherwise.
Many people unfortunate enough to have experience of an intervention by social workers know that they are wont to trample all over families on the basis of circumstances far less drastic than could be observed by the dogs on the road where this Roscommon family lived.
A former social worker has written to me outlining why such contradictions arise: “Social workers are human and can be intimidated when on child protection visits with dangerous families.
“They prefer targeting instead the easy cases where they get to flex their power. They can justify making errors as they have large caseloads, but this can give them the excuse not to be sitting on the more difficult cases.”