Proposed amendment not an issue of child protection
OPINION:If you believe we are morally obliged to protect our most vulnerable citizens, vote No in this referendum, writes JOHN BYRNE
NEXT WEEK people go to the polls to vote on the 31st amendment to the Constitution.
In some respects this amendment has already been passed because the Yes campaign has done an excellent job of selling its agenda by dubbing this the “children’s rights referendum” rather then giving it its official title. A cynic might say that this was a cunning act of political manipulation. I say that it is unintentionally misleading, and it doesn’t tell the full story.
If the amendment is passed, it will further marginalise some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Irish society, including victims of domestic violence, people with addiction/psychiatric difficulties, prison populations and the homeless.
The amendment proposes that if a child is deemed to be abandoned (after only 36 months) in care, then the State can make the decision to have the child adopted against the will of the birth parent. This is a proposal which shows no understanding of the reality of child protection services in Ireland and/or no regard for the birth parents of children in care.
In theory, when a child is taken into care, the State is supposed to place the child in a place of safety. Social workers are then supposed to help the parent and the child with whatever the presenting problem is.
The aim is always to reunite the family at the first opportunity and in the shortest possible period of time. In reality there are not enough social workers or placements in care for children, so services are fire-fighting all of the time, crisis managing a dysfunctional system that has never actually worked properly. If you are in any doubt about the reliability of this statement, please see the Prime Time Investigates programme In Harm’s Way, broadcast on May 12th, 2008.
The result is that in very many cases children come into care and as soon as they are settled, the social worker moves on to another crisis. Very little if anything gets done with the child or parent and the child invariably ends up drifting in care.
The parents’ difficulties are compounded because they are faced with the reality of not being able to parent their own child and they often deal with that the only way they know how, which is with alcohol or drugs. And so the problem gets worse instead of better.
Before anybody knows what is happening, months and years have passed and nothing has changed, the child has become part of the foster family (often referring to the foster parents as Mam and Dad) and there is virtually no hope of ever replacing them with his or her birth parents. Meanwhile, the life situation of the birth parents has become progressively worse as a result of their inability to cope, compounded by inadequate and/or dysfunctional State support services.
If this amendment is passed in its current form we are giving more power to a dysfunctional system to take children from some of the most vulnerable people in society. I am conscious that the popular view is that many of these people should not have children in the first place and that everybody should take responsibility for their own actions.