Words to protect children must translate into action
OPINION:Having voted to amend the Constitution, we must each ensure that our State is a great place for every child.
Citing an urgent need for the reform of services for children and families in September 2011, I wrote “ . . . there needs to be a debate within Ireland that is centred on respect for the humanity of each child. We need to focus on the need for collective responsibility . . .”
Post-referendum it is for the citizens of Ireland to decide whether or not that opportunity has been taken. Ireland is a democracy and the people have spoken. Now there is a need for careful reflection and consideration of what the people have said.
The limitations of the debate on the children’s amendment, the low turnout and the close result of the referendum point to significant matters warranting deeper societal analysis.
An informed debate focusing on our responsibilities and our contribution to society can perhaps more easily flourish post-referendum rather than in the heat of electoral angst. Such debate is critical to decisions made for and on behalf of Ireland’s children. It takes a whole community, engaged and responsive, to keep a child safe.
I believe that everybody who voted last Saturday, and those who did not, wish to see children supported by loving families who set clear boundaries.
Our shared aspiration for children in Ireland is that they will fulfil their potential and be healthy in every aspect of their lives, physically and mentally. We want children to develop a keen sense of themselves through participation, through the projects they take on in the world. We want them to be optimistic and hopeful, valued contributors to the life of their communities. Seen, heard, listened to and respected.
There is much written about a strong correlation between child safety and the traditional marriage-based nuclear family. This argument has merit. However, while we wish every child to be supported in loving families there are families who struggle to support their children. There are occasions when families do not fulfil their obligations effectively and those within the nuclear and extended family are insufficiently vigilant.
I believe those engaged in support of struggling families need to be natural allies and more dependable partners, professionals who recognise that children in the vast majority of cases thrive best in families, professionals who always put children first.
Parenting is difficult
Families struggle and children are put at risk because parenting is difficult. Risk cannot be removed by policy and statute. Children are resilient but they are failed as a result of family breakdown, as the result of violence, as a consequence of the abuse of drugs and alcohol – all of which create circumstances of child-endangerment, resulting in children who need to be in State care because they are at risk, not children who are at risk because they are in State care.
The State must be supportive when appropriate, assertive when necessary. The legal system plays a pivotal role in protecting children. I believe the recently accepted amendment to the Constitution will help put a child’s right to protection at the centre of legal proceedings when welfare is the key consideration.