How new wording might have helped other children
But the Supreme Court overturned this decision. It ruled that the child be handed back to her natural parents. A crucial factor in the Supreme Court’s decision was that the Ann’s birth parents were married, having wedded a month before the High Court case. The Constitution affords special protection to the married family.
Under the Government’s proposed amendment, there will be an affirmation of each individual child’s inherent rights. Importantly, it provides that the rights and protections enjoyed by children are to be enjoyed by “all children, irrespective of their parents’ marital status”. As a result, there will no longer be discrimination against the treatment of children from married or unmarried families.
Those opposed to the referendum say the move will end up giving the State preference over parents in legal cases – although the planned amendment also states that the Constitution will continue to respect and preserve the rights of the family.
THE RYAN REPORT
Three years on and the findings of the Ryan report haven’t lost their capacity to shock. The sheer scale and longevity of the torment inflicted on defenceless children – more than 800 known abusers in more than 200 State-funded institutions during a period of 35 years – make clear that this was systematic abuse. Between 1936 and 1970 170,000 children were consigned to the 50 or so industrial schools.
The recommendations of the Ryan report point to the need for the needs of children to be foremost in all policies affecting children, to ensure children never suffer again in such a manner.
“Services should be tailored to the developmental, educational and health needs of the particular child,” the report states. “Adults entrusted with the care of children must prioritise the well-being and protection of those children above personal, professional or institutional loyalty.”
The planned constitutional amendment won’t change child policies, per se. But it will require that the interests of the child be made “paramount” in any court proceedings taken by the State relating to child protection, adoption, guardianship, custody and access.
Supporters of the proposed constitutional change say such a move could also help bring about the kind of cultural and political change that ensures there is a greater focus on these issues through our childcare policies. Again, opponents argue that this will give the State even more power to neglect young people.
ADOPTION OF CHILDREN
An estimated 2,000 children have been in foster care for long periods of time, with little or no contact from their birth parents.
In practice, however, they’re not eligible for adoption. This is because of the Constitution’s protection of the marital family. The threshold for adoption is so high that parents would need to be found guilty of effectively abandoning their children – a very rare occurrence.
The Government has produced draft legislation, to be enacted if the referendum is passed, that will ensure there is no longer discrimination between the adoption of children from marital and nonmarital families.
The Bill sets out in detail rules about voluntary adoptions and the adoption of children in foster care as a result of serious and persistent parental failure.