Guardians ad litem to be made available in all childcare cases
Bill addresses ‘significant inadequacies’ in law around court-appointed representatives
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the new Bill sought to regulate the existing ‘ad hoc’ guardian ad litem appointment system to benefit the greatest number of children and young people. File photograph: Dave Meehan
All children going through childcare proceedings will be appointed guardians to ensure young people’s voices are effectively heard in court under new legislation announced on Monday.
The new guardian ad litem service will be established and run by an executive office within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs as part of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019, which addresses “significant inadequacies” in the law and updates the provisions of Section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991.
Minister for Children Dr Katherine Zappone said the new Bill sought to regulate the existing “ad hoc” guardian ad litem appointment system to benefit the greatest number of children and young people.
Guardians ad litem are appointed by judges to communicate the wishes, feelings and interests of children, and present them to court with recommendations. However, previous legislation did not stipulate the conditions of their appointment and left it up to judges to decide whether they should be appointed to children.
The updated Bill “significantly improves upon existing legislation” and will “ensure that a child’s view is always effectively conveyed in the court in childcare court proceedings,” said Dr Zappone. The Minister also outlined plans to consult children and young people in the coming months on the type of service that is needed.
Under the new provisions, if a court declines to appoint a guardian to a child, it must state its reasons for not appointing them and explain how it intends to hear the views of the child. The updated Bill also specifies the role and status of the guardian and allows the minister to make regulations on the qualifications and experience required to hold the position.
The appointment and assignment of guardians to childcare cases will be carried out in a more “transparent” manner. A statement from the department said provisions had also been made for the mandatory appointment of a guardian under Section 25 of the Mental Health Act, 2001, which provides for the involuntary admission of a child with a mental disorder to an approved centre.
“This Bill gives me the statutory basis to put in place a high quality, and sustainable guardian ad litem national service within my department and to ensure that all children in childcare proceedings get the opportunity to have their voices heard and due consideration is given to their best interests,” said Dr Zappone.
In 2018, guardian at litem services for children cost the State €14.65 million, up from €14 million in 2017. It is not yet clear how much the extended service is expected to cost. However, Dr Zappone said earlier this month that she expected the new service could be provided within existing resources. There are about 75 guardians at litem operating in courts across the Republic.