Judge calls for law on parents of young offenders to be abolished

Judge John O’Connor says law ‘criminalises’ parents and is not effective

The Children Act 2001 states an order can be imposed if a court is satisfied that “a wilful failure of the child’s parents to take care of or control the child contributed to the child’s criminal behaviour”.

The Children Act 2001 states an order can be imposed if a court is satisfied that “a wilful failure of the child’s parents to take care of or control the child contributed to the child’s criminal behaviour”.

 

A law which allows the monitoring and punishment of parents who fail to control their children should be abolished as it “criminalises” parents, a Children Court judge has said.

Parental Supervision Orders can be imposed on the parents of children who commit a criminal offence. The Children Act 2001 states an order can be imposed if a court is satisfied that “a wilful failure of the child’s parents to take care of or control the child contributed to the child’s criminal behaviour”.

Under the order, the Children Court can instruct a parent to “adequately and properly control or supervise the child to the best of their ability”. It can also order the parents to undergo drug or alcohol treatment or engage in parenting skills courses.

When an order is made, a probation and welfare officer is assigned “to supervise the parents, to assist them in complying with the order and to monitor compliance with it”.

Failure to comply is treated as a contempt of court which could lead to fines or a period in custody.

In an address to lawyers, gardaí and social workers, District Court judge John O’Connor said “there should be no punishment of parents for the offences committed by their children and parental supervision orders should be abolished”.

He said that such orders are “unlikely to contribute to parents becoming active partners in the social reintegration of their child”.

“They are ineffective in practice and it isn’t acceptable internationally to criminalise parents of children in conflict with the law.”

Seldom used

Parental supervision orders have been invoked only a handful of times in the Children’s Court. They are unpopular with judges who see them an unhelpful in encouraging responsible behaviour in parents.

A rare use of the provision occurred in 2008 when a judge ordered the parents of a 17 year old who stole a laptop to stop him committing further offences. It was only the third time the order was used since it was introduced in 2001.

There have been recent calls to strengthen the punishment parents could face for failing to supervise their children. During the 2016 general election, Renua leader Lucinda Creighton proposed measures to make parents pay the court costs if their children were repeat offenders.

At the time, the Irish Penal Reform Trust said the proposals would disproportionately affect poorer communities and exacerbate the cycle of poverty and imprisonment.

On Thursday, the current leader of Renua, John Leahy, said the party, which returned no TDs in 2016, is now considering moving away from this position.

“Every parent tries their best. If a child slips into the wrong environment, it’s very hard to punish the parent for that,” Mr Leahy said.

Absence of parent

Judge O’Connor made his remarks during a speech titled What Works and What Could Work Better in Irish Youth Justice Policy at the annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies conference.

The judge said more must be done to ensure parents attended court when their child was facing a charge.

“The absence of a parent even if separated or divorced should be viewed as a problem to be addressed and solved, not as a mere situation to be acknowledged.”

He said this should be the case even if a parent had addiction issues. Some exceptions should be made in cases where the child was a victim of their parent’s abuse, he added.

Under the Children Act, parents are obliged to attend court with their child and warrants can be issued for their arrest if they don’t.

Judge O’Connor said these warrants are granted as a last resort and that encouragement to attend from gardaí, solicitors and social workers is generally more effective.