Children’s rights organisations plus a number of politicians have reacted to the publication of the Roscommon Child Care Case report by calling for a children’s rights referendum.
For example, in a statement the Children Right’s Alliance said: “The Constitution currently does not grant individual rights to children, within marital families. It is clear that constitutional reform must take place, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that all children are protected.”
It also tells us that the Constitution must be changed “in order to give children in vulnerable situations a voice”.
However, one of the country’s leading advocates of children’s rights has a different view as to whether a change to the Constitution would have made any difference to these children, namely Geoffrey Shannon, author of ‘Child Law’.
Interviewed today on Morning Ireland, Shannon said: “I heard yesterday people making reference to the fact that if we had a referendum, this case would have been decided differently. I respectfully disagree.”
He said that under the Child Care Act 1991 the social workers involved in the case had the power to apply to the District Court to have the children removed from their parents, which they eventually did in 2004.
There are currently over 5,000 children in State-care in Ireland and most of these are in care for reasons much less extreme than those found in the Roscommon case where there was severe and ongoing abuse and neglect.
Therefore, it is simply not true to say that the Constitution was an impediment to removing the children from their parents.
The claim that the Constitution must be changed to make sure that the voices of the children at the centre of these cases is heard is also flimsy to say the least.
The Child Care Act 1991 already requires that the welfare of the child be the paramount consideration when their care is being considered by court, and it also allows for the wishes of the child to be taken into account. (Section 24).
In addition, the Act allows the court to appoint separate legal representation for children in the form of a Guardian ad litem. (Section 26).
In fact, far from this case reinforcing and strengthening the argument in favour of a children’s rights referendum, it actually shows the argument to be tenuous at best.
What happened in Roscommon was the result neither of a lack of resources nor of a fault in the law. The failure lay in the poor decision-making of the social workers involved.