NGO Alliance Call for Urgent Government Action on Child Maintenance

The National One-Parent Family Alliance says urgent Government action is required to develop a statutory independent child maintenance system.

In a series of recommendations to the Child Maintenance Review Group[1], the National One Parent Family Alliance says the Government must act now to take responsibility for assessing and enforcing child maintenance payments through a statutory child maintenance agency.

The National One Parent Family Alliance comprises nine national organisations including Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, One Family, FLAC, Focus Ireland, National Women’s Council, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, SPARK, and Treoir. This Alliance was established in 2020 in response to the unequal impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on one-parent families and a shared concern about the high levels of poverty experienced by lone parents and their children.

There are many problems for children and their parents because Ireland does not have a child maintenance system. Parents are forced to resort to fight for maintenance through expensive, adversarial, slow court cases where there is a lack of consistency and very little enforcement.

Karen Kiernan, Chair of the Alliance and CEO of One Family says, “The State must take responsibility for child maintenance away from vulnerable and conflicted families to ensure appropriate levels of maintenance are paid for the good of children. It is not acceptable that parents have to fight with each other in expensive court cases when there are models in most other countries of independent statutory systems.”

The Department of Social Protection’s current administration of child maintenance causes significant problems for one-parent families and many of these issues could be immediately remedied without the intervention of a review group.

Louise Bayliss co-founder of SPARK (Single Parents Acting for Rights of Kids) says, “The Department of Social Protection assesses court ordered maintenance, whether it is received or not. Poor compliance with court orders means that many families reliant on social welfare forgo maintenance rather than risk losing social welfare and getting no/sporadic maintenance. In addition, social welfare provision allows the Maintenance Recovery Unit to pursue maintenance from a “liable relative” for One Parent Family claims, but it stops when the youngest child turns 7 and the parent changes to Jobseekers Transition. This has resulted in a loss of child maintenance once a child turns 7. There are simple changes that could be enacted now that could result in significant improvements to ensure all parents contribute towards their child.”

Orla O’Connor, Director of National Women’s Council (NWC) says, “Reform of the statutory maintenance system must ensure that lone parents, the majority of whom are women, are no longer forced to secure child maintenance through the adversarial court system. Current processes in the Courts have little regard to the safety of those who have been subjected to domestic abuse, violence, coercion and financial abuse and can mean that survivors lose out on maintenance payments. A Statutory Maintenance Agency – or equivalent – will be crucial to help protect against the court system being used by perpetrators to continue domestic abuse, violence and coercive control.”

Damien Peelo, Treoir CEO said ” Treoir believes child support payments should be complementary to benefits, and that they should never be used by government as a substitute either in full or part, for them”.

The submission can be seen here.

The following spokespersons are available for interview:

Karen Kiernan, One Family (086 850 9191)

Louise Bayliss, SPARK (085 7761267)

Orla O’Connor, National Women’s Council (Silke Paasche 085-8589104)

[1]The Department of Social Protection invites submissions from interested parties to participate in a public consultation to review certain aspects of the treatment of maintenance by the Department and consideration of the establishment of a Child Maintenance Agency.