Posts

Hands

One Family Welcomes Children & Family Relationships Bill

Press Release

A Good News Day for Children 

One Family Welcomes Children & Family Relationships Bill

(Dublin, Tuesday 17 February 2015) One Family – Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and step-parenting today welcomes the passing at Cabinet of the Children & Family Relationships Bill 2015. As an organisation with 42 years of expertise in supporting the real needs of diverse families in Ireland, One Family acknowledges that this Bill is groundbreaking in recognising and supporting the complexity of family arrangements that children live in today.

Karen Kiernan, One Family CEO explains: “We are strongly welcoming this Bill as for the first time in Irish legislation the reality of the families that children live in is recognised, as it will now be possible for children to have legal relationships with the people who are raising them such as their step-parents, informal foster-parents or the second parent in a same-sex headed family. This is important for their safety and wellbeing and shifts the focus to what children really need. We also welcome the fact that the best interests of the child will be central in family law proceedings; that children will need to be consulted on issues affecting them; and that more unmarried fathers will automatically become guardians of their children.”

One Family has been working with families who use the family law courts for over four decades providing specialist family support services so that separated families who share parenting can do so effectively and without conflict. Based on our expertise of what we know families need during this time of transition, we welcome sections of the Bill dealing with Making Parenting Orders Work including the ability to refer parents to mediation, counselling, and parenting programmes.”

Karen continues: “Whilst the Bill is extremely welcome, it is not perfect and in particular we are seeking assurances that a court welfare system and guardianship register will be introduced in the future. We are also concerned about the costs that might be borne by parents who are involved in family law disputes.”

/Ends.

About One Family

One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those sharing parenting, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to professionals working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 62 2212, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes Family Day and presents the Family Day Festival every May, an annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland today (www.familyday.ie). For further information, visit www.onefamily.ie.

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

Gavel

Children & Family Relationships Bill Published Today is a Major Step to Recognising Family Diversity and Change in Ireland

Press Release

One Family Welcomes Children & Family Relationships Bill as a Major Step to Recognising Family Diversity and Change in Ireland:

but to work it requires investment

(Dublin, Thursday 25 September 2014) One Family – Ireland’s organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting – welcomes the publication of the Children & Family Relationships Bill 2014 by Minister Frances Fitzgerald today. As an organisation with 42 years of expertise in supporting diverse families in Ireland, One Family acknowledges that this Bill is groundbreaking in recognising the complexity of family arrangements that children live in today.

Karen Kiernan, One Family CEO explains: “We are pleased that the Bill will provide the ability for people who live with and care for children such as step-parents, grandparents and foster-parents to seek guardianship, as well as wider family members to seek contact time. It assists in the somewhat stressful process for some unmarried fathers in becoming guardians of their children as more will become automatic guardians. We welcome the fact that many of One Family’s recommendations were listened to and that the important section on Making Parenting Orders Work has been expanded and clarified.”

“The elucidation of the importance of the concept of the ‘best interests of the child’ and the impact of violence in a family is extremely welcome as is the ability of the Court to request reports and expert testimony on the welfare of any child. However the major problem in One Family’s experience is that there is no court welfare system in Ireland and what exists currently is unregulated and expensive. Our work in the pilot Child Contact Centres with Barnardos resulted in comprehensive family and child assessments and this is what is required in many families where they are in dispute in court. Family law courts are currently making inappropriate decisions about children resulting in unsafe or unsuitable access and custody arrangements as they have no evidence on which to base their decisions.”

The Bill recognises the importance of measures to resolve family issues outside court including tools such as mediation, counselling, the development of an agreement and parenting programmes. Also welcome is the fact that no judge, barrister or solicitor should wear a wig or gown during family law proceedings.

Karen continues: “Of major concern to us in One Family is the fact that all costs relating to court process, mediation, counselling and parenting supports seems to be borne by the parents involved in family law matters. This is not realistic for many parents who are struggling to make ends meet and government needs to invest in ancillary family support services to court which will assist this Bill in being successful in the resolution of family law disputes outside court.”

The Press Release issued this afternoon by the Department of Justice can be read here.

/Ends.

About One Family

One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those sharing parenting, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to professionals working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 62 22 12, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes Family Day and presents the Family Day Festival every May, an annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland today (www.familyday.ie). For further information, visit www.onefamily.ie.

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

Further Information/Scheduling

Shirley Chance, Director of Communications | t: 01 662 9212 or 087 414 8511

 

Shortfalls for Children of Separated Parents in Report on Draft Children & Family Relationships Bill

Press Release

Shortfalls for Children of Separated Parents in

Justice Committee Report on Draft

Children & Family Relationships Bill 

www.onefamily.ie

(Dublin, Wednesday 9 July 2014) One Family – Ireland’s organisation for one-parent families and parents sharing parenting – welcomes the publication of the report from the Justice Committee on the Children & Family Relationships Bill 2014 tomorrow. With over 40 years campaigning for legal recognition and support for the wide diversity of families that children in Ireland live in, One Family believes that this Bill is long overdue. The focus now should be to ensure that it is passed as quickly as possible to meet the urgent needs of children and parents though it is disappointing to note that some important issues such as ancillary reports to courts and child safety were not highlighted in the report.

Karen Kiernan, One Family CEO comments: “While this Bill is progress, it is disheartening that the Justice Report contains no mention of the need for ancillary services to the family law courts, especially Child Contact Centres which are necessary to ensure safety of children in contentious custody disputes. One Family published an evaluation of its pilot Child Contact Centre scheme in March this year and highlighted this need at the Committee hearing on 9 April. The Courts do not yet have access to professionally conducted family assessments in order to make evidence-based, child-centred decisions that will be safe, enforceable and fair. This has yet to be addressed for the safety of children.”

Stuart Duffin, One Family Director of Policy & Programmes, comments: “This report is a missed opportunity in a number of respects.  Government places ever greater emphasis on the importance of children having meaningful relationships with both their parents yet the report fails to explore ways to mainstream services to support this in the face of family separation, especially for low-income families. When parents separate, benefits and allowances attach wholly to one parent or the other, with often the non-resident parent – most usually the father – becoming ‘invisible’ other than as a source of income.  The report is not addressing this imbalance which has huge consequences for separated parents and their well-being, and that of their children.”

The Children & Family Relationships Bill will need to acknowledge the need for greater cooperation of services aimed at building broad local partnerships. It should result in quality, professional supports to cover the wide range of needs of families during separation and after, and when accessing the family law courts. It should ensure that legislators are equipped to make evidence-based decisions with children’s needs at the centre of these decisions.

Otherwise, while a step in the right direction, additional costs will be incurred to the State down the line while the Bill fails to fully deliver for children of separated families.

One Family’s Child Contact Centres Key Learnings can be read here: http://www.onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/One-Family_Child-Contact-Centre_Key-Learnings.pdf

The Executive Summary of the Evaluation can be read here: http://www.onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/Executive-Summary-December-2013.pdf

/Ends.

About One Family

One Family was founded in 1972 and is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to those working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services. These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 622 212, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes Family Day and presents the Family Day Festival every May, an annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland today (www.familyday.ie). For further information, visit www.onefamily.ie.

Available for Interview

Karen Kiernan, CEO | t: 01 662 9212 or 086 850 9191

Stuart Duffin, Director of Policy & Programmes | t: 01 662 9212 or 087 062 2023

Further Information/Scheduling

Shirley Chance, Director of Communications | t: 01 662 9212 or 087 414 8511

Children & Family Relationships Bill | Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice Hearings

Today Karen Kiernan, One Family’s CEO and Stuart Duffin, our Director of Policy & Programmes, attended the hearings by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in relation to the Children & Family Relationships Bill and highlighted our concerns regarding ancillary supports for court, child safety issues and Child Contact Centres. Karen’s presentation is included below and the full transcript of the discussion can be read here on Oireachtas.ie, with our submission on page 5 and follow-up questions later in the document.

Introduction

One Family is Ireland’s leading organisation for one-parent families, providing services to people parenting alone, sharing parenting and going through family transitions. Our policy work is rooted in our extensive family support work over the past four decades.

We welcome the heads of this Bill as it is long overdue and badly needed to support the thousands of families in need of family law services every year. This Bill attempts to reflect the realities that many children and their parents experience in Ireland today and to provide safety and security for them.

We refer the Committee to our written submission for an overview of all our  recommendations; however, today we are going to focus our comments on issues relating to Part 7 – Guardianship, Custody and Access, Part 8 – Safeguarding Interests of Children and Part 9 of the Bill – Making Parenting Orders Work.

We are very familiar in One Family with the practical, financial and legal challenges faced by mothers and fathers going through the family law courts in relation to separation, custody, access, maintenance, domestic violence and related issues. We have been particularly concerned with the lack of information and services available to family law courts when they attempt to make orders in relation to these issues.

Child Contact Centres

We undertook research into the need for Child Contact Centres in Ireland which we published in 2009. Child Contact Centres are safe, neutral and child-centred services where children can spend time with their non-resident parent. They are widespread outside Ireland and are used by courts, social services and families as safe places for high-conflict families to facilitate children having an ongoing relationship with the parent whom they do not live with who is often their father.

Following this research we received funding for a two year pilot project which we delivered in partnership with Barnardos. We offered family and risk assessments, court reports, contact services including handovers, supported contact and supervised contact, family support services including counselling, play and art therapy for children, parent mentoring and mediated parenting plans. These services cost about €200K per year and have closed due to lack of funding.

The independent evaluation of this project was launched last week at an event attended by five members of the judiciary, a large number of legal practitioners as well as family support services, with overwhelming support for the service expressed and offers of resources made. The key policy issues that have arisen through this work which were also published last week are extremely relevant to the Children & Family Relationships Bill and there is an opportunity to get this right for children in the future.

Evidence-based Court Orders

At the moment, family law courts are making critical decisions about children and families in a vacuum. They do not make evidence-based decisions, unlike other branches of law. Irish family law courts do not have independent, quality information on the families presenting to them because unlike other jurisdictions we do not have a court welfare system. This must change.

It is not possible for Head 32: Best interests of the child for example or Head 63: Enforcement Orders to function as you might envisage if courts are not resourced with relevant background information on the family. Children are having unsafe and unsuitable contact with their non-resident parent on a daily basis in Ireland because courts are ordering it as there is a strong pro-contact assumption inherent in family law, because courts do not have full information on the extent and impact of domestic violence and abuse, because courts do not have independent information on addiction and mental health issues, because parents may not recognise the negative impact of violence on their children or their ability to parent, and because courts do not have anywhere to refer parents to for family or contact supports.

So what are the solutions and what can you do?

The provision of a court welfare system must be included in this legislation as family assessments are the basis for making evidence-based decisions. The need for courts and social services to collaborate much more closely to ensure the safety of children is required. A range of appropriate family support services must be included that families can be referred to including a national network of Child Contact Centres. Children’s voices and their best interest may be more appropriately determined through external independent services as was facilitated in Child Contact Centres. The legislation should be clearer around domestic violence and abuse and the required support systems. The legislation must be clear on the range, the benefits and limitations of family supports. There is a serious impediment to people with low incomes accessing family supports however and resourcing needs to be looked at in the future.

Inclusion in this legislation is just one of the steps required to ensure safety for children in private family law proceedings and to avoid repeated court visits for high-conflict families. We estimate that each of the 17 Child & Family Agency areas could have a comprehensive, trained and accredited Child Contact Centre service including all family assessments, contact services and family support services for a total cost of €3.5m per year. We believe that this is excellent value for money particularly compared to legal or court based supports and this is a defined rather than open funding stream.

Karen Kiernan Stuart Duffin One Family