Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in a speech at the Mater Dei Institute for Education earlier this week that giving the state greater responsibility for children will not automatically ensure improved child protection and increased childrens’ rights. He went on to say that it is not the state’s job to bring up children: it is the job of parents and that the measures needed to address the challenges of improving child protection will require huge effort and go way beyond the creation, simply, of new structures.
I can’t help wondering who these comments were meant to be aimed at. Everyone I know who has a genuine interest in advancing the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children already knows that no one single measure will move that agenda of work along effectively and efficiently.
The wording that will be presented to the Irish people to vote on in a referendum on Children’s Rights is unlikely to have anything to do making it the State’s job to bring up children, far more likely to be about ensuring that where the parents of any child fail in their responsibility towards such child, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means, as shall be regulated by law, endeavour to supply or supplement the place of the parents, regardless of their marital status – quite different to bringing up all the children of the State.
Apart from a referendum on Children’s Rights, there is of course a huge amount of work to be done and it is refreshing, to say the least, to have a government in place that not only recognises this fact but has committed to doing much of that work and has started well. The appointment of a Minister for Children with full cabinet status is a very welcome start. The commitment to divest the HSE of all responsibility for the child protection system and put that work directly under the responsibility of the Minister and Department for Children is also very welcome. Placing Children First on a statutory basis and introducing a system of independent audit of compliance with Children First is another necessary step the Government has agreed to. Sarah’s Law is Fine Gael policy, another important child protection measure as is ensuring proper implementation of the StaySafe/SPHE programmes in all schools.
The Children’s Rights Referendum is not a panacea for advancing the safety, welfare, protection and rights of children, but most people who are genuinely interested in that agenda already know that.