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Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015

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Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015\First Stage
Bills\Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015\First Stage

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Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015

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Senator


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Snippet Contents:

I move: More than anything else recent reports on the exorbitant costs of the guardian ad litem system highlight the need for reform of this system. For example in March, we found out that a number of social workers, previously employed by the HSE, earned as much as €300,000 each last year to act as court-appointed officers for children likely to be placed in care. There have been repeated Government promises to reform this area and tackle the high payments. Yet, costs have risen, with spending on legal and guardian ad litem fees increasing from €11.9 million in 2013 to €16 million in 2014.
Let us put this into context. The last budget left the relevant allocation €18 million short of meeting day-to-day expenditure. This has resulted in making savage cuts to rape crisis centres throughout the country as well as domestic violence support services, among others. Tusla simply does not have enough resources to fund child protection and welfare services properly. Given the shameful number of children in care who remain without an allocated social worker and the fact that 3,000 high priority cases throughout the country have yet to be assigned to a social worker, it is scandalous that scarce resources are being spent on an unregulated and chaotic system while we do not have sufficient front-line staff to help vulnerable children.
When I questioned the Minister about these costs he confirmed that the Child and Family Agency, the body responsible for administering the guardian ad litem system, could not provide the information on exactly how much is paid out to individual guardians. Remarkably, the financial system of Tusla does not have details on the number of individual guardians ad litem involved, despite the exorbitant fees being paid out under the scheme.
The high fees for legal representation are a gross waste of public money at a time when there is a shortage of social workers. One of the most serious issues arising is the fact that this area remains unregulated. We do not know who can be appointed or what criteria or qualifications they need to meet to be appointed. Moreover, there are serious variations from region to region in appointments. It is shocking that the Minister does not even know how many guardians ad litem are receiving these payments, a clear indication that there are serious management issues in his Department and Tusla with regard to the guardian ad litem system. The system is chaotic and mismanaged at the moment. It is not child-centred or child-focused. It is a cash cow that is being manipulated and abused for the benefit of a few.
The Child Care (Guardian Ad Litem) Bill 2015 will establish and provide for the ongoing regulation of an independent appointment system of guardians ad litem in the context child care proceedings. The Bill mandates Tusla to undertake the supervision, training, monitoring and accountability of all individuals involved in the appointment and the training of guardians ad litem. The Bill obliges the Minister to introduce regulations. Along with this Bill I will submit to the Minister a guideline set of regulations that can be introduced to establish codes of practice and professional standards for the guardian ad litem system.
The Bill and the regulations deal with a number of key reforms of the current system. The Bill makes a number of key amendments to section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991. It amends section 26(4) of principal Act by granting courts the discretion to retain a guardian ad litem in care proceedings in circumstances where a child becomes a party to proceedings.