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To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the role played by the Health Service Executive in the decision to remove Roma children from their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace

For ORAL answer on  Tuesday, 12th November, 2013

REPLY.

The query raised by the Deputy refers to the recent cases of Roma children who following Garda action were removed under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 and provided with foster care while investigations took place. In the first instance I would like to acknowledge that this has clearly been an extremely distressing situation for the families concerned and I have asked Mr Gordon Jeyes, National Director of HSE Children and Family Services, to ensure that all possible supports are offered to the families

Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 provides for the removal of a child to a place of safety by An Garda Síochána in situations where there is immediate and serious risk. In such circumstances An Garda Síochána must, as soon as possible, place the child into the care of the HSE.

Where a child is received into care in circumstances such as these, the HSE are required, following initial assessment, to either return the child to their parents, if is safe to do so, or make an application to the District Court for an Emergency Care Order at the first available opportunity. A District Court may grant an Emergency Care Order if there is reasonable cause to believe that there is an immediate and serious risk to the child or that there is likely to be if they were to leave the care setting. Emergency Care Orders have a limited duration and a fuller hearing must be convened within prescribed timelines.

Child protection is a complex and sensitive issue. An Garda Síochána and the HSE are often required by law to deal with complex situations and to make immediate decisions when dealing with issues of child protection. The HSE and An Garda Síochana have worked in the broad context of Children First to develop closer working relationships designed to ensure more effective provision of child welfare and protection services. Regular meetings of the statutory agencies are convened at both local case management and national senior management  level aimed at ensuring good communication and cooperation channels. The HSE and An Garda Siochana also operate joint protocols to ensure good practice in the area of child protection.

As I have outlined, the Ombudsman for Children is currently conducting an independent investigation into the actions of An Garda Síochána and the HSE into the two recent cases. While I have received a report from the HSE into the HSE involvement, out of respect for the Ombudsman for Children's independent investigations, I would like to refrain from comment on the specifics of the cases at this stage. As soon as the Ombudsman for Children reports on her investigations I will ensure any relevant findings are addressed and the learning from these cases informs future practice.

To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she intends to review guidelines in relation to the Health Service Executive's use of Section 12 of the Children's Act..

 - Mick Wallace

For ORAL answer on  Tuesday, 12th November, 2013 REPLY. Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 provides for the removal of a child to a place of safety by An Garda Síochána in situations where there is immediate and serious risk. It is a power given to the Gardai and is not operated by the HSE per se. However, where Section 12 is invoked, An Garda Síochána must, as soon as possible, place the child into the care of HSE.

Section 12 however operates in conjunction with other duties and obligations of the HSE. Where a child is received into care in circumstances such as these, the HSE are required, following initial assessment, to either return the child to their parents, if is safe to do so, or make an application to the District Court for an Emergency Care Order at the first available opportunity. A District Court may grant an Emergency Care Order if there is reasonable cause to believe that there is an immediate and serious risk to the child or that there is likely to be if they were to leave the care setting. Emergency Care Orders have a limited duration and a fuller hearing must be convened within prescribed timelines.

The provisions of the Child Care Act are under continuous review by my Department and policy and legislative changes are considered as necessary.

The provision of and use of the particular section of the Act referred to by the Deputy is the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman for Children following two recent high profile cases. The Ombudsman will independently assess the circumstances of these cases and be free to raise any questions of relevance to the events that occurred.

Section 12 of the Act has been in operation for some considerable time. I believe it is important to emphasise the importance of the provision in the context of immediate danger to a child. I am further of the view that the Child Care Act 1991 carries considerable safeguards in respect of these powers, as it should. I am also of the view that we should not confuse issues related to practice in the overall appropriateness of the provision and it is these issues relating to practice which the various reports are required to tease out. Notwithstanding that, I have reiterated that, on receipt of a report from the Ombudsman for Children, the Gardai and the HSE will be in a position to examine any practice implications and I will be in a position to examine any policy or legislative implications, which might arise.

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