Home > An examination of lengthy, contested and complex child protection cases in the District Court. Report of a research study commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Coulter, Carol (2018) An examination of lengthy, contested and complex child protection cases in the District Court. Report of a research study commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Dublin: Child Care Law Reporting Project.

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There were 6,182 children in care in November 2017 in Ireland.1 Further, between 2013 and 2015, 59 per cent of those in care entered care on the basis of a voluntary agreement with their parents, with the remainder coming into care by way of court order.2 This does not mean that 41 per cent of the children in care entered care following strongly contested court proceedings – the Child Care Law Reporting Project found that in the years 2013-2015 of the 707 cases it had seen concluded (rather than reviewed, adjourned, struck out or withdrawn) 63 per cent were granted on consent.3 Therefore less than 20 per cent of children in care entered care following contested court proceedings. Nonetheless, the courts are the final arbiters in our child protection system and of central importance in setting the standards for state intervention in families. Until recently there was no scrutiny of this important function of our courts, due mainly to the in camera rule which prohibited any reporting of the proceedings and any disclosure by anyone of what happened in court.

The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) was set up in November 2012 to address this. This followed the modification of the in camera rule in relation to child protection proceedings, with the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007. This in turn followed recommendations in a number of reports, including the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan Report) on residential institutions and the report of the all-party Oireachtas committee on a children’s amendment to the Constitution.4

The Project also collected and analysed data on 1,272 cases, 1,194 in the District Court and 78 in the High Court. The data was analysed statistically, and the results also published in annual reports in 2013, 2014 and in a Final Report, combining three years’ data, in 2015. Following this first phase of the CCLRP programme of work, the focus of the second phase, and the subject of this report, was on more contested cases. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs commissioned research to explore further issues identified during the first phase; of specific interest was the small minority of cases which became extremely protracted and contested.

Therefore, in this second phase of the project, we sought to examine in depth a sample of such cases aligned with qualitative research with the different professionals involved so as to explore their varied perspectives on the processes involved, including the factors implicated in how and why some cases become so exceptionally protracted. In examining these cases, it was hoped that lessons could be learned about the preparation of child care cases by the CFA more broadly, and the conduct of cases by the District Court, in order to seek to avoid excessive complexity in the future and deal with it expeditiously when it arises

This report contains seven chapters. The first chapter sets the context for the study, outlining the legal background, a brief review of the literature and a description of the method used. The second chapter analyses ten exceptionally lengthy cases attended and reported on by reporters from the CCLRP. The third contains an analysis of the observations of the six reporters who attended these and other cases, and who participated in a group interview with the author of this study, who herself attended some of these cases. The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters examine the experiences of these and other lengthy cases through the prism of the different professionals engaged in the process: social workers, lawyers and guardians ad litem (GALs). The seventh contains conclusions and recommendations..


Date:June 2018
Pages:121 p.
Publisher:Child Care Law Reporting Project
Place of Publication:Dublin
ISBN:-873532-39-3
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Subjects:A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Problem substance use
B Substances > Alcohol
L Social psychology and related concepts > Marital relations > Family and kinship > Family relations > Family role > Role of parent
MM-MO Crime and law > Crime and violence > Crime against persons (assault / abuse / intimidation)
MM-MO Crime and law > Law enforcement and the justice system
MM-MO Crime and law > Justice system > Court system
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Social services
T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
T Demographic characteristics > Social worker
T Demographic characteristics > Child of person who uses substances
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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