Best interest of the child should always prevail

At long last a sensible and realistic argument has been made in relation to children who have been involved in family law proceedings. The Chief Executive of Tusla, Gordon Jeyes was reported on Monday to have stated that the level of scrutiny brought to childcare cases in Dublin is “suffocating” and the accountability of social workers in the courts “has gone too far”.

However, his argument was that there is too much pressure on social workers and he says that in his experience, there are many cases where the judge in the District Court doesn’t even read the social workers’ submissions. He was also concerned that the entire system has become extremely adversarial.

He was also very unhappy with the idea that last year the Child & Family Agency spent €16.5 million on Guardians’ ad litem. That was €9.0 million directly to the guardians, €6.0 million to their solicitors and €1.5 million for their barristers. This year that figure will be much increased. Guardians’ ad litem are completely unregulated at the moment and are accountable to no one. He complained that too much time was spent debating the law rather than the best interest of the child. My own experience of the system is that whenever I become involved in a child-care case, then I automatically feel that I am fighting for the mother or the father against the social worker and the guardian. I have never yet had a case where the social worker and the guardian were not completely in agreement as to how to proceed even in circumstances at the moment where my client wants joint custody of his daughter and the guardian and social worker are recommending one hour per month.

Common-sense says that this adversarial system is completely at odds with the idea that the best interest of the child should prevail. You can tinker with this system. However, it is completely broken and it needs to be replaced, not reinforced.

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