20 November 2012

Children's Referendum Result Will Make a Real Difference

With the ballot boxes opened and a ‘yes’ vote declared; I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came out and voted on this important issue last weekend.

Sunday’s result is a very positive step forward in how we protect children in this country. Finally, we are recognising children in their own right. After two decades of waiting, the passing of this Referendum means we are now inserting a children’s article in the Constitution, making a clear statement as a society that we value our children.

Most of us will never experience the positive change this Referendum will bring. But I believe the passing of the Children’s Referendum has the capacity to transform the way our child protection services operate.

As a result of this Referendum, children will now be the paramount consideration in key decisions being taken about their welfare. Judges must now listen to children in access, custody, guardianship and adoption cases. We have finally given children a voice, and this voice cannot be ignored.

We have given those in long term foster care a much better chance of being adopted into a safe and happy home. A number of former foster children spoke with great passion during the campaign about how their lives had been detrimentally affected because they had been denied the chance of being adopted. Now, all children will be treated equally in adoption.

This Referendum was never intended to be a panacea. It won’t solve all of our child protection challenges. But it will be essential in underpinning the wider programme of change for children that this Government is implementing. Laws on the reporting of abuse and the vetting of people who work with children have been strengthened. My Department and I have been working hard to ensure that Children First guidelines are put on a statutory footing and in the New Year we will be establishing the new Child and Family Support Agency.

A huge amount of groups across civic society supported this amendment, from the trade unions, parents groups, the Catholic Church, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association and, of course, the many children’s advocacy groups. Their hard work and that of all the individuals in our area and across the country has now paid off. We are finally giving children the protection they have been lacking for so long.