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Minister Zappone publishes Guardian Ad Litem Bill 

 

Monday 12th August 2019 

  • Guardians ad litem (GALs) enhance the decision-making capacity of the court in child care proceedings by advising on a child’s best interests and conveying the views of the child to the court.
  • Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019 to extend GAL system so that it benefits the greatest number of children and young people
  • Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019 will ensure the best interests of children and young people in care proceedings are always met by allowing their voices to be heard

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone, has published the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019. This Bill addresses significant inadequacies in existing Guardian ad litem (GAL) provisions under Section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991. Its objective is to regulate the existing ad hoc system of Guardian ad litem appointments and to extend the system so that it benefits the greatest number of children and young people. 

Guardians ad litem are appointed by judges in child care proceedings. Their role is to independently establish the wishes, feelings and interests of the child and present them to the court with recommendations.  

Minister Zappone said: “I am pleased to announce the publication of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019 which provides for the establishment of a new national Guardian ad litem service within an Executive Office of my Department.  The Bill provides for a presumption in favour of the appointment of a Guardian ad litem to all children and young people in child care cases. This will ensure that a child’s view is always effectively conveyed to the Court in child care court proceedings.  

“This Bill is the culmination of the Government’s commitment to review existing Guardian ad litem provision. It significantly improves upon existing legislation in ensuring that the rights of all vulnerable children are upheld in child care proceedings. In parallel with progressing the necessary legislative reforms, I intend, with the assistance of relevant stakeholders, to consult with children and young people over the coming months on the type of Guardian ad litem service to be provided. This will inform procedural aspects of the new service.

“This Bill gives me the statutory basis to put in place a high quality, and sustainable Guardian ad litem national service within my Department and to ensure that all children in child care proceedings get the opportunity to have their voice heard and due consideration is given to their best interests.”  

The Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2019: 

  • Provides for a presumption in favour of a Guardian ad litem being appointed for all children in child care proceedings. 
  • Requires the court, if it declines to appoint a Guardian ad litem, to state its reasons for not appointing a GAL and say how it intends to hear the views of the child.
  • Specifies the role and status of a Guardian ad litem and allows the Minister to make regulations on the qualifications and experience required to act as a Guardian ad litem.
  • Provides for a new national and transparent process for the appointment and assignment of GALs to child care cases.
  • Provision is also made for the mandatory appointment of a Guardian ad litem in all proceedings under Section 25 of the Mental Health Act 2001, which provides for the involuntary admission of a child who has a mental disorder to an approved centre.
  • The legislation provides the statutory basis for the establishment of a national Guardian ad litem service within an Executive Office within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. This will enable the Minister to put in place a nationally organised and managed service to enable and facilitate the child’s views to be heard in proceedings under the Child Care Act 1991 to ensure that a high quality and sustainable service is provided into the future.

ENDS//

 

Notes for Editors:

Guardians ad litem (GALs)
 
Guardians ad litem (GALs) are appointed by judges in child care proceedings under Section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991, as amended.  It is intended that GALs will enhance the decision-making capacity of the court in child care proceedings. The role and core functions of the Guardian ad litem will be to inform the court of any views which the child wishes to express and to advise the court on what, in his or her professional opinion, is in the child’s best interests.

Guardian ad litem arrangements for children who are the subject of public law child care proceedings are currently provided for under section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991, which was commenced on 31st October 1995.
 
The role of the Guardian ad litem is to independently establish the wishes, feelings and interests of the child and present them to the court with recommendations.  
 
In this regard, the Guardian ad litem gathers information about the child’s situation and gives the child information about the court process. The Guardian ad litem engages with the child to ascertain his or her wishes and feelings. They consult with social workers, parents, carers and others regarding the child. They attend welfare conferences and reviews, meetings in court and case conferences. They promote the child’s wishes, interests and rights within the court arena. 

There are currently in the region of 75 Guardians ad litem operating across Ireland.