Why was the Child Care Law Reporting Project set up?
A number of reports on problems in the child care system identified the rigid application of the in camera rule, which prevented any reporting of child care cases, as contributing to a lack of information and an obstacle to reform. Change to this rule was provided for, in outline, in the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007, but this required a Statutory Instrument (Regulations) to give it effect.
In November 2012 the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, made Regulations to allow for reporting on these cases, subject to certain conditions aimed at protecting the privacy of the families concerned.
The CCLRP was established as an independent project to report on child care cases, mainly heard in the District Courts, so that both professionals and members of the public can learn about how and why children are taken into care, and what happens then.
Who is the CCLRP responsible to?
The project is funded by two philanthropic organisations, the One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, and receives infrastructural support from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It is supervised by an Oversight Board. It is totally operationally independent of the funders and the Department who have no input into how it does its work.
Who will be reporting on the cases?
The director of the project, Carol Coulter, along with a number of part-time reporters who are qualified in law or child-care matters, will attend cases and report on them.
Where will the reports be published?
On this website. They may be re-published by the media or by other organisations, subject to not being edited without the permission of the project, which owns the copyright on the reports.
Will all child care cases be reported?
No. There were almost 8,000 applications in 36 different District Courts in 2011. It is not physically possible to attend all cases, so the reporters will attend a representative selection.
How will the cases be selected?
The project will aim to attend at about 10 per cent of cases, which will provide a large enough sample to provide a comprehensive picture of child care proceedings.
The sample will approximately correspond to the number of cases heard by different courts, so that, for example, about 40 per cent of the total will come from the Dublin Metropolitan District Court, which hears just over 40 per cent of all cases, and about three per cent of all cases reported will come from Listowel/Tralee or Clonmel, which each hear 3.3 per cent of all applications.
These cases will be attended randomly, seeking to cover the broadest possible spread of courts. Over the life of the project reporters will attend all courts where such cases are heard.
There may not be an exact correspondence between the percentage of cases heard and reported from certain courts if it is necessary to follow a particular case which has a lengthy hearing or multiple adjournments and/or repeat applications. Every effort will be made to ensure that the selection is as broadly representative as possible.
Will people be able to request a reporter to attend a specific case?
No. If the reporters were to attend cases because of specific requests, this would distort the random nature of the exercise and therefore distort the outcome of the research.
Will it be possible to identify the children or the families involved?
No. The reporters will be bound by a Protocol designed to ensure that no information that could lead to the identification of the children or the family can be published. A copy of the Protocol can be read here.
Will social workers be identified?
No, for legal reasons. The Project was advised this could lead to the identification of the children or the families.
Will judges be identified?
Because this could lead to the identification of children or families in the many courts, the project decided not to identify the judges.
What information will be published?
The reports will give a description of the case as it unfolds in court, describing what kind of order is being sought, what reasons are being given, what the parents say, what witnesses say, the decision of the judge and the reasons he/she gives for the decision.
How often will these reports be published?
It is intended to put a number up on the website at regular quarterly intervals during the court terms.
Will other information be published?
Yes. The CCLRP will also collect data from the courts attended in order to prepare reports with statistics and trends, identify problems and make recommendations. These will appear in interim reports and a Final Report.
Can I contact the CCLRP?
You can write to the address on this website. However, there is no secretarial support for the project and all those working with it spend most of their time in courts, so there is little time for correspondence and we ask readers to be patient with us. We also remind readers that we cannot respond to requests to attend specific cases.
Can I tell the project about my case and have it included in the reports?
No. The law allowing the project to be set up states that a person may “prepare a report of proceedings” and “attend the proceedings”. This means that only reports of proceedings attended by a person specified in the law or the accompanying Regulations can prepare such reports, which must be based on attending the proceedings.
What if I recognise myself in a report? Is that a breach of the in camera rule?
No. It is possible that a person involved in the proceedings either as a party or a professional, or a close family member, will recognise the case from the circumstances described. However, this will only be possible because they are already aware of the circumstances, they will not learn anything they do not already know. The public will not be aware of the circumstances and will therefore not recognise the parties, so no breach of the in camera rule will occur.