Why was the Child Law 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 then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, 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 Child Law Project 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 Child Law Project responsible to?
The project was previously funded by two philanthropic organisations, the One Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, and received infrastructural support and funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It is now fully funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Its total operational independence is guaranteed in the agreement between the Child Law Project and the Department.
Who will be reporting on the cases?
The Executive Director of the project, Carol Coulter, its CEO, Maria Corbett, 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 Child Law Project, which owns the copyright on the reports.
Will all child care cases be reported?
No. There are approximately 8,000 child care applications (many relating to the same case) in 24 different District Courts annually. It is not physically possible to attend all cases, so the reporters will attend a representative selection.
How will the cases be selected?
The sample of cases attended are selected to ensure that all areas are represented in approximate proportion to the volumes of cases heard and to ensure that specific issues highlighted in earlier reports of the Child Law Project are examined in more depth.
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, as social workers work in a specific geographical location the identification of a social worker could lead to the identification of children or families.
Will judges be identified?
No, as most judges are assigned to a specific area, which is quite small, the identification of the judge could lead to the identification of children or families.
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 twice a year.
Will other information be published?
Yes. The Child Law Project will also collect data from the courts attended in order to prepare reports with statistics and trends, identify problems and make recommendations.
Can I contact the Child Law Project?
You can write to the address on this website or email us at email@example.com. 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 and they are therefore unlikely to 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.