Committee on Finance. - Children (Amendment) Bill, 1957—Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:—

Before sub-section (10) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—

(10) This section shall apply in the case of an illegitimate child whether such child is being nursed and maintained for reward or not.

The section represents a desirable advance in so far as it provides that those who take children for nursing and maintenance for reward or promise of reward must now, up to the age of 16, give the necessary notification, from which notification inspection, and so on, may follow.

The purpose of the amendment, however, is to direct the attention of the House to the fact that the procedure envisaged in this section applies only where the nursing is for reward or promise of reward. I have had experience of quite a number of cases where children, particularly illegitimate children, are taken in circumstances in which it is not possible to establish an undertaking to provide payment or where, to all intents and purposes, the maintenance is entirely free.

As the Minister is probably aware, there are many children who are placed with a view to adoption but who, in fact, are never legally adopted and in respect of whom no charge or reward has been demanded or accepted. Once illegitimate children can be placed with foster parents in those circumstances, without any question of reward, it does seem that there is room for abuse.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that, in the case of illegitimate children, notification should be given, whether or not the nursing or maintenance is for reward. This matter has been the subject of inquiry in this country and also in other countries by those interested in the welfare of children. I should like to quote an extract from a U.N.O. study of the subject. It appears in a work dealing with children deprived of normal life. The extract is as follows:—

"Other free foster homes are those where no payment is made, but legal adoption is not possible or desirable. Without the proper kind of supervision this kind of foster home care may be very dangerous for the child, as he may not always be wanted for his own sake but because his labour is considered important. In many cases foster homes without remuneration, or free foster homes where the child is placed directly by his parent for instance, with relatives, are not included in the legislative provisions nor in the statistics concerning children cared for outside their own homes.

"It would appear wise, however, in countries where licensing of all foster homes is not required, to apply to free foster homes the regulation of compulsory notification to the local authority if a child has been received for care, so that the proper supervision can be applied."

That is an opinion expressed in a study of this problem carried out under the auspices of U.N.O. and it does emphasise the kind of gap which would be left in this desirable legislation, were an amendment of the kind I have suggested not included in this Bill.

I would emphasise for the Minister that free fosterage, if excluded from this Bill, may leave considerable openings for abuse and there may be cases of unfortunate illegitimate children being taken into homes, with a view to adoption and no adoptions taking place, and the circumstances of the children may be very bad indeed. In those circumstances, I can see no objection to providing that a person who undertakes nursing and maintenance of children should notify the local authority of the fact, so that at least the whereabouts of the child will be known and proper inspections can be carried out.

May I remind the Minister that, in the case of free fosterage, it may often happen that the presence of the child in the foster home may not be discovered until the child begins to go to school and until the school medical service is availed of? Often, it is only then that the presence of the child in the foster home is discovered. I believe that in most cases nothing undesirable may have taken place, but in a few cases a lot of medical difficulties may arise which, by the time the child appears in school for the first time, may have become permanent. Some of these difficulties might have been avoided if notification were compulsory and if an inspection had been carried out on behalf of the health authority. I would urge the Minister to consider this amendment with his officials and advisers, and, if he feels it possible to accept the amendment in principle, to deal with the matter on a later stage of the Bill.

I should like to tell the Deputy that, coming into the House at this stage, I am not disposed to accept the amendment. I think he will agree that the section as it stands is a considerable advance on the situation that existed heretofore. The Deputy, no doubt, is aware that up to the passing of the 1934 Act, the provisions of this section as it then stood applied to children up to the age of seven years. As a result of the 1934 Act, the provisions were extended to the age of nine years and the present Bill is intended to extend the provision in regard to notification by prospective adopters and foster-parents and by those making arrangements for the placing of children up to the age of 16 years.

As the section stands, without the Deputy's amendment, it is a considerable advance and does in fact provide a desirable amendment of the law in relation to illegitimate children, as it stands up to date. My information is that the Minister for Health has not had any reports of abuses in the fosterage of illegitimate children who are taken into homes of persons other than relatives. The introduction of the principles suggested by the Deputy would have a very wide application, and unless there were very strong reasons for them, I would be inclined to resist the amendment.

I might point out at this stage that sub-section (9) of this section refers specifically to illegitimate children. It states:—

"Where a child who is illegitimate is kept and maintained in such circumstances that the notices mentioned in this section would be required to be given if such keeping and maintenance were done for reward, the child shall, for the purposes of this section, be deemed, until the contrary is proved, to be so kept and maintained for reward."

The child is then deemed to be kept and maintained for reward as an illegitimate child. Under these circumstances, the health authority, on a report, may investigate the circumstances and, even without report, may make an investigation, if any abuses have come to their knowledge. They may investigate the circumstances and conditions under which the child lives, and if it is proved to their satisfaction that reward for maintenance is being received, the health authority will then have power of inspection. During the period while the necessary proof is forthcoming, the health authority will be in a position to examine the conditions of the home and, to that extent, the provision sought by the Deputy is already in the section.

Since the Deputy mentioned proposed adopters, I feel sure he will appreciate that in many, if not all, cases where children are to be adopted, the parents or heads of homes generally get the child into the house for a period at first. Adoptions cannot legally take place until the child is six months old and, in cases of illegitimate children, oftentimes the child is placed in the home before it is six months old. In the meantime, there is a certain amount of supervision and the conditions of the home are examined, if that is necessary. People who usually adopt children are people who, in the normal sense, would not require supervision, and in any case adoptions are generally placed by adoption societies recognised under the Adoption Act.

To that extent, I think there is no necessity to cover such cases by introducing this amendment. In the second place, in that regard, the adoption of children is often a matter of some delicacy, certainly of some tact and discretion. Adoption societies, recognised under the Adoption Act, are responsible people and they have to treat cases with all due tact and discretion and, from the point of view of proposed adopters, I think it would be undesirable that they should automatically be subject to inspections by the health authority. I believe they are performing a very useful function and I feel that any undue interference with their privacy—many of them think there is some interference from the point of view that adoption societies inspect them—might be detrimental to the legal adoption of children.

I may also say that abuses might possibly arise in the case of children when they come near the age at which they can earn. These abuses would probably arise at, say, the age of 12 but in such cases it is hardly likely that a child who, perhaps, has been reared by its mother—that child being an illegitimate—up to that age would be transferred when it would have a certain earning potential. I am informed that the cases, if they do arise, arise only on rare occasions. Therefore, from that point of view, I am not yet convinced that there is a case for the amendment. Finally, in this regard, I should like to say that religious bodies of all denominations were given particulars of the provisions of this section and in no case has there been an objection or argument advanced from them on the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Having heard me, the Deputy might agree that the section is wide enough as it stands and that it gives adequate protection for children under 16; and in the case of illegitimate children, having regard to sub-section (9) and to the desirability of not interfering with, or prejudicing proposed legal adoptions, I suggest it might prove to be a provision which would not inure to the fulfilment of the purpose of the Adoption Acts.

I have listened with interest to the Minister and I agree that the section does represent a considerable advance. The machinery envisaged in the section was put into the Bill by me when I was Minister for Health. In so far as it is defective, I concede that the section as it was drafted did not cover the case of free fosterage, but I would have hoped, if I were in charge of the Bill now and listened to the arguments put forward on behalf of free fosterage, that they would have prevailed with me but that is a matter entirely for the Minister. Might I just remind the Minister that obviously when the section was being prepared attention was drawn to the possible position of illegitimate children in free fosterage homes? I think that is what was in mind when sub-section (9) was inserted in the section.

Under sub-section (9) if a report is made to a local authority that a family in the area have the custody of a child, the local authority can inspect, until they are stopped by evidence that the custody and maintenance are not for reward. Since that problem was in mind when the section was being drafted, I do not need to remind the Minister that, apart from cases of such notification being brought to the local authority, there may be any number of such free fosterage cases which are not known of at all and which come to the light of day only through the school medical service. It may be that, in circumstances where an illegitimate child is placed in a home with a view to adoption, nothing very seriously wrong may take place.

I agree that in those circumstances the intending adopters are generally anxious to make the child their own and to bestow on it all the affection and care—perhaps greater affection and care—than they would bestow on a natural child of their own. But there are cases, even apart from that, in free fosterage where unsuitable conditions may exist and that is the type of case that I had in mind. In fact, where the fosterage is initiated with a view to adoption, I am satisfied that there is already, under the adoption code, sufficient machinery for examination and so on, but it is a matter for the Minister. The Minister seems to feel that this, as a first step, is long enough and that it might be unwise to go further but I might suggest to him that if the amendment is withdrawn he might consider the matter between this and the Report Stage. If he feels on examination in both Departments concerned that there are matters which require some rectification he might consider the matter on the Report Stage.

I shall do that but I should like to make one other point. As the Deputy knows, illegitimate children are often taken over from the mother and kept within the family circle with the grandmother, grandfather or uncles, or even with less close relatives. The mother might leave the locality in which the child lives and the child might not know very much about the circumstances of its birth. It might be desirable, and very often it is, that these circumstances would not be generally known, even though the child itself might know them. The coming of the health authority inspectors to that house might naturally enough give some publicity, in the neighbourhood, to the circumstances of the child's birth, which the Deputy will appreciate should be avoided.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:—

In sub-section (3), page 4, line 2, to delete "under the age of 16 years".

I do not know whether or not this amendment is necessary; I shall be guided by the Minister. This section is one in which I took a considerable interest because I was aware, unfortunately, of cases, far too numerous, where children were sent out from fosterage into employment, and the circumstances of their employment were often a public scandal. Prior to this Bill there was no means whereby any employer of such a child was under any obligation to notify the fact of employment, nor was there any opportunity for the local authority to carry out an inspection as to the circumstances in which such a child was employed. Therefore, again, the section itself is a considerable advance. It provides some form of very necessary supervision in the case of the employment of such children.

It has been brought to my notice, however, that the section, as it stands, does not appear to cover the case of a child sent out to employment from, say, an institution upon reaching the age of 16. If the Minister says that is covered, I am answered, but I feel it still remains desirable, where an institution is seeking employment for a child who is reaching 16 years of age and places him on a farm or somewhere else, that there should be an obligation on the institution itself if it is within the jurisdiction and, if not, on the intending employer to notify the local authority of the fact of such employment.

I will not mention the part of the country I have in mind, but there are parts of the country where young boys leave an institution or are sent out for employment and often the circumstances under which they are employed leave a great deal to be desired. I feel that if the necessity for notification ends at 16, then, during three or four very formative and impressionable years, young boys may be employed in very uncongenial employment and in circumstances which may have quite a prejudicial effect on their mental and physical health in after life. I would, therefore, urge the Minister to ensure that notification extends beyond the age of 16 and, if that is not covered by the section, to acept this amendment.

When I first saw this amendment, for many reasons, I was unenthusiastic about it, but, having being told that the Deputy, when he was Minister, had some experience of his own, I felt that it was justified to cover such circumstances arising. In the first place, the section, as it stands, catches every child, no matter where he lives, once he lives beyond parental control in regard to the necessity for having his place of employment notified to the health authority when the child leaves the house in which he normally resides.

I feel that the limit prescribed in the Bill at present, up to the age of 16 years, will effectively cover the Deputy's intentions, when he was Minister, to make sure that the conditions under which these children are employed are conditions up to decent standards, but I cannot say the point of view expressed by the Deputy, that children, who, having left certain places of detention, can be supervised beyond 16 is already covered. I do not think that is the case.

Generally speaking, the age of 16 years conforms to other provisions in the Act. In the Health Act, for instance, as the Deputy is aware, the age of 16 is the age up to which a young person is a child for the purposes of the Health Acts and up to which the health authority normally maintain boarded-out children.

Would the Minister have regard to the opening line in sub-section (3), which states:

" Where any body or person (not being a relative of the child) having custody of a child under the age of 16 years..."? One of my problems

is that the child reaches 16 years in an institution and the authorities then make arrangements for its employment.

The amendment, as it stands, would increase the age beyond 16.

It might be a deterrent to the children's employers. I certainly do not want to interfere with people where it would be unjustifiable. All employers, no matter how good they might be, would be liable to complaints. It might operate against some of the children themselves in procuring desirable employment. If the Deputy takes the same course as he took in relation to the last amendment, I will consider the matter for the next stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 3 agreed to.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 7 stand part of the Bill."

Under the section as it stands, it appears that a certified school would be paid sums towards the expenses of a child throughout the time the child is the subject of an order for detention. Does that continue even during such periods as when the child would be absent from school, on holidays or attending a course? Does the certified school still get paid the sum mentioned here?

Even though the course might be of considerable length?

The simple fact is that it is not certain that local authorities are bound to make their contribution, once the child has left the place of detention to which it has been sent. For instance, in some schools, they give tuition up to primary age. They might be able to provide, out of their own resouces, secondary tuition for that child in another place—perhaps, even in another place under the care of the same people. Even in that case, it is doubtful if the local authority is bound still to contribute to the support of the detainee. It is to make sure that such cases are covered that the provision is in the Bill.

I can understand the position in regard to the certified school, but let us apply the same consideration to foster parents. I am informed that if the child becomes ill and has to go to hospital, there is a deduction in respect of the payment the foster parents receive. I am told that during such periods as the child is out of the foster parent's care, in hospital or wherever else it may be, there is a deduction in the payment. However, this is not altogether relevant to the section.

That is so. The Deputy is on the wrong section.

Is there any provision in relation to the expenditure of public funds made available to such institutions whereby the State or the local authority have some say in ensuring that the child is trained on whatever vocation he shows himself most suited for?

The people in charge of these certified schools are considered to be experts and it is only fair, therefore, that they should be given due discretion to permit the child to follow whatever vocation he may feel inclined to follow. Secondly, where guidance is necessary, these are the proper people to give such guidance and direction to the child along vocational lines. There is, too, an inspection system manned by trained and experienced personnel, and the inspectors frequently consult with the school management as to the general lines followed and also in relation to particular cases. The system we have gives the necessary discretion to the school management and, secondly, there is the necessary consultation between the school management and the inspectorate. Finally, if the child expresses any desire, I believe that desire is met in so far as it can be.

I will give the Minister a specific instance. A certain individual offered to pay for the training of a child in a vocational school and the person in charge of the particular certified school refused permission for the child to attend on the ground that it would be showing favouritism and would have a bad effect on the morale of the other children. Another point I should like the Minister to clarify is in relation to the position of the parent or parents. Are they consulted at any stage as to the welfare or education of the child? Is the parent consulted if the person in charge decides that the child will make a good shoemaker, while, in fact, the parent knows that the child's particular aptitude lies in the direction of farming, or some other vocation? Is there any consultation on that particular aspect?

I have no specific information as to any complaint in relation to the first point raised by the Deputy. If the Deputy has any particulars he would like to pass on to me, I shall have them investigated. Generally speaking, it is undesirable that the management of these schools should be interfered with. These people are experienced and are capable of assessing the lines along which a child ought to be trained. The Deputy will appreciate, too, that there is the important question of discipline. I do not know whether in the instance he has quoted the question of discipline may not have been taken a little too far, but I am sure he will have due regard to the fact that school managements have to guard their powers in that respect very jealously.

With regard to consultation with the parents, I am instructed that parents do make representations and full regard is had to them.

I think the phrase the Minister used—"I am instructed"—would be more appropriate to his former vocation rather than his present one.

I should like to underline what Deputy McQuillan has said in relation to the equipping of a child subject to a detainee Order. A great deal more care and consideration could be given to the question of the vocation the child should follow and the particular course of learning best suited to the child. I would be extremely disturbed if I thought the parents were not consulted. The primary duty still remains on the parents and their views should be considered very carefully and very sympathetically. I am sure they are.

I, too, am sure they are. The Deputy will, of course, appreciate that most of the children who find their way into these institutions are children who lack parental control and direction and, for that reason, it behoves the school management to decide so far as it can what vocation is best suited to the child.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 to 12, inclusive, put and agreed to.
Schedule and Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 20th November.