Children Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

We know that many parents of difficult and out-of-control children are devastated and often bewildered by their children's anti-social behaviour. They do their best as parents, however inadequate that might be, but most people are also aware that some parents have a totally irresponsible attitude towards controlling their children. Effectively, they opt out of their responsibilities, sometimes to indulge their own ill-disciplined lifestyles. The Bill has three provisions dealing specifically with such parents. First, the parents can be bound over to exercise proper and adequate control over their child where that child has been found guilty of an offence. Second, the parents can be ordered to pay compensation. Before making a compensation order the court must be satisfied of the parents' ability to pay and that there was a wilful failure on the part of the parents to take care of or to control the child that contributed to the child's behaviour.

The third and new provision is one under which the court can make a parental supervision order. As with the compensation order, this order can only be imposed on parents where their child is found guilty of an offence and where the court is satisfied that a wilful failure of the child's parents to take care of or to control the child contributed to the child's criminal behaviour. This order provides the court with a carrot and stick option for dealing with such parents. For example, if the court is of the opinion that the parents lack the necessary skills to properly look after their child, it can order the parents to undergo a parenting skills course. Similarly, if the problem is one of substance abuse, the court can order the parents to seek treatment for that abuse. As with all the other orders and powers of the court in the Bill, this order will not be suitable in all circumstances – it might be a suitable response in a relatively small number of cases. It is important, however, to give the courts power to deal with whatever situation confronts them.

In formulating the policy on which the Bill is based, I have had to strike a fair balance between the needs and interests of the child offender with the protection of the community and what is good generally for society. I have already spoken of victims in the context of the conference. Their position is highlighted and protected throughout the Bill. The principles relating to the exercise of criminal jurisdiction over children specifically protect the interests of victims of child offending and both the Garda convened conference and the family conference which will be convened by the Probation and Welfare Service will be obliged to uphold the concerns of the victim and to have due regard to his or her rights.

I would now like to turn to the three Parts of the Bill which specifically relate to the health area. These are Part 2, which is completely new and establishes for the first time on a statutory basis the family welfare conference, which will enable health boards to intervene with other agencies at an early stage in relation to children who need special care and protection.

The second is Part 3, which amends the Child Care Act, 1991, to impose a duty on health boards to apply for a special care order or an interim special care order in relation to a child residing or found in its area who is in need of special care and protection which he or she is not likely to receive unless the court grants such an order.

The third is Part 11, which provides for the establishment of a special residential services board to co-ordinate residential services for children detained in detention schools and in special care units. I am particularly pleased that the Bill will establish family welfare conferences on a statutory basis to deal with those children who have been charged with an offence and referred to the health boards by the courts, and those children who are the subject of applications for special care orders.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.