Child and Family Agency Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed)

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 13, line 15, after “shall” to insert “facilitate and”.

It was suggested that the insertion of "facilitate" into subsection (8) would bring clarity to the role of the agency. I said on Committee Stage that I felt the word "promote" adequately dealt with this issue and that it would include facilitating, but I have reflected on it further and I am proposing to insert "facilitate" into subsection (8). The effect of the proposed amendment is to bring absolute clarity to the precise role of the agency in respect of inter-agency co-operation. This is a serious obligation, which derives from my view - shared by most of those working in the field - that it is only with the co-operation of other agencies that real change and improvements can come about. There have been significant problems with inter-agency work, sharing of information and co-operation, and it is an implementation challenge for everybody involved in the sector.

Under section 8(8), it will be a requirement of the agency to facilitate and promote enhanced inter-agency co-operation to ensure that services for children and families are co-ordinated, and to provide an integrated response to the needs of children and families. The agency will also be obliged, under section 8(6), to co-operate with any person or body that the agency considers appropriate in any matter connected with the agency's functions, which are outlined in section 8.

I believe these provisions in the Bill will give a good basis for ensuring that the services of the various agencies and Departments working with child and family supports operate in a single, unified fashion. We have seen from a number of reports, especially the child death report and the most recent report published two weeks ago on this issue by Dr. Helen Buckley, that this an ongoing issue. There are often quite a number of organisations and professionals working with families, and we want to ensure that there is proper assessment, proper intervention and really good-quality inter-agency work, that people are not working in silos and that they share information and make the best decisions for children. I believe these provisions will support that, because they make the system work in a singular, unified fashion in the interests of children.

My Department is leading an initiative to develop a planning model for local inter-agency activities to improve outcomes for children.

The purpose of this initiative is to work towards better developmental outcomes for children through more effective integration of our policies and services, particularly through the children's services committees at local level. The local children's services are operating in 16 parts of the country and we can see this is the model we should use.

The children's services committees bring together a diverse group of agencies in local county areas to engage in joint planning of services for children. This includes representatives of all the local relevant organisations we have, such as Barnardos, the local HSE - now the child and family agency, local authorities, the Garda Síochána, the VEC and local schools. This ensures there is coherent, inter-agency work which brings together resources in a local area so that everybody knows what the other organisation is doing, which was far from the case before. This is a very good model to ensure the provision in the legislation is implemented at local level.

Amendment No. 8 proposes to insert a reference to "intra-agency", and is concerned with the development of processes between the formerly separate agencies to respond to weakness. Subsection 8(a) shows that no one agency can do this alone. As Deputy Ó Caoláin suggests, the introduction of the word "intra-agency" introduces a different concept - that we need a specific provision for effective operation of the agencies that are being brought together under the roof of the child and family agency. That intra-agency work is integral to the work of the agency because the agency must use the resources available to it in the most beneficial, effective and efficient manner. The rationale for bringing together the family support agency, the education welfare service and child protection is to ensure that we get that intra-agency co-operation in the new agency. That concept is well covered in the establishment, governance and performance aspects of this Bill. The bringing together under the roof of the agency of these three services is to ensure that integration of services occurs. It does not need to be spelled out in the way the Deputy's amendment suggests.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the breathing time to allow me to return with my files. I am attending Committee Stage of another piece of legislation at the same time, although I have to be here for Report Stage of this very important legislation. The scheduling of the Joint Committee on Health and Children is most inconsiderate of Members who are trying to cover both. I support the Minister's amendment, No. 7. My colleague, Deputy Robert Troy, raised this matter on Committee Stage.

On my amendment No. 8, "inter-agency" refers to work across different agencies, while "intra-agency" refers to work within the new body. It is very important to recognise the coming together of the various disciplines and the professional expertise that the three essential component parts of the new agency represent. There should be a reference to the level of co-operation, co-ordination and cohesion we expect under the new agency's remit. The reference to "intra-agency" enhances that expectation and its referencing here is not to suggest that we expect anything but the fullest co-operation and co-ordination of the approach of all disciplines and professional expertise.

With my amendment, section 8(8) would read, "The Agency shall promote enhanced inter-agency and intra-agency cooperation to ensure that services for children are co-ordinated and provide an integrated response." We have spoken about this on Committee Stage. That is the basis of my argument. We are listening to the same mantra again. Everything is understood, implied or reflected elsewhere. It does no harm to clarify our expectations and the level of co-operation we expect in the internal workings of the new agency, given the diverse component parts. It is no less than we would expect and it is a good thing to affirm it in the legislation at this point.

Section 50(2) provides that the first code of governance will include details of the methods to be used to bring about the integration of the governance systems deriving from a transfer of functions to the agency from the HSE and the other dissolved bodies. This subsection spells out the code governance that will apply to ensure we achieve integration of the three agencies that are becoming one in the Child and Family Agency Bill. It is well covered there.

Sometimes there is a problem in repeating what is already understood. The last amendment on which the Deputy called a vote undermines the equal status legislation by suggesting it does not have general applicability, which it does. To seek to put it into legislation again undermines that applicability because it is understood that if legislation is in place already it has applicability - for example, to this new agency. Likewise, this issue is dealt with, and it is understood that as the three agencies are becoming one, they must work together and a code of governance must be worked out for the integration of the different governance systems. That is the intra-agency work that is being done in a practical way under that governance structure.

I have reviewed the submissions that have come in and have approached this legislation in a co-operative manner. The amendments I have introduced have taken account of the range of issues raised by the Opposition and NGOs in this area. For example, the amendment I introduced on preventative family services is a key amendment to make it absolutely clear that early intervention and family support is important.

When I examined the submissions in this area, I noted that people were concerned about the sharing of professional information. That was the key point behind the discussion about the term "intra-agency". As the Deputy is aware, there are very important principles with regard to sharing information with other professionals and there are principles and rights with regard to the privacy of data. Issues are arising to do with the sharing of data such as professional therapeutic notes, which will be dealt with in other legislation. The language we have used on inter-agency work covers a lot, and the intra-agency aspect is also covered by the performance part of the legislation and the governance aspects.

To incorporate a reference to "intra-agency" is not repetition. The Minister refers to its being implied elsewhere. To put it into words is not to repeat it; far from it. I disagree with the Minister's view that the amendment I pressed earlier this morning would in any way have had a negative impact on the Bill and the agency's remit. Far from it. One could look at any of the agency's functions outlined in section 8 and ask why it is necessary to suggest that the agency should use the resources available to it in the most beneficial, effective and efficient manner.

We could hardly expect it to do anything else, but the provision is there. I could parse any or all of the other provisions and say the same should apply.

It is important we affirm specific standards we expect to be adhered to. In the area of equality and non-discrimination, I make no apology for pressing amendment No. 8 in my name. I have put the case in this instance and it is the position of the Minister to accept or reject it.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 13, line 15, after “inter-agency” to insert “and intra-agency”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 13, to delete lines 28 to 30 and substitute the following:

“9. (1) The Agency shall, in performing its functions under section 8(1)(a), (b) or (c) in respect of an individual child or family, regard the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.”.

This amendment seeks to delete lines 28 to 30 and to substitute them with a new section 9(1). This is concerned with the views and best interests of the child. The legislation states: "The Agency shall, when making decisions in relation to the performance of its functions under section 8(1)(a), (b) or (c), have regard to the best interests of the child in all matters." I believe the term "have regard to" is too weak. This section also fails to properly affirm the standards that have been set internationally in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is not enough to reference section 9(2) when talking about paramount consideration. I will come to that later because amendment No. 11 refers to it.

We should be very clear in section 9(1) and should not accept standards that fall short of the UN convention's construction. This provision is a weaker position. We need to affirm in section 9(1) that the best interests of the child shall be a "primary consideration". I argue this strongly because I believe section 9(1) should read: "The Agency shall, in performing its functions under section 8(1)(a), (b) or (c) in respect of an individual child or family, regard the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.”. No other standard is acceptable. The provision in the Bill as it stands is: "have regard to the best interests of the child in all matters". The term "have regard to" is similar to "take into account" and does not place the provision in any particular hierarchy of responsibility. It is important we make it abundantly clear that consideration of the child's interests must be seen as a primary consideration.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states: "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration." The amendment I have submitted seeks to strengthen section 9(1) by adopting the UN convention standard, which I believe we should adopt. The use of the terms "primary consideration" in section 9(1) and "paramount consideration" in section 9(2) are not self exclusive and are not in combat with each other.

I hope the Minister has given further consideration to this section and that she accepts that the substitution I wish to make in the Bill makes it abundantly clear that the best interests of the child, being the most important consideration, must be the primary consideration. Accordingly, I commend the amendment to her.

The Deputy referred previously to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children and their rights. These have been given substantial legal scrutiny since February 2010 and in as far as we could, the recommendations were contained in the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012 passed by the House. The amendment on the rights of the child, while substantial in effect, recognised the need to identify clearly situations where a child's interests must be paramount. That is reflected in section 9(2) of this Bill.

My concerns about moving beyond the current text of the Bill are as follows. The section as drafted is not limited to the performance of functions in respect of an individual child. It is broader and seeks to ensure that at every level of decision making, the best interests lens must be applied. I want to and believe it is important to retain that breadth in the legislation. The scope of the proposed amendment includes a range of services where a specific child might not be the primary subject of the service provided. The effects of the application of the best interest principle in such a scenario is not clear. For example, some of the work of the agency may not be directly child related. It may relate to domestic or sexual violence, although there could be a child involved. Other work, such as marriage guidance counselling, may not involve a child. Therefore, to insert the proposed amendment would not accord with the balance to be struck between these rights and the rights of others, including those deriving from the Constitution.

In terms of the breadth and scope of services, my understanding of the likely legal interpretation of a "primary" consideration is a heavy weighting in favour of the best interest of one individual child. I do not accept that the agency, in making decisions relating to the breadth of its functions, could or should be given such a mandate, which would require a degree of interpretation without guidance in statute law as to what other primary interests there might be and how they would be balanced. Such interpretations are within the scope of judicial function and could not reasonably be expected to be balanced and assessed by every front line worker in every situation. However, what we have done in the Bill is to make clear that the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration should guide every front line worker.

I am satisfied with the section as published and believe it is reasonable and possible to ensure that the best interests are considered and that the decision making within the agency has a statutory underpinning for a child centred approach. In section 9(2) of the Bill, for example, the issue of paramountcy is acknowledged and restated. It provides that in the performance of its function in respect of an individual child under the Child Care Act 1991 or the Adoption Act 2010, the agency shall regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration. This could not be stronger and it reiterates the child centred approach in matters of welfare and protection where there is a distinction to be made. It is appropriate that where a child's welfare or protection is being considered, the best interests of the child would be the paramount consideration. This is an appropriate and proportional provision that can be given real effect in the new agency.

With regard to amendment No. 11, both the Child Care Act 1991 and the Adoption Act 2010 already require the best interest principle to be upheld by the agency. Section 3 of the Child Care Act is explicit in this regard, with respect to the application of "best interests". It covers any action of the agency in the context of fulfilling its functions under the Act. This includes arrangements in respect of the adoption of a child, in section 6. The consideration of best interest in court related proceedings is a matter for the relevant court or relevant decision making body. Section 24 of the Child Care Act states that in any proceedings before a court under the Act in regard to the care and protection of a child, the court, having regard to the rights and duties of parents, whether under the Constitution or otherwise, shall (a) regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.

Section 19 of the Adoption Act states:

In any matter, application or proceedings before—

(a) the Authority, or

(b) any court,

relating to the question of the arrangements for the adoption of a child, for the making of an adoption order or for the recognition of an intercountry adoption outside the State, the Authority or the court, in deciding that question, shall regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration.

I am satisfied the provision I have made in section 9 will have the intended effect of creating a child-centred approach to decision making, while restating the specific requirements for paramountcy in certain specified processes. These are all with regard to the welfare and protection of the child. Where there is any question about a child's welfare, we have the paramountcy principle. It is included in existing legislation and it is very clear that it applies. It is not necessary to restate in the Bill the provisions on proceedings before a court or the Adoption Authority. I will not accept amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive.

With regard to the Minister's response on amendment No. 9, let us be very clear about what the Bill states: "having regard to the best interests of the child in all matters". It makes no real statement on how the child's interests are to be regarded. It does not make this clear. That is why I believe the introduction of the words "primary consideration" is necessary to give absolute clarity to what it is we expect. What is before us, "having regard to the best interests of the child in all matters", falls far short of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child where it particularly states this must be at all times a primary consideration. It is hugely important that we indicate exactly how the best interests of the child are to be not only evaluated but, most importantly, also adhered to and the words "having regard to" simply fall far short. It is no good repeating that it is understood, implicit or suggested. These are the functions of the agency. No other brief or term of reference for the new agency should be clearer than the best interests of the child. It is absolutely essential that we accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 11 seeks to insert in section 9(2) after the reference to the Child Care Act 1991 and the Adoption Act 2010 "whether in proceedings before a court or otherwise". This is very important because it is open to interpretation from the construction of section 9(2) that this is only with regard to a court scenario. We need to be very clear that it would be applicable in every scenario with regard to the new agency's functions under the Child Care Act 1991 or the Adoption Act 2010, whether in proceedings before a court or otherwise. There are other settings where issues pertinent to each of these and the child's interests will be evaluated. The amendment proposed to section 9(1) is essential. The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration. The clarification on section 9(2), with the addition proposed in amendment No. 11, should also be accepted.

I support the amendments. I acknowledge the Minister's comments and her view, but the clarity which would be brought by the insertion of the word "primary" to make it clear the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration would strengthen the legislation. On this basis I urge the Minister to support the amendments.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin did a lot of work at the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. In its report the committee endorsed the fundamental principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as identified by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which states the best interests of children are a primary consideration in all actions considering children. The point I am making is that the principle of paramountcy is built into every action where the agency will be involved in the care and protection of children, but there are functions of the agency where a child may not be involved and, therefore, to accept the amendments would not be appropriate because there will be functions of the agency where there may not be children involved. If I were to accept the amendments, it would mean paramountcy would apply in these situations, which would be inappropriate. Every time a decision is taken on the protection and welfare of a child, as the Child Care Act and Adoption Act suggest, the best interests of the child will be the paramount consideration. For these reasons, I will not accept the amendments.

This is in reference to the functions in section 8(1)(a), (b) and (c). Section 8(1)(a) concerns the performance of the functions, powers and responsibilities transferred to the new agency under section 72 from the National Educational Welfare Board which are relevant to children and section 82 which deals with the HSE. Again, the focus is on children in the main. Section 8(1)(b) concerns the development, welfare and protection of children, while section 8(1)(c) concerns supporting and encouraging the effective functioning of families. Families have children at their heart. This is not about a husband and a wife with no children; it is about families and children. Children are at the core of each of the component parts. We all understand and accept the Minister's argument that there are other responsibilities, but the amendment clearly states the child will be at the heart of the agency in performing its functions under section 8(1)(a), (b) and (c) in respect of an individual child or family.

Regarding the best interests of the child as a primary consideration is exactly what we require and we should not be afraid to affirm it. We should not be afraid to embrace the highest standards accepted, endorsed and promoted by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is imperative that we reach the highest standards attainable, which is why I am seeking to ensure this particular section properly affirms this principle in the best interests of children. There is no other interest in my consideration in putting forward this argument. Again, I refer to amendment No.11; adding the words "whether in proceedings before a court or otherwise" would clarify that we were not only looking at proceedings in courtroom settings.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 34.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Michael Colreavy and Sandra McLellan.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 10 not moved.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 13, line 33, after “2010,” to insert “whether in proceedings before a court or otherwise”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 13, to delete lines 35 to 40, and in page 14, to delete lines 1 and 2 and substitute the following:

“(3) The Agency shall consult when planning and reviewing the provision of services in connection with the performance of functions under section 8(1)(a), (b) or (c) where relevant, and ensure that due consideration is given to the views of children as part of any consultation processes undertaken.

(4) The Agency shall, in performing its functions in respect of an individual child under section 8 ensure that the views of that individual child, where that child is capable of forming his or her own views, be ascertained and given due weight with regard to the age and maturity of the child.”.

There are critical differences between what is contained in the Bill, as amended on Committee Stage, and what I seek in the amendment. Section 9(3) of the Bill states: "The Agency shall, when planning and reviewing the provision of services in connection with the performance of functions under section 8(1)(a), (b) or (c), ensure that consideration is given to the views of children." I believe the words "due consideration" should be included. With regard to "consideration", I make the same argument as I made in respect of "best interests". The words "due consideration" are more clear as to what is intended - that is, that due consideration be given to the views of children as part of any consultation processes undertaken. That is not confirmed in section 9(3). It is very important to confirm that any consultation processes undertaken regarding children's interests must give due consideration to the views of children.

In the second part of the amendment I seek to supplement section 9(4) with the following: "The Agency shall, in performing its functions in respect of an individual child under section 8 ensure that the views of that individual child, where that child is capable of forming his or her own views, be ascertained and given due weight with regard to the age and maturity of the child.” The critical difference here is where the language in the Bill states, "where that child is capable of forming and expressing his or her own views". The use of the word "expressing" suggests a capacity to give one's view orally. There are many ways in which a child, indeed any of us, can communicate. I have a brother who cannot orally communicate. I have known it all my life but in most instances I know exactly how he feels about given matters.

It is important that we do not confine ourselves in the legislation to the ability of the child to form and to express his or her view, as the current wording suggests. On the contrary, every effort must be made to ascertain the views of the child where the latter has the capacity to form a view. That is not expressly provided for in the Bill, and it is deficient in that regard. I am not just speaking from my own personal experience; the information provided by a range of voices from the non-governmental sector clearly shows there is a wealth of experience in this area throughout the country. My objective in this amendment is to ensure that where a child is capable of forming his or her own views, every effort is employed to ascertain those views and give them due consideration. That is where my proposed subsections (3) and (4) come together.

I hope the Minister, having heard my case in regard to this amendment on Committee Stage, has given it further consideration and will offer me the welcome news that she is accepting it.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that the section as drafted makes the child's voice a central factor in decision making and the proofing of decisions. It breaks new ground to have it expressly articulated in legislation that consideration will be given to the views of children in planning and reviewing the provision of services under the new structure. It is there in black and white in the Bill. Moreover, having accepted on Committee Stage that the original wording was a little too limiting, I have broadened it out. I also made sure that the provisions that are relevant to the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 are now included in this section. That is particularly important given the many issues that arise in schools in respect of which the views of the child should be paramount. It is a strong provision which breaks new ground in making absolutely clear that the views of the child must be sought and considered.

When decisions are being made in regard to children a great deal of evidence will be gathered by a range of methods, including from client feedback in sessions with the parents and with the child, from the various audits that are done, via the complaints mechanisms and through the guardian ad litem service when children are before the courts. In addition, the reviews conducted by the Health Information and Quality Authority involve interviews with individual children. As part of its review of the child protection services, the authority is issuing a series of reports at regular intervals. Those reports show that there is a greater improvement in the delivery of services in some areas while there is work still to be done in others. We are also having a great deal more consultation with children and groups of young people, as referenced by the work of EPIC with children in care. A whole new approach is being adopted throughout the services which puts children's voices at the centre. This Bill provides a legislative base, which was not previously in place, for that type of consultation. In many respects, the practice had gone ahead of the legislation in this regard.

My concern in regard to the Deputy's amendment is that it might serve to paralyse some aspects of decision making. I am confident that what is in the Bill is strong enough. His amendment does include the phrase "where relevant", which might help to avoid an overly expansive interpretation of the section. However, without guidance being built into the legislation as to what is defined as relevant in this context, the effect of the provision would be unclear. The section as drafted makes the child's voice central to the proofing of decision making and, as such, it breaks new ground. Were I to accept the new subsection 9(4) as proposed in the Deputy's amendment, it would broaden the provision enormously. The way in which the section has been drafted will ensure children's voices are recognised as being central to decision making under the new agency. As I said, the practice has already gone in that direction.

I am satisfied that the importance of facilitating the expression of the views of the child is catered for in the legislation and that children will, in practice, be heard. I am very aware that the expression of views, as the Deputy outlined from personal experience, is not always a verbal process. There are many methods of enlisting the views of children, including through play, art and observation. That will be part and parcel of the way the agency seeks to arrive at the views of the child in a way that is respectful of how they communicate. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I acknowledge that the Bill contains huge steps forward in terms of the best interests and views of the child. My efforts to improve the Bill, as I see it, do not take away from that fact. Indeed, I have already indicated my intention to support the final passage of the Bill. That remains my position. My objective is to arrive at the best possible legislation to cater for the needs of children into the future. I am strongly of the view that the inclusion of the reference to due consideration being given to the views of the child in the context of any consultation processes undertaken is the appropriate way to construct subsection 9(3). It broadens out the application of subsection 9(4) by deleting the specific references to the legislation as contained in the existing subsection (4). The point is that the views of the child should be taken into account across the board in all matters pertaining to his or her interest. That should apply in all circumstances.

I reiterate the point about the ability of the child to form and express a view. In most situations children are capable of forming a view and can, through a variety of means, give expression to that view. Expressing is understood in terms of verbal communication, but there are a whole variety of ways and means by which the child's views can be ascertained and that should be given due weight, with regard to their age and maturity. My objective in presenting this amendment is to improve what the Minister has presented. I do so for the obvious reasons, as I have explained, and for the very best reasons, as I have approached each of the amendments I have presented.

I totally accept the Deputy's bona fides in this matter and am very grateful for his unequivocal support for the passage of this legislation and for the concept of bringing the different services together to work under the remit of the new child and family agency. I have considered his amendment carefully. From the very beginning of this process, I have taken the views of Deputies opposite on board.

Some of the amendments I introduced were amendments I know Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Robert Troy were supportive of and wished to see made to the Bill, as did the NGO sector. The Bill has been strengthened by the inclusion of these provisions. The way we have drafted the legislation is ground-breaking and will ensure the views of the child will be part and parcel of the work of the agency. The legislation lays down that they must be an integral part of the work of the agency when decisions are being made. It is a strong and ground-breaking provision and will do the job it is intended to do, which is to ensure the views of young people are heard when decisions are being made about them.

I have no further points to make.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Debate adjourned.