Amendment No. 145 is in the name of Deputy Yates. Amendment No. 146 is consequential, and amendments Nos. 147 and 148 are related.
Amendments Nos. 145, 146, 147 and 148 together.
Amendment No. 145 is in the name of Deputy Yates. Amendment No. 146 is consequential, and amendments Nos. 147 and 148 are related.
Amendments Nos. 145, 146, 147 and 148 together.
I move amendment No. 145:
In page 15, subsection (1), line 6, to delete "by the Minister" and substitute "by the Court".
These four amendments to section 29 deal with removal from foster care or residential care. The first point that I am seeking to make in amendments Nos. 145 and 146 is that I do not believe that the Minister should be involved in this. I am referring to page 15 of the original Bill, section 29 (1) where it says that if the health board have placed the child in foster care the board at any time, while the child remains in their care may and shall "if so required by the Minister" remove the child. It is those words "if so required by the Minister" that causes me difficulty. There is now an established role in this legislation for the Minister although ironically in previous instances I have argued in favour of it. The point I am making here is that the determination of where a child should be, or whether it should continue to be in foster care or residential care, is a matter for the courts and not the Minister. I do not think it would be appropriate, that the Minister should be involved given that the health board have a clear role in carrying out the executive functions while the courts determine the judgmental aspects of what is in the best interest of the child and the family. I would ask the Minister to accept that, in terms of consistency.
Amendment No. 146 is consequential and the same point applies. In relation to amendment No. 147, which deals with the removal of a child from foster care, there would be the appeal process for the foster parents. One of the weaknesses of this legislation, in my view, is that there is no defined role for foster parents. There is some disappointment among their representatives that their rights are not recognised. I appreciate that it is a legal minefield given the natural rights of parents and the best interests and wishes of the child. One can imagine that a relationship would develop between a child and foster parents. Irrespective of that particular relationship and the difficulties that arise by taking a child out of care, if, abruptly, a child was taken out of care there would be a question mark over those foster parents and their suitability. Perhaps the purpose and the use of an appeal process as outlined in amendment No. 147, would enable them to clear their names. At least it could be determined that the child was not suitable and that the foster parent would still be a suitable foster parent. In those circumstances, what I am trying to do in amendments Nos. 147 and 148 is to give the minimal rights of appeal, rights of reconsideration and rights of consultation to foster parents, who provide an invaluable preferential role of care for abused and neglected children. We have all agreed that it is preferential to put them in a foster parent setting than in a residential setting in most cases. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to accept amendments Nos. 145 and 146, which seek to replace the Minister's role with the court and the latter two, which seek to give foster parents the right of appeal to the health board — not to the court — to have their decision reconsidered, and where there is a dispute as regards the termination of foster care the foster parents should have a civil right to a court decision on the matter, if they feel so aggrieved.
Briefly, I can sympathise with what Deputy Yates is getting at here. There may be slight confusion between the role of the courts on the one hand and the role of the health board on the other. The court decides whether the child is to be put into care. The health board, it would appear to me, subsequently decide what kind of care the child is to receive, whether the child is to be put into foster care or placed in a children's residential centre. To me they seem to be two different things. I can envisage situations arising — I am sure they will be minimal — where it would be necessary to remove a child urgently from care. I feel sure that that is the intent of section 29 (1). Therefore, I feel that judicial functions are not being exercised in relation to the Minister or the health board taking the child out of the care into which they had decided to put him. The primary order is made by the court. It is a matter for the health board to decide what kind of care the child is to get. Accordingly, I, personally, do not see any problem in relation to the health board or the Minister making the relevant decision. Accordingly, I would go along with section 29 (1).
Section 29 has given rise to a good deal of controversy, particularly among foster parents. I welcome this opportunity to explain the purpose of the section and why it is necessary. This section enables the health board to remove a child whom they have placed either in foster care or in residential care from that care if the board consider it necessary to do so, and requires the board to remove the child if the Minister directs them to do so. There are many reasons a health board might need to remove a child from foster care or residential care. It could be that the child is in the care on a voluntary basis and the parents' request that the child be returned to them. Unless the parents are unfit to resume custody of the child there is no reason why they should be deprived of custody. Thus, the health board must be free to take the child out of foster care or residential care and restore him to his parents.
To take another example, the child may have been placed in care under a court order and the parents may have successfully appealed or challenged the order. In that instance, they would be entitled to the return of their child. It would make no sense to allow a foster parent or the manager of a children's home to frustrate the court order by refusing to return the child to the health board so that they could return the child to its parents.
There are other reasons the health board must have the freedom to remove a child. It could be that the child is unhappy in his current placement. It could even be that there are allegations that he or other children in the home have been abused. I realise that in the vast majority of cases foster parents and the managers of children's homes would co-operate fully with the health board in the type of situations I have mentioned.
However, I am convinced that the board must have the power to remove the child where that co-operation is not forthcoming. I might also add that these are not new powers. What we have here is basically a re-enactment of powers which health boards have had for many years under section 56 of the Health Act, 1953. For these reasons I am not disposed to accepting any of these amendments. I must just mention that it may be necessary on Report Stage to make some technical changes in the section to take account of the new section 25 which we inserted by amendment No. 129a. However, this does not materially affect what we are discussing at the moment.
With regard to the earlier part of the Minister's reply, on a point of clarification, did I hear him state that one of the reasons the provisions of section 29 are necessary would be to allow the health board to return the child to its natural parents? Surely if that is the case it is clearly in defiance of a court order which underlines the importance of Deputy Yates's amendment that any decision of such magnitude would only be made with the approval of the court. If section 29 is to be used as a means to transcend an order of the court, we could be in a highly dangerous situation. I would fear that if section 29 was used as a device by the health board, through the offices of the Minister, to remove children from care back to a natural parent, we would then be doing exactly what Deputy O'Donoghue spoke of — that is, the judicial role of the Minister. The Minister might clear up that point because I am not altogether happy with it.
I think the Deputy has misinterpreted what I said. If the child was in care on a voluntary basis and the parents requested that the child be returned, and if the board were satisfied that the parents were adequate and in order to have custody of the child, and were fit people for the care of their child, then the board would be obliged to return the child if that child was in voluntary care. Alternatively, if the child is in care under a court order the parents would have to make an application to have the order revoked or discharged before the child could be returned. I do not think there is any ambiguity about that.
My understanding of section 29 (1) is that the health board who placed the child in foster care may at any time remove the child from the custody of the person with whom he was placed. The board have that power. I am not seeking to change that. What I am trying to question is the Minister's role in this. The Minister's role in this legislation is to set out regulations and so on. If you look at the major sections of this Bill in relation to the functions of a health board — care orders, supervision orders and so on — nowhere does it say "if so required by the Minister". That is the departure with which I have difficulty. The Minister might clarify why the Minister is brought into section 29 at all. That is the difficulty I have.
Amendment No. 145 would have two results. First, it would remove from the Minister the power to direct a health board that a child be removed from the place where he is receiving care, be it foster care or residential care. I would like to point out at the outset that this is not a new power which the Minister is seeking for himself. Under the 1953 Health Act the Minister has long had power to order the removal of children from particular placements. This could be useful where, for example, there had been allegations about the treatment of children in a particular home and pending an investigation by the gardaí the Minister considered that the children ought to be removed from that home. The Minister might feel it necessary to remove children from a home which was structurally defective or indeed a fire hazard. I do not expect the power would be used very often but I think it very desirable that the Minister should have such power for use when necessary.
The second result of amendment No. 145 would be to give the courts power to order the removal of a child from a particular foster parent or residential home. While it is appropriate that the courts be involved in decisions as to whether children should be placed or remain in the care of health boards, I do not think it is desirable that the court should be involved in deciding on the exact home or particular foster parents with whom the child should be placed. The amendment would draw the courts into such decisions by requiring court approval of the removal of children from particular foster parents or specific homes.
As I have indicated already there are many reasons it might be considered necessary to remove a child from the persons who are looking after him. It could be that the child is unhappy in that placement or that a place has become available in a residential centre which is in a better position to meet his needs. I believe that decisions about a child's placement are best left to the professional staff involved in the case. I do not accept that it is necessary or desirable that the courts be involved in this situation.
Amendment No. 146 is consequential on the proposal in amendment No. 145 to involve the court in decisions as to the removal of children from particular placements. As I have already said I am opposed to this idea.
On amendments Nos. 147 and 148, the whole basis of foster care is a partnership between the health boards and the foster parents. As such, health boards strive to maintain good relations with foster parents and to involve them as far as possible in decisions about the child's upbringing. However, foster placements can and do break down. The child may become unhappy and unsettled in the foster home or the health board may consider that the foster parents are not taking proper care of the child. I want to emphasise that we are talking here about exceptional cases. I am well aware that the vast majority of children in foster care are very happy and that the vast majority of foster parents are doing an excellent job caring for them but we must face up to the difficult cases, the cases where the placement goes wrong and where it is in the child's interest that he be removed and placed elsewhere.
While I would expect health boards, as far as possible, to arrange such removals in consultation with the foster parents, this might not always be possible. The needs of the child might outweigh the interests of the foster parents and it might be essential that the child be removed forthwith. The health board must have the power to remove the child in such exceptional cases. I cannot agree that the foster parents should be given a right to delay or frustrate such a removal.
We are dealing with two issues here. One is the role of the Minister and the second is the rights of foster parents and the pay process, and so on. If we take the first issue first. The Minister, in his brief, read out a whole series of reasons why a child might be removed from the particular environment, all of which I have no difficulty with such as a fire hazard or preferential conditions elsewhere. Let that be the function of the health board. In all the previous sections the Minister was quite happy to let the health board proceed with where they would go as regards care orders, supervision orders, and so on. It was up to the health board to deal with all Part IV of the Bill. Now, for some reason, the Minister is being brought into it. If you are arguing that it would restrict the health board in removing someone and to let the courts do it, right, let that be so. I do not see why the Minister has to be brought into it. You have not answered that. You have made a case for moving a child from one circumstance to another. I am saying: "So be it; let that be the function of the health board". Why did they have to do that at the behest of the Minister when the Minister might not be involved in the proceedings in the first case or in any way? The second point I want to make is in relation to the rights of foster parents. The Minister has really turned a deaf ear to the representations he has received on this. I would like to quote from the Child Care Coalition on this, who would not be of the same view as foster parents on this, but even they can see it in relation to amendment Nos. 145 to 147. I quote:
What is required here is some form of review/appeal procedure to which foster parents could appeal. We suggest the setting up of a working party that would research and explore the establishment of an independent review board to which child and foster parents or other designated carers would have access. This would not rule out the possibility of going to court.
I think, therefore, given that you could have the foster parents in opposition to social workers in particular case studies, if they are prepared to concede the point I do not see why the Minister is not prepared to concede the point. I would contend that the Minister should have no function in this section, if he has no function throughout the Bill. His function is to set out regulations, to legislate and to provide the cash, and to oversee the situation, but to get involved in individual cases is not his role. This gives the Minister the power to direct a particular child that goes anywhere in care. That is an extraordinary power to give him. Secondly, I believe that if we do not give foster parents rights in section 39 we give them no rights whatsoever. The Minister might set up a working party or some body to study it between now and Report Stage, or even within his Department.
To give foster parents no rights is a very poor recognition of the invaluable work they do for very little monetary return.
I wish to clarify some points. Is it envisaged that the Minister would wish the health board to set up a review procedure or an independent review committee which would oblige the board to hold a case conference and to have all interested parties involved in making any decisions of this nature? When I think about the situation of the social worker, the district health nurse, the health board, the health board community care or whatever, what kind of structure will be set up to enable the health board to do a review where it might be necessary in such circumstances?
I have listened to what Deputy Yates has to say in particular in relation to this. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Department officials put in the Minister's involvement in the first two subsections is because the Department are aware of some information in relation to a particular residential home. Let us say a child is placed in a residential home outside the health board area. The Minister or the Department may be aware of some problem in that home. It would then be necessary for the Minister to step in and inform the health board that in his opinion the child is placed in an unsuitable place. I think that is the reason why the Minister is involved. In relation to the court's involvement vis-ï¿½-vis the Minister, I would think that it would be preferable in the first instance to leave the decision in relation to some very small cases, as the Minister has said, that are not taken up by the health board to be dealt with by the Minister. If parents are not satisfied with the decision of the Minister, they would then be in a position to go to court and apply for a judicial review of the Minister's decision. Then the Department could get involved in a court procedure. Requiring the court's involvement in the initial stages would probably be unnecessary. I come back to my original point. Perhaps the Department of Health would have information that would not be readily available to a health board vis-ï¿½-vis a State or a residential home outside its area.
The Minister is not empowered under section 29 (1) to direct the health board to place the child in a given place or with a given person. He is merely empowered to remove the child, by order to the health board. That is quite a different thing. It seems to me that the Minister's role in this is one of a watchdog. It is in the interests of the child and should, perhaps, be allowed to stay in place, if only on the basis that two heads are better than one.
I am wondering about this. Deputy Yates has outlined the concern he has about the Minister's intervention here and says it is unusual and he is querying it. My view would be along the lines outlined by Deputy O'Donoghue. To repeat him, I see his role here as one of concern and as Minister with overall responsibility in this particular area. The day to day operations as defined and set down are by the Health Board itself. The intervention, I am sure, that is intended here is one that would be very limited, quite intermittent and certainly is not envisaged, as defined here, as being on a regular basis. Are there sufficient grounds for all this concern about what seems to be perceived as surreptitious intrusion by a Minister at this stage of the Bill?
To respond first to Deputy Sherlock, we have had a very, very small number of cases where there was abuse of children in foster care. The system that we adopt is that a very broad case conference is held. A consensus is arrived at. Decisions have always been that the child must be taken away immediately. In the interests of the child that is always the position. If the Minister had to intervene — and Deputy O'Donoghue has clarified the position very clearly — it is not the Minister's function to decide, to dictate or direct where a child is to be placed that is a matter for the professionals within the health boards to decide. In a court situation, the court orders. The Minister is there as the last line of security in the interests of the child. When all the information becomes available to him and when he has all his social worker's advice he takes a decision as to what is in the best interests of the child. That may be to remove that child and have him placed elsewhere. Surely we must have that situation available. The parliamentarians are elected by the people. They in turn elect the Government. The Minister is responsible to the parliament on behalf of the people. This gives people, through their parliamentary representatives, a direct line right to the Minister. The Minister is there making the decision in only really exceptional cases. I want to emphasise that situation. The situation is there since 1953. Section 56 of the 1953 Health Act is very explicit, where it gives this type of power to the Minister. Section 52 of this Bill again confers similar powers on the Minister. We will be dealing with that later. Section 52 again confers similar powers and functions on the Minister. We are being consistent with that. Surely we must have a situation where at the end of the day the Minister is the final arbitrator in really exceptional circumstances.
Can a health board remove a child from the custody of a person without the consent of the Minister?
Are you talking about the Bill or the present law?
Under the Bill, under this section.
The Bill will give power to the health boards to remove a child.
Without the consent of the Minister?
Then why put it in? You do not need a watchdog if the health board has that power anyway. If a health board makes a decision that this particular carer is unsuitable for the reasons given, a fire hazard or whatever, let the health board bang away. Why involve the Minister?
Is it not the nub of the argument that it is only where there is a dispute between the Department and the health board because the health board may, and if the health board does, then there is no role for the Minister? It is only where the health board does not that the final power of appeal rests with the Minister. This is a situation where the Minister is being given a power to overrule the health board.
Is it envisaged that a statutory review procedure will be set up? We are now enacting new legislation. Does the Minister intend to set up a statutory review procedure by the appointment of an independent review committee on which the Minister and all parties would be represented?
It appears to me from the section that the health board "may" remove the child if it so wishes and it "shall" if the Minister directs the health board to do so. So there is an overruling procedure in it. It is one that I would not be unhappy with. It is another level of appeal. If a citizen or an organisation were concerned that the health board did not take a course of action they could go to the Minister and make a case. The Minister is obviously answerable to the Dáil for all his actions so I would not have any difficulty with it. It seems straightforward enough to me.
I agree with Deputy Howlin. Suppose the health board put somebody into residential care and there were allegations that something was wrong, that there was abuse or whatever, and the person in the health board who was dealing with this particular area of responsibility was a friend of the person who was in charge of the centre and felt that the scandal should not become public, I presume that section is meant to deal with such a conflict of interests. I cannot see any problem with it. I am mystified by the arguments.
In reply to Deputy Sherlock, we do not propose to set up a statutory review body. I want to emphasise that we are talking about exceptional circumstances. We have the utmost confidence in the professionals to make the best judgment. We must respect the decisions of the court and adhere to them. Many of the residential centres will not be under the direct control of the health boards. They will have a supervisory, semi-managerial role but they may be run by voluntary bodies, by religious orders or whatever. We must legislate for exceptional circumstances which Deputy Dempsey has referred to. Take section 46 where the Minister has powers of inspection. If on inspection he discovers something irregular that needs immediate attention we must leave him the right to direct that a child or children be removed from that home. If some type of misbehaviour or indeed a scandal of any type breaks, it may come to the ears of the Minister, if the centre is not under the control of the health board directly, much more quickly than it comes to the ears of the health board. As one of my colleagues said, perhaps local people might like to keep the lid on it and deal with it in their own way but the interests of the child or the children must be of paramount importance and the Minister must be given the flexibility to take an instant decision, give a direction, in the interests of the child or children, to ensure that they are brought to a safer place. That is what we are talking about here. I think that is very important. Again I must stress we are talking about exceptional circumstances.
I do not want to labour the point but I would like to say that we debated all of Part IV of this Bill and the circumstances whereby health boards were to do this, that and the other: they were to take children into care, they were to have powers of supervision, and in all of that the Minister had no second guessing, watchdog role whatsoever. As far as I am concerned this is a different slant on the Minister's role in this legislation. Obviously the committee do not see it that way. I accept that but I think it is highly inconsistent. The Minister, in answer to Deputy Sherlock's question, made it quite clear that he is going to give no review procedure, no independent committee, nothing where foster parents are dissatisfied. As far as I am concerned, this is unfair to foster parents. It does not adequately recognise their role. If foster parents give love and affection for three or four years to a child and then suddenly that child is removed from their care, then I think those foster parents have some right to an explanation or reconsideration, whatever else. This legislation is their only opportunity. I cannot understand the Minister's attitude in view of the number of representations he has received, in view of the stated Department of Health and health board wish to establish more fostering panels. We hear on the radio every day advertisements for foster parents to contact this and that health board in particular areas. There is a positive policy of seeking more foster parents and I think in line with that we should give the some rights as well or at least some consideration. It is quite clear the Minister and the Department have set their faces totally against this. They are not even prepared to set up a working party to consider it. However, in the interests of expediting the business before us, I will withdraw amendments Nos. 145 and 146 but I will be pressing Nos. 147 and 148.
I am concerned that the impression would go out that under section 29 the health boards and the Minister will be running around the country taking children out of loving homes. That is not the position. This section applies to very limited, exceptional circumstances where clearly the child is not receiving the care that Deputy Yates so eloquently speaks of. The section is not geared towards the general mass of foster parents, the vast majority of whom do a tremendous job. I do not think it should go out from here that that is the purpose of this section. This section deals with exceptional circumstances where clearly it would be in the interests of the child to be removed from a given situation. If it were otherwise I do not think any reasonable person would support the section. That point should be made quite clearly. It is only fair that it should be done. Regardless of his political persuasion, any Minister would direct a health board conscientiously in the interests of the child concerned. Indeed, I have absolutely no doubt at all that at some time in the next century, when Deputy Yates is Minister for Health, he will exercise his powers conscientiously in this regard as well.
May we have a more immediate response from Deputy Howlin, please?
I have no pretensions in that regard. We all have to mind our seats in a very crowded constituency. I agree very strongly with the latter point of Deputy Yates's contribution. It is important that there should be an appeals mechanism. Deputy O'Donoghue spoke in terms of this section not being geared towards the generality of foster parents. I have no doubt that it is not geared towards them. We need a law that applies to every case, not just one that applies to the majority of cases. If a child is taken away from foster parents, there might be a debate in relation to the pros and cons of it. Very seldom are these cases black and white. There might be a balance of doubt. There might well be a difference of opinion as to what is in the best interests of the child. The health board could take action under this section now and remove that child. It would be fair that the parents would at least have access to a court of some description, whether it is the health board itself or the courts of the land, to have the merits and demerits of the actions of the health board adjudicated upon. That is not outlandish. It might well be that this power would never be used, but that is not a strong argument. It is not an argument at all, in my view, for not including it in the Bill.
I wonder what is the effect of section 29 (4), which reads:
Where a person refuses or neglects to comply with a request of a health board to deliver a child in accordance with subsection (3), the board may apply to the District Court for an order directing that that person deliver up the child. . .
Surely that is basically an appeals procedure.
That is an encouragement.
How is it an encouragement?
It is the only way they will get an appeal.
The point I was making is that they have the right——
It is only when they refuse.
The health board does not walk in anywhere and snatch a child from a foster parent. There is usually a long process beforehand where they call to the foster parents, discuss the issues, I presume, unless it is a very blatant case of abuse or whatever by the parents involved. The child is not actually snatched, although the impression given here is that the child is snatched and that then the person has no right of appeal or anything else. I know it is absurd, but that is the way people are talking around the table here. There is a procedure there that if the person refuses, they can go to the District Court. The other side of the coin is that if foster parents felt that they were being unfairly or harshly treated, or that the decision was not in line with common justice or whatever, they would be able to seek a judicial review. That is another procedure that could be followed.
That kind of crisis procedure where section 4 would be brought in is cumbersome. The whole thrust of this Bill, and every other bit of legislation which we try to bring through the House, is to make it less combersome, and as direct, fair and open as possible to everyone within the system. Therefore, I think, as has been said by Deputy Yates and Deputy Howlin, that the courts should be open to all appellants, if and when they feel the need for it. A situation might arise where foster parents felt a grievance. These two amendments could be of tremendous help and support to them. There is still the mentality, both naturally and legislatively, that natural parents have tremendous and paramount rights. I envisage a situation where a natural parent would come back after a time of neglect, maybe even of abuse, and where the children have been removed from them. They might make a great appeal on the grounds of being reformed and of the natural love of parents to have their children returned to them. This paramount, natural parental, traditional thinking would, in fact, overwhelm the right of the foster parents. In situations like this, we should in the legislation at least leave it open for those foster parents to have the right to challenge that immediately. We all know that natural parents can make huge demands. Hopefully this legislation will go a long way towards putting the children's rights first. There is a conditioning role within all of us that gives huge and paramount rights to natural parents. What would worry me is that in a situation like that, where a challenge is made by the natural parents, foster parents might come out a poor second. We should give immediate and direct rights to them to have a court appeal immediately as citizens and as the loving parents who have been looking after those children. If we have to put in too much to this Bill to actually protect the rights of the children and the loving parents who look after them, perhaps we should weigh too much on that side rather than on the other side. So even if this seems to be too positive, perhaps it is better than a negative provision, which section 4 is. I just wanted to make that point. Thank you.
With all due respect to Deputy Yates, amendment No. 147 does not make sense to me. Perhaps he would clarify it for me. He is saying there that where a child is removed from foster care without agreement of the foster parents, they may appeal to the health board to have the decision reconsidered. For instance, in the event of him succeeding in getting amendment No. 145 agreed to, which provides for a court decision, he would, in effect, be asking the health board to reconsider a decision previously made by the court. That amendment was withdrawn. As it is, he is asking the health board to reconsider a decision made by the Minister not to remove the child. That does not make sense.
We agreed the health board had the power to remove the child.
Yes. And the Minister. The Deputy is asking the health board to reconsider a decision that was made by the Minister.
It is reading like that to me.
If the Minister intervened——
In relation to the second amendment, that is how it reads to me, that you are asking the health board to reconsider a decision made by the Minister. In relation to amendment No. 148, the Deputy is asking that the foster parents have a civil right to a court decision. I agree with Deputy Dempsey. They have that right to query any decision made by a statutory body, particularly in this Bill. If the health board or, indeed, the Minister makes a decision in relation to a child which goes against the grain of this Bill, and that is that the interests of the child are first and paramount, there is a procedure whereby the foster parents can query that. That would take care of that amendment. To me that amendment is superfluous, it is already there. They already have a civil right. It should not go out from this meeting that they have not got a civil right. They have a civil right to query a decision of a health board or a Minister in a such an instance.
I have listened with interest to all the contributions in this case. We have agreed consistently throughout the Bill that the interest of the child is of paramount importance. When we started off debating this entire Bill the impression I got was that we could not hand any responsibility to do with child care to the health boards. Now today, because I am putting in a mechanism to ensure that the Minister is the final arbiter in exceptional situations Deputy Yates seems to think that should not happen. I think that we are very consistent and that the inconsistencies are not on this side. We appreciate very much the contribution being made by foster parents around the country. If they were not there we would all be in serious trouble. There is no doubt about that. They do wonderful work. In a situation where a child has to be removed foster parents are consulted for many months and on many occasions. They know and they will have had meetings and visits from social workers and professionals from the health board talking to them and they in turn often visit the health board during that time and eventually they will accept that the child has to go. There are occasions when foster parents apply for adoption and shortly after, by coincidence, the natural parents apply for the child to be returned. The whole situation is taken into account, the case is evaluated and at the end of the day obviously the child, where all things are equal, should return to its natural parents. We have no intention of imposing a situation on foster parents whereby a child will be takenad lib without prior consultation. All the options will be taken into account and full information given to them so that the child can end up in the best place possible.
Deputy Yates. Are you pressing your amendment?
Yes, and I would go further and say that nowhere in section 29 does it say that there shall be consultation between the health board and foster parents prior to any decision being taken by the health board. Any assurances to this Committee by the Minister are of no value whatsoever and the Minister and his officials have on record the views of foster parents associations in this regard. We are obviously poles apart on this and we will be pressing it to a vote.
I have no doubt this will be discussed again on Report Stage. Can we proceed to a vote?
Would the Minister consider bringing in an amendment on Report Stage to set up that body?
This Minister is a very flexible person.
Very flexible today.
That is because the Deputy was not here.
I should stay away more often.
In view of what has been said and I appreciate the Committee's sincerity and commitment to ensuring that there is an equalisation of the interests and the rights of the child, the foster parents, the natural parents and everything. I want to make sure that we do not make mistakes in any decisions that we take. I will have another look at this situation for Report Stage. I cannot give any commitment that we will come up with a formula that might be to your satisfaction but we will definitely reexamine the case for Report Stage.
I do not intend to press a vote on amendment No. 148 but I certainly do want a vote on amendment No. 147.
I move amendment No. 147:
In page 15, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) Where a child is removed from foster care without the agreement of the foster parents, they may appeal to the health board to have the decision reconsidered.".