The Children Act 2001 introduces a wide range of innovative measures that will provide a statutory framework for the future development of the juvenile justice system in accordance with modern thinking and best international practice. The Act also amends the Child Care Act 1991 by providing for the detention in special care units of non-offending children with challenging behaviour, establishes the Special Residential Services Board to ensure the efficient and co-ordinated delivery of services to young children in detention, and re-enacts and updates provisions in the Children Act, 1908 protecting children from abuse by persons who have the custody, charge or care of them. The Act is a very complex and comprehensive piece of legislation and, for those reasons, provisions under the Act are being implemented on a phased basis, as was envisaged at the time of enactment.
Responsibility for implementing the Children Act 2001 lies with three Departments, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science in respect of juvenile offending, and Health and Children in respect of children who are non-offending but out of control. The National Children's Office is co-ordinating the cross-departmental aspects of the implementation of the Act.
The first commencement order under the Act in respect of my Department was signed by my predecessor on 23 April 2002. The order, which came into force on 1 May 2002, provided for, inter alia: the payment of compensation by parents in respect of offences committed by their children — section 113 of the Act; a court order which would require parents to exercise proper and adequate control over their children — section 114 of the Act; the establishment of the Garda diversion programme on a statutory basis and the introduction of a “Diversion Conference” — sections 17 to 51 of the Act — based on restorative justice principles as pioneered in New Zealand. To date, in excess of 100 of these conferences have taken place country wide; and the introduction of a curfew for children found guilty of offences — section 133 of the Act. The position in relation to further commencement is as set out below.
It is an underlying concept of the Children Act to expand the options a court will have at its disposal when deciding on how to deal with a young offender. These options are an essential feature of the Act as they will allow effect to be given to the principle that detention for young offenders will be a last resort. Thus, the Act generally envisages committals to custody of young offenders being availed of only in situations where other alternative diversions and community-based options have been resorted to and have failed.
The successful implementation of the community based options in the Act will require a very significant input from the probation and welfare service. In this context, the probation and welfare service, as part of its planning for implementation of the Children Act 2001, engaged trainers from the Department of Child, Youth and Family, New Zealand for the intensive training of all professional staff as facilitators for family conferences to be convened and managed in accordance with the requirements of the Act as well as providing day seminars for all probation and welfare officers. The service will provide ongoing training through its staff development unit as required.
From September 2003 to date, 14 additional probation and welfare officers have taken up duty and a response to other offers of appointment is awaited. It is the intention that, subject to an adequate number of staff being recruited, community sanctions provided for in the Act will commence to be implemented in 2004.
Under the Children Act, I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will be obliged to provide separate detention facilities for 16 and 17 year old boys and girls who are committed to custody by the courts either on remand or under sentence. The provision of appropriate custodial facilities is a priority for the Prison Service. The primary objective of these detention centres will be to provide a secure but supportive environment in which young offenders can develop the personal and social skills necessary to avoid future offending.
In line with this, a new facility for male juveniles in this age group will open at St. Patrick's Institution in the near future. This unit, which was designed by a multi-disciplinary team, will include a custom-designed facility for the delivery of education, recreation, medical and therapeutic services. The longer-term provision of a dedicated facility on a greenfield site for 110 juveniles — 90 male and 20 female — is also being considered. Having considered a report by the Commissioners of Public Works and the recommendations made and having conferred with the director general of the Prison Service, I decided some time ago that the proposed development of such a facility at Newlands Villa, Naas Road, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, will not now proceed. The identification of another site for the proposed juvenile detention facility is now being pursued in consultation with the director general of the Irish Prison Service and the Office of Public Works.