Children’s Rights Alliance Welcomes New Guardian ad Litem Office in Department of Children
The Children’s Rights Alliance has warmly welcomed the Department of Children and Youth Affairs announcement that it is to establish a new Executive Office for the Guardian ad litem service within its remit. A Guardian ad litem is a person that provides children with an independent voice to make sure a child’s opinion is heard in court and taken into account when decisions are made about the child within care proceedings.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “This is one of the most important law reform developments for children in recent times and something that the Children’s Rights Alliance has been seeking for a number of years. It was also a key recommendation of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children in their recent report on the Guardian ad litem service.
Placing this service within a public body will help to ensure that this vital service to children remains independent and publicly-funded. We also understand that the service will ultimately move to the family law courts. This is also welcome as it is the natural and fitting home for this service.
Making sure that a child’s opinions are heard in court settings is incredibly important. A courtroom can be an intimating place for anyone, especially a child. Having an independent person act as an advocate for a child helps to ensure their views can be taken into account by a judge. We are talking about difficult legal decisions on whether or not to take a child into state care – decisions that can have a dramatic and long-lasting impact on a child’s life.
In light of this, it is important that the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s recommendation on the status of the Guardian ad litem is also implemented. This will ensure that their role is not diluted to that of ‘expert witness’ and they remain a party to the legal proceedings allowing them to cross-examine, make any necessary applications to the court on behalf of the child and ensure that the child’s voice is adequately heard in court.
Tanya Ward concluded: “It is important going forward that the new Executive Office builds on the learning, expertise and professionalism developed by organisations such as Barnardos who has provided this service for many years.
The current reform also presents an opportunity to ensure that children in family law proceedings are given a voice. We hope to see this new Executive Office take responsibility for ensuring that all children are heard in court proceedings affecting them.”
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