1. Budget 2015: Widening the Gap between Rich and Poor
Treoir welcomes many of the changes in October’s Budget, including the increase in Child Benefit, partial reinstatement of the Christmas Bonus, the raising of the threshold for paying USC, income tax relief on water charges and the allocation of €2.2 billion for social housing. However, Treoir believes that not enough has been done in Budget 2015 to ensure that lone parents, who are being activated when their youngest child reaches 7, are supported to gain appropriate training to enable them to become job ready. A more recent announcement was made by the Department of Social Protection that its intention to cut the earnings disregard for lone parents from €90 per week to €75 in 2015 and to €60 by 2016, which we saw as being contrary to the policy of activation, has now been reversed and it will remain indefinitely at the current rate of €90.
Treoir is disappointed that measures were not taken to tackle the childcare crisis that working parents face and which affect solo parents disproportionately. Childcare subsidies for solo parents seeking to further their education or actively seeking work would have helped. Some subsidised schemes exist but the promised Swedish model is a long way off.
The abolition of the One Parent Family Tax Credit in the previous budget had a detrimental effect on non-resident parents’ (mainly fathers) ability to pay maintenance for their children and Treoir is extremely disappointed that the tax credit has not been reinstated in this budget, showing that the government, yet again, has failed to recognise the importance of promoting shared parenting.
We hope to produce a Bulletin in December giving more details on Budget 2015 and the changes that will take effect in 2015.
2. Family Relationships Bill 2014
In a previous Bulletin we reported on the publication of the General Scheme of a Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 and we made our submission to the Department of Justice on this Scheme. A revised Heads of Bill was published in September which includes many changes including removal of sections relating to surrogacy. The new Bill states that an unmarried father who is cohabiting with the mother for a year will acquire guardianship rights to his child automatically. What has changed from before is that the year must include three months after the birth of the child. As welcome as the provision granting automatic guardianship rights for those fathers satisfying the requisite period of time is, this does not change anything for all those very committed fathers who wish to be actively involved in the lives of their children but may have never cohabited with the mother. For them acquiring joint guardianship rights will not be any easier than at present.
Again in our submission we called for the setting up of a Central Register for Statutory Declarations. This is something Treoir has been campaigning for for many years. The Child Care Act 1997 introduced the facility whereby a father could obtain his guardianship rights by signing a statutory declaration with the mother where she is in agreement and thus avoiding a court procedure. Since then there have been thousands of Declarations signed by unmarried parents that have not been registered in any central location. Should a father lose that Declaration he has no proof of his guardianship. This is most unsatisfactory – it is akin to losing a marriage certificate and having no facility to acquire a copy. We receive many calls from fathers who have mislaid their Declarations and cannot now prove that they are guardians.
The setting up of a Central Register will become even more relevant if this Bill is enacted as it contains provisions whereby guardianship rights can be acquired by others including step-parents, civil partners and those acting in loco-parentis. These rights will be called guardianship rights but will in fact not give most of the rights of full guardianship. For example, these guardians cannot:
- decide the child’s place of residence
- make decisions about the child’s education, including extra-curricular social activities
- make decisions regarding the child’s religious, spiritual and cultural upbringing
- consent to medical, dental and other health-related treatment for the child
We believe that these rights should not be called guardianship rights. With this two-tiered system of guardianship it is even more imperative that a Central Register for Guardianship be set up. The availability of a Central Register for Guardianship would give some clarity to adoption services, schools, garda, passport office, the Abduction Authority and those involved in health services etc.
Treoir and other members of the Childrens Rights Alliance are actively working to influence change and to deal with anomalies in this largely very welcome Bill.
3. Watch Them Grow: Unmarried – cohabitant and solo parenthood in Ireland
In September ‘Watch Them Grow’ a significant research study by Dr. Owen Corrigan, commissioned by TREOIR and funded by the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme, was launched. The author Dr Owen Corrigan, Dr. Ruth Barrington and Senator Jillian vanTurnhout all made interesting presentations based on the findings of this research. The report gives us a greater understanding of the lives of children in different family types in Ireland. The research was undertaken using the Growing Up in Ireland study data, a major longitudinal study of children which commenced in 2006. The longitudinal study involved the collecting of information on 11,134 children and their parents when the children were nine months old and three years old.
The aim of the research was to investigate differences in outcomes for unmarried-cohabitant, solo & married parents in the areas of childcare, parents’ health and parenting, child health and wellbeing, and work and welfare. The main finding was that outcomes for children at age three are similar on many indicators across these areas irrespective of their family type – married, cohabiting or solo parent. Where children are doing well in married families they tend to be doing well in other types of family also. However solo parents face a range of difficulties and challenges that can impact negatively on their children. Solo parents faced particular income challenges with one in two solo parent families classified as at risk of poverty compared with just 1 in 4 families overall.
“We see no differences between family types in a range of areas”, noted author of the report Dr Owen Corrigan. “Parents from all family types engage in learning activities and games with their infants to the same degree; there are no differences in the behavioural difficulties of children from unmarried-cohabitant as opposed to married parent families. Childcare difficulties impact on all types of family. Differences in these areas and in approaches to, say, negative parenting styles or bad dietary habits are generally explained by differences in income, education and other factors, but not family type per se.”
A core principle of Treoir is that children have a right to know and be cared for by both parents. Two out of three children in the study were in contact with their non-resident father at age three. However, 54% of non-resident fathers made no financial contribution towards the upkeep of their child. “It is essential that the barriers to shared parenting are removed and non-resident fathers are encouraged and facilitated to be involved in their children’s lives”, said Treoir CEO Margaret Dromey. “Some policy decisions such as the removal of tax credit for non-main carers, mainly fathers, impact negatively on maintenance payments and the current family legislation inhibits involvement of fathers. The government should re-examine these decisions in order to encourage more participation by fathers in their children’s lives.”
The Key Findings can be downloaded here under six separate headings:
Download the full report here.
4. Central Statistics Office: Births Outside marriage for 1st Quarter 2014
In quarter 1 2014 there were 11,260 (63.6%) births registered as within marriage and 8 of which were within civil partnerships.
There were 6,439 births registered as outside marriage/civil partnership accounting for 36.4% of all births in quarter 1 2014. Of these
- 8% were registered by non-nationals.
- 57% were registered by cohabiting parents.
- 4% were registered by teen parents.
- The highest percentage of births outside marriage/civil partnership was in Limerick City at 56.5% and the lowest was in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown with 24.9%.
5. Decrease in the Number of Women Giving Irish Addresses at Abortion Clinics in 2013
Figures issued by the UK Department of Health show that there has been a further decrease in the number of women giving Irish addresses at abortion clinics. According to the UK Department of Health figures, the number of women giving Irish addresses at abortion clinics has decreased from 6,673 in 2001 to 3,679 in 2013, a decline of 45%. This equates to a decrease in the abortion rate from 7.5 per 1000 women to 3.8 in 2013.
6. Natural father fails in bid for sole custody
A biological father who applied for sole custody of his child following the death of the child’s mother has lost his application at the Dublin Circuit Family Court. Judge Catherine Murphy ruled sole custody should instead be granted to the deceased mother’s partner, with access for the biological father of 10 nights a month. The mother’s express wish had been that the child would remain living with her partner, Judge Murphy said, and after her death, a court appointed both men and the child’s maternal grandmother as guardians to the child. Judge Murphy noted the mother’s partner was “closely and actively involved” with the child and a “deep and real bond” existed between them. The judge said the natural father had argued in court about his rights under the Constitution and the absence of rights of the mother’s partner. He had taken “a proprietary approach”, she said, and was more focused on his rights and entitlements than on what was in the best interests of the child. The Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, which states “the welfare of the infant as the first and paramount consideration” applied in the case, Judge Murphy said. (The Irish Times 1/8/2014)
7. High Court ruling on a father’s right to rent allowance
On the 31st October The Irish Times reported on a High Court ruling whereby the Department of Social Protection must reconsider a decision to grant only single person’s rent allowance to a separated father of four. This could have significant implications for parents in similar situations.
In a ruling, Ms Justice Marie Baker found that the Department’s decision-making process when assessing the man’s application was flawed. She found, given the joint custody arrangements, the children could not be viewed as living primarily with one parent, or having one “primary” carer, as the Department’s deciding officer had found. The needs of the children were more complex, had been assessed by their parents as involving joint custody, and could not be met in one location only, she said.
The man’s solicitor, Moya de Paor, said “The judgment raises significant issues in relation to fathers’ rights as custodians of their children and, in particular, children’s rights to the care and support of their father.”
In an article in our October/December Bulletin 2013 we reported on a similar ruling made by the Equality Tribunal whereby the Tribunal found that the Department of Social Protection’s Community Welfare Service had discriminated against an unmarried separated father of two. His request for a rent supplement payment for a one-parent family with two children was rejected as his ex-partner received a similar allowance for the same children, despite the fact that they stayed with him on a regular basis. The tribunal also ordered the Department of Social Protection to carry out a review of its policies and procedures on rent supplement payments, particularly in relation to how separated and unmarried fathers are treated. Read Decision in full here
8. Changes to After-school Childcare
As of July 2014 the Department of Social Protection has made changes to both the After–School Child Care (ASCC) programme and the Community Employment Childcare programme.
Under the ASCC programme qualifying parents will now pay €3 per day, maximum €15 per week, towards the cost of childcare and there will be a free after-school pick-up service available. The ASCC has been expanded to include those on an employment programme. It should be noted that this programme can only be availed of for 52 weeks in total. Treoir intends to discuss this with the Department and if you have any views please forward them through our ‘contact’ button and/or on ‘facebook’.
The Community Employment Childcare programme, which replaces the CE Childcare Education and Training Support, has now been expanded to include parents with children aged up to 13 years of age at primary school.
To find out about eligibility and for further details of the changes made to both these programmes see here.
9. Compulsory Birth Registration
The Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 which was commenced in Dail Eireann in October will when enacted make it compulsory for unmarried parents to register the father’s name in the Birth Register. Certain exceptions will apply, namely where the father is unknown, his whereabouts are unknown or it is not in the best interests of the safety of the child. Treoir very much welcomes this Bill as one of Treoir’s core principles is that a child has a right to an identity. The Tánaiste said “The right of the child to know who both their parents are is a very important right. In recognising this right the Bill is giving every child a greater sense of identity”.
Note: Many parents mistakenly believe that where a father’s name is on his child’s birth certificate this gives him legal rights to his child. This is not so. Many mothers also mistakenly believe that if the father’s name is registered this will affect their entitlement to One Parent Family Payment. This is also not so.
Treoir hosted an information session outlining the provisions of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 for its Council and Members on November 12th. Presentations were made by Fidelma Cotter – Assistant Principal and Simonetta Ryan – Assistant Secretary, of the Department of Social Protection.
10. Parenting Plans
The Children and Families Act 2014 has instituted extensive family law reforms in the UK. The government’s aim is to restore confidence in the family court system and to reduce court applications by encouraging alternate methods of dispute resolution. Parents are being encouraged by the Courts to come to an agreement, rather than letting the court decide for them and to recognise the need to develop a cooperative parenting relationship going forward. For many, the first and most helpful step will be to start a Parenting Plan. These aim to help parents work out the best possible arrangements for their children and to try and ensure that these Plans are clear, consistent and reliable. It is likely that the court will expect parents to have started a Parenting Plan if an application is made.
Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, is the voice of children in the family courts in the UK and helps to ensure that children’s welfare is put first during proceedings. It works to help children and young people who are going through care or adoption proceedings, or whose parents have separated and are unable to agree about future arrangements for their children.
Cafcass has produced an example of a parenting plan – see herewww.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parenting-plan – and view its website for further useful information.
11. Mother and Baby Homes
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly T.D., announced in July that Judge Yvonne Murphy had agreed to chair the Commission of Investigation into matters related to mother and baby homes. In her previous role Judge Murphy was Chair of the Report by the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. Minister Reilly said: “The Government may give consideration to the appointment of further members to the Commission but I believe Judge Murphy’s agreement to undertake the role of Chair of the Commission is a very positive development in the process to establish an effective and independent investigation.”
At the same time the Minister announced the publication of the report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes. The Report is the product of the work of the Inter-Departmental Group, established in early June, to assist the Government in scoping the examination of the issue of Mother and Baby Homes.
12. Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC)
The Eurydice Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe 2014 report, published jointly with Eurostat, combines statistical data and qualitative information to describe the structure, organisation and funding of early childhood education and care systems. It analyses issues which are important for the development of quality services identified through European policy co-operation, such as access, governance, quality assurance, affordability, professionalisation of staff, leadership, parental involvement and measures to support disadvantaged children. It aims to provide insights into what constitutes high quality early childhood education and care through internationally comparable
indicators. This report covers 32 countries and 37 education systems.
In relation to Ireland some of the facts recorded in this report show that :
- The numbers in Ireland aged under-six make up just under 10% of the population, lower only than the figure in Turkey.
- Of all Irish homes in which those children aged five or younger live, one in five has nobody working. This is the highest jobless rate for households with under-sixes in the EU and almost double the 11% average across 28 nations. The commission report says that living in a household affected by unemployment may not only place a child at risk of poverty or social exclusion, but also at risk of educational disadvantage.
- Ireland has the highest monthly fees for childcare and pre-school.
Most countries identify disadvantaged groups based on socio economic, cultural and/or linguistic criteria. Some countries apply all three types of criteria. Family status (e.g. children living with only one parent or with foster parents) may also be taken into account, but this is less common. View report.
13. New Irish Families: A Profile of Second Generation Children and their Families
This report by Dr. Antje Roder of Trinity College uses data from the Longitudinal Study of Children in Ireland. The report was funded and is part of the Irish Research Council’s ‘New Irish Families’ research project. It is intended that this report will help towards providing a better understanding of increasingly diverse families and to contribute to effective policy making in this area.
Since the Irish economic boom Ireland has become a much more diverse society in terms of nationality, ethnicity and religion, and as a result, numbers of children born in Ireland to immigrant parents are rising. This report analyses a group of ‘second generation’ children with a focus on the diversity of family types, their parents’ socio-economic profile and housing situation and goes on to look at childcare and return to work. An OECD report published in 2009 estimated that only about 1% of children of school going age in Ireland were children of migrants who were born in the country. By 2012 the statistics show that one-in-four (24%) children born in Ireland had a ‘non-Irish’ mother. Amongst most migrant groups, the proportion of lone parents was shown to be lower than in Irish households, with the exception of Africans. Mothers born in Africa are not only more likely to be lone parents, but also to have more than one child to care for by themselves. The report states that while it has been argued that cultural differences in family practices contribute to this, it is also possible that family reunification policies play a part.
14. Children of Immigrants and their Families
A growing number of migrants are seeking and securing Irish citizenship, according to a new report published in July. The annual Integration Monitoring Report by the ESRI and Integration Ireland showed that between 2005 and the end of 2012, almost one-third of European Economic Association (EEA) citizens who moved here secured citizenship. That represents almost 54,700 people, and in 2012 alone some 20,200 non-EEA adults acquired Irish citizenship.
The section of this report ‘Children of Immigrants and their Families’ uses data from the Growing Up In Ireland Longitudinal Study and is based on a sample of almost 10,000 three year olds in 2011. A significant proportion of these children, around 15%, have immigrant mothers.
The chart below presents basic information on the family the child is living in, i.e. whether the child lives with one or two parents, and whether the child has any siblings. It shows that while most three year olds are living in a family with two parents and at least one other child, there is also variation by country group in terms of family structure.
Family Type of 3 year olds by Family Grouping 2011
The report sets out key trends, based on an EU-wide framework, in such areas as employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship, to allow for assessing the integration of broad non-Irish groups in Ireland. It is suggested that such information be strongly considered by policymakers when designing general policies that also affect migrants.
15. Seminar on The Family Leave Bill
The Department of Justice is currently drafting a Family Leave Bill, which is expected to consolidate access to various forms of statutory leave into a single piece of legislation. In advance of the publication of this new Bill, The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, National Women’s Council of Ireland and Start Strong held a seminar to discuss the future of family leave, including parental leave, maternity leave and paternity leave, breastfeeding supports and work-life balance policies. The seminar was addressed by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD with keynote speaker Peter Moss, Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Provision, Institute of Education, University of London.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said that fathers should have the right to two weeks of paid leave following the birth of their child. At present fathers have no right to paid or unpaid paternity leave. However, much of the public sector and some private sector employers provide fathers with up to two weeks of paid leave following the birth of a child. Ms Fitzgerald also supported proposals to allow for the sharing of leave by mothers and fathers, subject to certain conditions. Ms Fitzgerald said men should be given the chance to play a more active role in caring for their children. It is unclear whether both proposals – paid paternity leave and shared maternity/paternity leave – will feature in the new Bill.
Prof Peter Moss from the University of London said policymakers needed to reflect on what kind of leave Irish society wanted for families and what the rationale behind these measures should be. He suggested that Ireland could consolidate all existing leave – including parental leave – and follow the Icelandic “birth leave” model, which provides equal entitlement to leave for both parents.It has five months of maternity leave, five months of paternity leave and two months of shared leave. The parent receives about 80 per cent of their income during leave, subject to certain conditions. (Irish Times 30/9/2014)
16. The School and the Family Today: ‘Good Practice Guidelines’
The purpose of this new publication is to provide Home School Liaison Teachers & Schools with a best practice approach on policies regarding children living with parents married and unmarried, children of separated parents, same-sex parents, non-biological parents and children in care. Home School Community Liaison Teacher Ann-Maire Waddock, produced this publication with support form the South Inner City HSCLs, Carol Finlay from Dublin City Council, GLEN, the HSE, other community members and with support and guidance from Margot Doherty of Treoir.
17. Legal Aid Board: Annual Conference (June 2014)
Free Legal Advice Centre director general Noeline Blackwell speaking at the annual conference of the Legal Aid Board said the Board’s “totally rigid means test” for the granting of free legal aid in civil cases compared with the State’s more favourable “discretionary” policy in criminal cases was a key human rights issue potentially having “grave consequences for a person’s welfare or livelihood”.
In her address Ms Blackwell said there was a “total lack of any system at all” for legal representation at tribunals, where people can have decisions made against them that “affect their welfare and livelihood in the most fundamental ways” such as social welfare appeals tribunals or employment appeals tribunals.
Legal Aid Board chairwoman Muriel Walls also referred to the difficulty of accessing legal aid, and highlighted the “different language” used by lawyers as an obstacle in legal proceedings. “It is about time that we used plain English and that we organised the court documents in a simple way,” she said. (Irish Times 30/6/2014)
18. Social Welfare Appeals Waiting Times
Speaking in the House of the Oireachtas, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton while acknowledging that appeals against welfare decisions have increased dramatically said that “There are no plans at this point to further increase the number of appeals officers in the Social Welfare Appeals Office. A new operating model has been introduced in the appeals office and a major programme of process redesign and modernisation is also underway”.
In her parliamentary response, she said “that the number of appeals lodged had more than doubled from 15,000 after the recession first bit in 2009 to 32,777 last year. People challenging decisions currently have to wait more than 29 weeks for an oral hearing and 22 weeks for a summary decision, but this is down from 52 weeks for an oral hearing and 25 weeks for a summary decision in 2011.
There have been a significant increase in the number of appeals finalised in the appeals office from 17,787 in 2009 to 38,421 in 2013. An additional 5,863 appeals were finalised in 2013 compared to 2012”.
19. The Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA)
The Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) is Ireland’s national statutory regulatory agency for charitable organisations. The CRA was established on the 16th of October 2014 under the terms of the Charities Act 2009. It is an independent agency of the Department of Justice and Equality. The following applies:
– If your charity was granted a charitable tax exemption number by the Revenue Commissioners before the 16th of October 2014 and has a valid CHY number, it will be automatically registered with the CRA.
– If your charity was established before the 16th of October 2014 but doesn’t have a valid CHY number from Revenue you will need to apply to the CRA to have your charity registered.
– If your charity is established after 16 October 2014 you must apply to the CRA to be registered in the Register of Charities.
To find out more about the functions of the Charities Regulatory Authority and to register your charity visit www.charitiesregulatoryauthority.ie
20. €15 fee for Freedom of Information requests to be abolished
Brendan Howlin, The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has announced the abolishment of the €15 fee for Freedom of Information requests.
Mr Howlin recently stated that “the €15 application fee will be abolished for all FOI requests and the Search, Retrieval and Copying fees will only apply where the preparation time for a request exceeds 5 hours. In other words, the vast majority of FOI requests will now be free of charge”.
21. www.goodcharity.ie This website launched 30/10/2014 was developed by a number of organisations with a view to enhancing the debate around charities in Ireland and to provide accurate information around how charities work.
22. Northside Community Law Centre has changed its name!
The Northside Community Law Centre currently provides free legal information, as well as advocacy and support for law reform campaigns at national level. Its service has expanded to include a free mediation service, Mediation Northside, and a second community law centre in Limerick. To more accurately reflect the expanded range of services it offers it has adopted a new name for the organisation: Community Law & Mediation. See communitylawandmediation.ie
23. a good news story – District Courts will not be closed!
After extensive consultation, the Courts Service has abandoned plans to close four major courts in the Dublin area. District Courts in Dun Laoghaire, Tallaght, Balbriggan and Swords had faced closure.
24. A new smartphone maternity app — whatsupmum — is being targeted at pregnant women in Ireland to help them navigate the world of pregnancy, nappies and newborns. Professor Michael Turner, director of the HSE’s obstetrics and gynaecology programme, welcomed the new app. He said: “The goal of the project is to provide pregnant women and new parents with expert advice from top healthcare professionals in an easy format.”
For more information go to www.whatsupmum.ie
(Irish Examiner 16/6/2014)