Why are children dividing us? #crref

Who knew that a referendum about children's rights could be so divisive?  If you're not in Ireland you may not be aware that there will be a referendum on Saturday to change the Irish Constitution to include the recognition of specific rights for children.  This referendum has been discussed for years.  My impression was that it was long overdue and would be universally supported.

I was wrong.

I have never seen so much division among my on-line friends over any issue ever.

I had always assumed that I would be in the 'yes' camp as people whose opinion I respect and trust are promoting a 'yes' vote.   I discounted the 'No' side at first.  I did not like their spokespeople and their emphasis on parental rights and ownership as though children were no different to cars or kettles.  That made my skin crawl.  They've learned.  Now they're talking about family rights.  Articles and videos have been circulating raising fears about the State taking the place of parents in deciding how children will live their lives.

Especially the lives of children with special needs.  So now I find that most of the special needs mums that I know and like are in the 'no' camp, and most of the organisations that I respect are in the 'yes' camp.  I am very confused.

Is it significant that it is worried parents who plan to vote 'no', and organisations that may be part-funded by the State, that want us to vote 'yes'?

When I asked whether the referendum would prevent parents taking cases against the state to secure right for their children with special needs, I got this reply:

"This is not true, a parent can continue to take a case against the State in relation to their children and the amendment will not hinder this. Indeed, I believe the case taken by the parent will be strengthen as the amendment says children have rights and the State has a duty to uphold those rights. The amendment will help make the State more accountable, not less." *

As a separated mother whose custody and access arrangements are by mutual agreement, I am aware of many situations where the 'rights' of parents sometimes seem to take precedence over those of children in the family courts.  My understanding is that children cannot leave the country to go on holiday or visit relatives abroad if one parent refuses a passport.  They cannot refuse to see a parent, even if they don't want to go.  Even if the child returns from an access visit tired, hungry or injured, because of the fear of being charged with parental alienation.  Overnight access can be ordered even when the parent concerned has addiction issues unless it can be proved that the parent is a danger to the child.  A 'yes' vote in the referendum should help to change that:

"The amendment will ensure in any decision about access, custody or guardianship the views of the child must be taken into consideration. Also the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration in the decision making. These two things combined will ensure that all family law arrangements set by the courts will be child-centred and if they are child-centred they better protect children."*

Is the State really a big bogeyman determined to rip children from the loving arms of their parents?  I really don't think so.  And how would I vote?  Probably yes.  But the seeds of doubt have been sown.

What about you?

* with thanks to Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Thanks also to Barnardos Ireland for this explanation:



  1. Good grief, I am very confused. I really don't envy you trying to get your head around that one! Good luck. x

    1. I am still confused, I really don't know who to believe x

  2. I'm voting Yes. State agencies play a part in the initiation of family court proceedings but the final decisions will continue to rest with the courts. I don't therefore really buy the line that the amendment would give "the state" lots more power.

    I think the No campaign emphasis on the state deciding the best interests of the child misses an important point: the power to make this decision only applies in the context of the parents being shown to have failed. This touches on your point about the state not being a bogeyman out to rip happy, well-cared-for children away from parents who love them.

    My biggest concern with the status quo is the legal precedent which interprets the current constitution as placing a very high priority on the marital status of the parents in determining if their home is a safe place for the children. I really think the amendment will help address this. Unlike what some people have indicated, the marital status issue goes further than just facilitating adoption into foster homes.

    There's another point which isn't mentioned much that I think is important. The current constitution declares that parents must be shown to have failed for "physical or moral reasons". The new wording says the state may intervene where the parents fail "to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected". This changes the grounds for intervention from the reasons for the failure ("physical or moral") to the effects it has on the children. I think that's a subtle but important shift in emphasis.

    Lots of people have reaonably pointed out that the record of our child protection agencies isn't brilliant. I don't think the amendment is anything like a fix for all child welfare problems. The fact that it won't address everything, though, doesn't mean that the changes it will make aren't worthwhile.

    1. Thank you for such a comprehensive comment. I didn't address the issue of children in care as it is outside my experience, but certainly my impression would also be that the record of child protection agencies is not perfect. But I don't think it ever will be, you can never get everyone involved in the care of children to behave perfectly and solely in the interests of the children.

      Thank you for pointing out that it is the effect on the child that will not be key, as you say, this is also an important change.

  3. Nice post and very balanced.

  4. Thanks for this Blue Sky, I've been feeling EXACTLY like you have. Very confused at this stage but veering towards yes. It's not that I trust the state, I don't, but I do think children should have a say..particularly in the example you give... and I think that if it's in the constitution then there' a better chance of that happening and their over-all protection? I do worry about kids been taken away needlessly from their parents but perhaps I need to read more. Too unwell at the moment to take it all in.

    As regards the no side they came very late to the table, it was yes all the way until fairly recently. I'm just not sure about them and I'm concerned there's a lot of scaremongering without substance?

    And now I'm rambling, sorry!

    Thanks again :-)

    xx Jazzy

    1. So sorry to hear that you are still feeling very unwell :( And I agree about the scaremongering, it's so extreme ... Thanks for your comment, really appreciate all of them here and elsewhere xx

  5. My view is that the yes camp have been too smug and ignored the power of social media in scare mongering. A dedicated patient and moderate team should have set up a page & twitter account to answer people's queries on line.
    So, when someone says "they are doing this to save money given to foster parents" -the moderators could explain the long process that foster parents would have to be willing to undergo in order to adopt a child they are fostering who cannot ever really return to their parents. Or that the fact you hate this government for removing your child's SNA from school has absolutely no relevance to the amendment and voting No, won't get you any closer to getting an SNA. (yes, someone said this on Facebook last night)
    Sadly, these are often the same people who think the Troika has decided who is eligible for DCA.

    The smug "we know what's best" attitude of the political parties in this referendum has overshadowed the voice of reason expressed by the Citizen lead organizations who deal with the distress and long term damage of children who are being passed back & forth between dysfunctional birth families and foster care.
    I also think the media seized upon the looniest of spokespeople to create "good television" over a moderate and intelligent debate where participants and viewers alike could have considered changing their views.
    I don't like this "take a position & stick to it" culture of debate. I would have watched & taken part in discussions that were moderated and included people who were open to change and respectful of alternative views.

    Instead I just switched off. If the #childrens ref is not passed it will be up to the government & commission to learn how better to disseminate and if necessary defend the issues in future. Like where real people and not media pundits are discussing it.

  6. Lisa, thanks I think this is a brilliant comment and I hope that lessons will be learned from this campaign, no matter what the result.

    I would've discounted almost all of the 'no' spokespeople, many of whom did their cause no favours. If there is a high 'no' vote, I think the credit should go to Kathy Sinnott, who I found persuasive and credible. Of course it was her battles against the state that showed me how I could get appropriate services for my daughter, so I find it hard to ignore what she says.


  7. Hi Lisa

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. Obviously, I'm not based in Ireland and I haven't to my knowledge been subject to a referendum like this in England.

    But I just wonder if this has come about because of growing fears over paedophilia and the wish to encourage the child to speak out against abuse?

    Of course, the child abuse scandals surrounding the BBC, Jimmy Savile and a Welsh children's care home has aggravated fears (at least in England), but it's not the first time. There were other crimes committed against children before that (eg. Baby P in London's Haringey borough) and my feeling is that people are not being punished severely enough for those crimes so people feel obliged to find other ways of protecting children, especially those with disabilities.

    If I've caused any scaremongering I don't mean to - it's just that right now, thanks to the BBC child abuse scandal and related news, I am thinking about how I can best protect my daughter who has multiple disabilities, and I just wonder if the Irish State are thinking along those lines too, possibly at the expense of the parents.

    1. Past abuse and neglect of children was one of the key drivers behind this proposed constitutional change and it was supported by all of the organisations that work in the general area of child protection as far as I am aware.

      I don't this is planned to be rights for children at the expense of parents, especially as the record of the State isn't great either!

      Ideally there needs to be adequate checks and balances on both parents and the State to maximise the benefit for children.