Family Welfare Conference
A Children and Family Welfare conference may be held on the direction of the Children’s Court or at the initiative of the Health Authority (HSE). The Health Authority (HSE) appoints a person as coordinator to convene the family welfare conference and he or she acts as chairman.
The purpose of a family welfare conference is to decide whether a child is in need of special care or protection that he or she is unlikely to receive otherwise. If it so decides, it recommends to the Health Authority (HSE) that it apply for an order under the Child Care Act. If it doesn’t decide to make recommendations to the health authority in relation to the care and protection of the child, it proceeds as the conference considers appropriate.
The recommendations of a family welfare conference are to be made unanimously by the participants. This is not necessary if the coordinator regards the disagreement as unreasonable, in which event the coordinator may dispense with the dissenting person’s agreement. If the recommendations are not agreed upon unanimously, this is notified to the health authorities.
Parents and guardians are entitled to attend the family welfare conference. The child is entitled to attend. Health service employees and certain other persons such as relatives or others who may make a positive contribution may attend.
The coordinator may exclude a person if they believe it is not in the best interests of the child. The various participants are to be given notice of the meeting. Their non-attendance does not invalidate the meeting.
The welfare conference makes its own procedures. The coordinator ensures that the relevant information is to hand in so far as practicable. After the completion of a conference, a notice of the recommendations is given to:
- the child concerned,
- parents or guardians,
- others who attended,
- health authorities,
- such other appropriate parties.
On foot of recommendation, the health authorities may apply for a childcare order or supervision order or may provide services or assistance to the child or family as it considers appropriate. Where the conference has been convened by Court, the outcome is reported to the Court.
Matters discussed at the conference are not admissible as evidence in a subsequent Court hearing. This is not the case in respect of the actual decisions and recommendations.
Unless the interests of society otherwise require, a child who has committed an offence or behaved anti-socially and accepts responsibility, may be admitted to a diversion program. The objective is to divert the child from further offences and anti-social behaviour.
The objective is to be achieved primarily by administering a caution to the child, placing him under the supervision of a juvenile liaison officer and convening a conference to be attended by the child, family members and other persons.
The programme is carried out and managed under the control of An Garda Síochána by a member, not below the rank of superintendent, who is assigned for that purpose by the Garda Commissioner. He is referred to as the Director.
Decision to Admit
Where criminal or antisocial behaviour by a child comes to the attention of An Garda Síochána, the member dealing with the matter may prepare a report and submit it to the Director with a statement of any action that has been taken in relation to the child and recommendation as to further action – including admission into the programme – that, in the member’s opinion, should be taken.
A child may be admitted to the programme if he:
- accepts responsibility for criminal or anti-social behaviour having had reasonable opportunity to consult with his parents or guardian and to legal advice sought;
- consents to be cautioned and where appropriate, to be supervised by a juvenile liaison officer and;
- is over 10 years of age and under 18.
The consent to caution would not apply where the Director is satisfied that failure to agree to caution or supervision is attributable to undue pressure being brought to bear on the child.
The Director must be satisfied that the admission of the child to the programme would be appropriate and in the best interests of the child but not inconsistent with the interests of society or any victim.
Certain categories of crime and criminal behaviour may be excluded from the programme.
When a child is being considered for admission to the programme, the views of the victim are to be taken into account but are not determinative.
The Director decides whether to admit the child into the programme. If he does so, he shall direct the juvenile liaison officer to give notice in writing to the parents of the child specifying the criminal or antisocial behaviour for which the caution is to be administered; whether the caution is to be formal or informal; and the time and place where it is to be administered.
The parents and guardians are entitled to attend the administration of the caution. The caution shall be administered to every child in the programme.
An informal caution may be administered by a juvenile liaison officer in a Garda Station near the child’s place of residence or another place, exceptionally. There is provision for informal and formal caution.
Victims may be invited to the administration of a formal caution. Where the victim is present, there must be a discussion about the child’s conduct or behaviour. The member of An Garda Síochána administering the caution may invite the child to apologise orally or invite the making of financial or other reparation.
Where a child has been formally cautioned, he is placed by the Director under the supervision of a juvenile liaison officer for a period of 12 months. This does not apply to an informal caution.
Exceptionally, a child who has received an informal caution may be placed by the Director under the supervision of a juvenile liaison officer for a period of six months. The periods may be varied by the Director.
The level of supervision to be applied to a child is determined by the juvenile liaison officer supervising the child. This will depend on the seriousness of the conduct or behaviour; the level of support and control given by the parents or guardian; the likelihood of the child committing further offences or engaging in further antisocial behaviour; and any directions from the Director regarding the appropriate level of supervision.
Where a child is placed under the supervision of a JLO, the officer may recommend a conference be held in respect of the child. The agreement of the child’s parent or guardian and the views of the child should be ascertained on holding the conference.
The JLO shall ascertain the views of any victim of the behaviour as to the possibility of the conference being held and whether the victim would be agreeable to attend. Where the victim is a child, the JLO has regard to his/her best interests and ascertains, where practicable, the views of their parents.
The Director, having received a report, shall decide whether a conference should be held. In deciding, he must have regard to:
- the report;
- whether the conference would assist in preventing further offences and antisocial behaviour;
- the roles of the child’s parents, guardians and relatives;
- views, if any, of the victim;
- whether attendance of the victim would be in their best interests;
- the interests of the community in which the child resides;
- other relevant matters.
When the Director decides that a conference shall be held, he must appoint a facilitator to convene the conference and be its chairperson. The facilitator shall be the JLO supervising the child or another member of An Garda Síochána. The chairperson shall be the facilitator or other member of An Garda Síochána.
The child is entitled to attend the conference. The parents, guardians, members of the child’s family or relatives are entitled to attend if the facilitators are of the view that they would make a positive contribution. The facilitator may invite such other persons as the Health Authority (HSE)’s probation and welfare service, school representatives, the school attendance service and An Garda Síochána, who may make positive contributions.
The facilitator may also invite any victim of the child’s criminal or antisocial behaviour, as well as any relatives or friends of the victim, unless it is of the opinion that their attendance would not be in the best interests of the conference.
The facilitator is to take reasonable steps to ascertain the views of persons who are unwilling or unable to attend and notified as such. The procedure of the conference shall be regulated as thought fit. It may be adjourned. Persons may not disclose confidential information obtained while participating in a conference.
The Conference shall consider whether the period or level of supervision of the child should be varied in light of:
- leisure time activities;
- circumstances in relation to education;
- training or employment;
- child’s relationship with family;
- attitude to supervision;
- progress under supervision;
- child’s attitude to criminal and antisocial behaviour;
- any other relevant matters.
The parents or guardian of the child, if present, may, with the assistance of other persons, formulate an action plan for the child. A family member or relative may do so on behalf of the parents or guardian in their absence. The action plan must be agreed upon unanimously by those present unless the disagreement is regarded as unreasonable by the facilitator.
An action plan may include one or more of the following:
- an apology, whether oral or in writing, by the child to a victim;
- financial or other reparation;
- participation in appropriate sporting and recreational activities;
- attendance of the child at school or work;
- participation in appropriate education or training courses that do not interfere with school attendance;
- the child’s staying away from the specified places or persons;
- initiatives within the family or community that might help the prevention of further offences or antisocial behaviour;
- any other matter that is believed to be in the child’s best interest.
When the action plan and the duration have been agreed upon, the facilitator must make a written record. The action plan is signed by the child and, where possible, by other persons present.
The conference may appoint persons present to implement the plan and monitor compliance. The plan may be reviewed at a reconvened conference.
After a conference, the facilitator must report on the terms of an action plan, matters discussed and the views of those present. He shall recommend, having regards to the views of those present, whether in his opinion, the period and level of supervision of the child concerned should be varied.
On receipt of the report, the Director shall decide the child’s period and level of supervision. The Director’s decisions shall be communicated to the juvenile liaison officer supervising the child. The child and the child’s parents/guardian shall be informed by the JLO.
Members of An Garda Síochána who act as facilitators must receive appropriate training.
The Minister may make regulations
- directing the procedures to be followed by the Director in deciding whether a child should be admitted to the programme or whether formal or informal caution should be administered;
- whether the victim should be invited to the caution;
- whether the conference should be convened;
- the level of supervision appropriate and;
- the criminal behaviour of a serious nature excluded from the programme.
The Minister for Justice is obliged to appoint a committee to monitor the effectiveness of the programme, review its operation and monitor training needs. The committee consists of a chairperson, who is an Assistant Commissioner of the Gardaí, and three other members. The committee makes an annual report to the Commissioner on the activities under the programme.
Effect of the Programme
No evidence should be admitted in a Court in respect of: any acceptance by the child of responsibility for criminal or antisocial behaviour for which he has been admitted to the programme; that behaviour; or the child’s involvement in the programme.
When the court is considering a sentence with respect to the events, the above matters may be considered.
A child will not be prosecuted for criminal or related behaviour in respect of which he has been admitted to the programme. The child shall not be prosecuted nor be the subject of an order in respect of antisocial behaviour for which he has been admitted to the programme.
No evidence is to be submitted to the Court in relation to any information, statement or admission disclosed in the course of a conference or in the content of the report.
No report is to be published or broadcasted in relation to the admission of a child into the programme or the proceedings at a conference relating to the child, including the contents of the plan which reveal the name, address, school or identity of the child. It is an offence to so publish.