A Children’s Authority has been recommended to replace the Child Care Board, with additional powers and resources that might not now be available to the local child protection agency.
The Authority, said children’s advocate Faith Marshall-Harris, who is championing the draft Green Paper on children and family law reform, would be an “over-arching” body, based on the Child Care Board but expanded beyond what now holds.
“The Children and Young Persons Bill will be establishing, by my proposal, the Children’s Authority which will replace the Child Care Board and it will be seeking to appoint a children’s attorney…
“Very often a child ought to have separate legal representation from the parents so that [the child’s] rights are upheld. This is very important. I’ve seen many instances where children are not well served because they are not allowed the right to representation. Although the Community Legal Services Act and that department says that anything to do with a child, criminal or civil, you can get free legal aid, a free attorney to represent them, you get many parents who will say no, we don’t want an attorney,” said the former juvenile court magistrate.
The appointment of an attorney, she went on to explain, would ensure that the parents of the child in question, would not be able to waive the child’s right to representation.
The Bill, would also look at the setting up of a youth court and a new reform school as well.
“What we’ve got now, a lot of people consider prison and we have got to turn that around as well. This bill will set out all the child protection provisions as well as the children’s civil rights and family rights,” she noted.
“We think that that Authority should have a role with youth offending. They should be part of what happens in the youth court, they should be there for child support/maintenance hearings; they should be promoting ADR [alternative dispute resolution]…
“The Children’s Authority will be trying to promote ways where those parties would sit, meet, agree, talk, have a plan without necessarily being adversarial, a fight or court battle. ”
She said too that the bill would see an improvement in the handling of child-related crime and crimes against children.
“I’ll be setting out guidelines for all persons looking after children in the homes, the school, workplace and other locations that they may be aware of how children should be looked after in the eyes of the law.
“On child protection we will be focusing on children’s physical and mental health, particularly looking at disabled children because right now our facilities are very limited and our regulations are limited. We will try to protect them from harm and neglect and keep them safe in their environment,” Marshall-Harris informed, adding that issues of education and recreation as well would be dealt with. (LB)