The present essay reviews the article by Burns, O’Mahony, Shore, and Parkes (2018) on “What social workers talk about when they talk about child care proceedings in the District Court in Ireland.” The authors examine social workers’ knowledge and practice when preparing and bringing to the District Court orders for child protection applications. The article maintain that social work, particularly child protection and welfare, heavily relies on the application of the law. The job entails intruding into the intensively protected domain of family life to protect the defenceless children’s rights. The authors further argues that child welfare and protection work decisions inherently encompass the evaluation of the child’s rights at stake, available evidence, and whether they meet the statutory thresholds. This is not a walk in the park as social workers in some jurisdictions spend a considerable amount of time in courts, making applications for diverse child protection orders. The authors’ argument that social works practice necessitate the understanding of how the professionals within the domain perceive and interact with the courts systems is justifiable due to the importance and demanding nature of the job and increasing cases of child abuses.
Summary of the Article’s Findings
While exploring child care court proceedings, particularly in Ireland, O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes noted that Article 42A.2.1° of Ireland’s Constitution of 1937 provides a framework for District Court child care actions. The constitution requires the state to play the role or place of parents in circumstances where the parents fail in their responsibility towards the children to the extent that their welfare is likely to be prejudicially impacted. The constitutional requirement is executed though “Child Care Act 1991,” placing the duty on the country’s Child and Family Agency (Tusla) to establish and promote the welfare of neglected children who do not get the necessary care and protection (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 115).
However, in their qualitative study findings, alongside other literature reviews, O’Mahony, Shore, and Parkes, concluded that Ireland does not rely on a single childcare proceeding model. There are substantial distinctions in the practices across the districts. Some jurisdictions adopt a high adversarial approach while others hybrid models, where the proceedings are neither adversarial nor inquisitorial. The courts’ inconsistency has raised concerns about how social workers have to struggle to bring up cases and are also treated disrespectfully in many cases. While referring to Coulter et al. (2015, p. 15), the researchers established that childcare cases in the District Court are handled based on consent and omit cross-examinations by social workers. There is also a lack of uniformity among the courts, implying that social workers interact with different models across the counties (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 116).
The researchers noted that the Irish system is even becoming more adversarial. According to those interviewed, the solicitors’ mode of questioning social workers when providing evidence makes the process seem like a trail. However, the experience is not uniform, as, in certain jurisdictions, the judges are so strict on the parent’s solicitors trying to undermine the social workers. In one of the interviews with a social worker in “County 1,” the judge was reported trying to sound a warning on a parent’s solicitor whose mode of the question appeared to undermine the social worker “This client is well known to me, and that’s all you need to know, now get on with your questions,” (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 117),the judge told a solicitor trying to ask the social worker unnecessary questions such as qualification, work experience, age etcetera.
The high constitutional threshold required to secure a court order also damages social workers’ and parents’ relationships. The adversarial model is deficit-focused, demanding substantial evidence to substantiate a claim of child neglect by parents. Because of the high legal threshold, social workers are sometimes forced to present to the courts overpowering negative evidence concerning the parents to meet the required constitutional threshold to secure a court order (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 18)
Social workers term the deficit-focus approach as destructive. The relentless emphasis on the parent’s negative aspect, with less attention to the positives, damages the relationship between parents and social workers, hindering future operations. The study has also revealed that social workers are often pessimistic about the adversarial systems’ ability to be child-cantered. Most of them have a reservation on the implementation of the models. Much of the scepticism concerns the District Court allowing direct participation of the children in the proceedings. Social workers interviewed were so vocal about exposing the children to the courts. Social workers also reported being traumatized due to public blame when things do not work out, risking their safety (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 120)
Critique of the Article
The articles adopted a qualitative research approach to understand the social worker’s experience with the court systems’ adversarial nature. It is apparent that some social workers comparably are less satisfied with the court systems and adversarial model currently in place. The diverging view about the courts warrants a study method that can capture the social worker’s opinions and emotions concerning the situation. As such, the choice of research method, in this case, is advantageous to the nature of the study. Studies adopting a qualitative approach are exploratory in nature and aim to explain the “how” and “why” concerning a phenomenon or behavior and its operations particular context (Bengtsson, 2016, p 8). The technique relies on a mix of data collection methods, including interviews, focus groups, observation, and existing literature and documents, making the findings more comprehensive. O’Mahony, Shore, and Parkes’s (2018) article relied on interviews and focused groups as the primary sources and existing literature as a secondary source making the findings reliable. The interviews captured first-hand opinions and feelings of social workers’ child welfare and protection domain and the prevailing adversarial court models.
The majority of those interviewed argued social workers face pressure right from the court’s attendance to the proceedings’ preparation, which is exhausting both emotionally and resource-wise, with the court consuming much time spend on other front-line responsibilities. UK judges have also criticised the social workers’ failure to prepare adequately for the court proceeding, calling them to improve. The courts’ demands imply that pre-court practices could begin to focus more on the evidence, preparation for court and schedules, and less concerning family and child support and the proceedings’ prevention. The adversarial nature of the court proceedings indicates that the children’s interest could become “secondary to who wins and who loses.” It is also expected that social workers work collaboratively with parents while acting as witnesses simultaneously (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 115).
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Significance and Contribution to the Field
O’Mahony, Shore, and Darkes’ (2018) study aims to examine the challenging aspect of the child welfare and protection proceedings in the District Courts alongside the strengths and weakness of the reliance on court systems decision-making approach for childcare-related issues, particularly in the European countries. Many children enter into state protection in many European countries through voluntary administrative measures and not obligatory decision-making settings. However, a disagreement between the parents and the social work evaluation may translate into several court proceedings to establish the child’s best interest (O’Mahony, Shore and Parkes 2018, p 113). Literature suggests that social workers are less than contented in the court systems and with the model currently adopted. Therefore, the study O’Mahony, Shore, and Parkes contribute to understanding the discomfort alongside the potential solutions to help social workers acclimatize, making the court environment friend and improving the model to favor all the concerned parties. More importantly, the study acts as an eye-opener to understanding different forms of child abuse and child adoption laws that social workers deal with in their day-to-day operations.
The researchers’ findings resonate with several existing literature on the social worker’s and interactions with the state and the court systems, vulnerable children, and parents. (Buckley, Holt, and Whelan noted that the government and courts, particularly in Ireland, assume that the police would have the means and authority to protect vulnerable children from domestic and other forms of violence. However, researchers have reported numerous accounts of inadequate response. The researchers illustrated a traumatic experience account where a young woman ran over a mile to the police or Garda’s house as it is referred to in Ireland, convinced that the father would kill her mother. The police did not report with any form of urgency. Instead, they visited the house, only tell the father to go back to bed.
In another instance, a young child describes an account where the father refused to open the door for the police, and they left despite the fact the child and her brother were locked in the house in volatile circumstances. Helplines, though very useful in reporting abusive cases, may not always be accessible (Buckley, Holt, and Whelan, 2018, p 301). The cases portray the police as reluctant to handle family issues as expected by the state; hence the need to create a friendly environment as suggested by O’Mahony, Shore, and Darkes (2018) where social workers identify cases of child abuse because of family violence or parental neglects and advocate for such children’s rights. Research shows that children who live in families characterized by violence and abuse experienced a substantial amount of distress. Violence between parents may affect the parent-child relationship. The violence also impacts both parents’ parents’ abilities and skills (Buckley, Holt, and Whelan, 2018, p 301). Growing up in an abusive and violent setting can substantially jeopardize the child’s development and personality, with the cumulative effect carrying forward to adulthood and significantly contributing to a sequence of adversity and violence (Buckley, Holt, and Whelan, 2018, p 302).
As such, there is a need for the state and court systems to make it easier to identify and execute child removal cases from abusing families to reduce recurrence of violence in the future due to physical and psychological trauma children pass through in abusive families. As it is currently, the court is making it almost impractical for social workers to present child abuse cases in the courts and get the child removal order.
Brown 2003, clarifies the definition of child abuse, particularly in case of parental separations and divorce, to include “physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse.” However, the researcher noted an overwhelming focus on sexual abuse to the extent that child abuse has become synonymous with child sexual abuse, mainly because of the high prevalence in cases of interfamilial child sex in the context of separation (Brown 2003, p 368). The trend might lead to then society under-looking into other instances of abuse. Physical abuse includes the physical harm inflicted by the parent or caregiver, neglect is the failure to provide basic needs for the child, while emotional abuse occurs when the parent repeatedly rejects, insults, or physically abused the child (Brown 2003, p 368). The social worker should report any evidence of such a case should generate a serious consideration of the child’s safety by the courts.
Section 58 of the Adoption Act 2010 requires when making an adoption order, “the child concerned shall be considered, concerning the rights and duties of parents and children concerning each other, as the child of the adopters.” The act provides for the parental and children rights and responsibilities related to each other, including ensuring the child’s safety from physical, emotional, and sexual harm and providing basic needs (Irlande Law Reform Commission, 2010). Failure in any of these responsibilities subject the child to abuse risks, as mentioned earlier, and warrants serious state protection consideration (Children and Family Relationships Act 2015). Social workers advocate for the child’s rights and should be given fair hearing and presentation by the court systems. The court can dispense with consent when the parents refuse to grant consent for the child adoption despite substantial evidence of abuse emanating from the parent, particularly in separated or divorced parents. Dispensing with consent is a mechanism under the law to establish that a parent or a guardian’s consent is not essential to proceed with an adoption (Eireann, 2010, p 34). At the moment, the District Court in Ireland requires the child’s direct participation in the courts. However, this should be discouraged and instead allow child advocates such as social workers to represent the child.
Writing Style and Text Structure
The organization of the writing style suits the intended audience. Being a qualitative research, the researchers have tremendously done a perfect job by including some first-hand interviews with social workers in the text. The inclusion of direct interviews helps the readers, child protection groups, and the courts to have a first-hand understanding of the opinions and feelings concerning the relationship between the court system and social workers. The study’s organizing principle adopts the case study approach, which the cases being the direct interviews with the study participants, which is just perfect with a qualitative study of this nature where the understanding of emotions and feelings are part of the research.
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Summary and Conclusion
O’Mahony, Shore, and Parkes’s (2018) article use direct interview cases in the texts to help the audiences understand first-hand experiences that social workers undergo in their attempt to protect children’s rights, particularly in papering court proceedings against abusive parents. From their findings, it can easily be deduced that the court systems and models used seem to place an unbearable burden on social workers’ attempts to advocate for children’s rights. The courts are constitutionally obliged to protect the family. Consequently, there is a high threshold conferred to the state interventions to act independently in checking on state power use. Social workers play the applicant role in this framework; hence their criticism of the court’s robust testing of evidence is warranted. From the article’s findings, it seems that the court systems and the state, in general, are reluctant in acknowledging the responsibilities of social workers, who, in many cases, advocate for children’s rights and understand what they experience due to fast-hand contact. The solicitors’ mode of questioning social workers when providing evidence in some cases makes the process seem like a trail and, to some extent, undermining social workers within the court systems. As alluded by O’Mahony, Shore, and Parkes. The children’s rights should be paramount, and repeated incidences of abuse from the parents should warrant evidence for the need for adoption.
Bengtsson, M., 2016. How to plan and perform a qualitative study using content analysis. NursingPlus Open, 2, pp.8-14.
Brown, T., 2003. Fathers and child abuse allegations in the context of parental separation and divorce. Family Court Review, 41(3), pp.367-380.
Buckley, H., Holt, S. and Whelan, S., 2007. Listen to me! Children’s experiences of domestic violence. Child Abuse Review: Journal of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, 16(5), pp.296-310.
Burns, K., O’Mahony, C., Shore, C. and Parkes, A., 2018. What social workers talk about when they talk about child care proceedings in the District Court in Ireland. Child & Family Social Work, 23(1), pp.113-121.
Child Care Act, 1991
Children and Family Relationships Act 2015
Eireann, O., 2010. Civil partnership and certain rights and obligations of cohabitants Act.
Irlande. Law Reform Commission, 2010. Report: Legal Aspects of Family Relationships. Law Reform Commission.