Thursday 22 August 2019

Girl can be educated in Protestant school against parents' wishes, says judge

Dr Carol Coulter has led the project to report care cases. Photo: Frank McGrath
Dr Carol Coulter has led the project to report care cases. Photo: Frank McGrath
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A judge has ordered that a girl in foster care can be educated in a Church of Ireland primary school against the wishes of her Catholic parents.

A dispute between the child's parents and Tusla ended up in court after they refused to consent to the placement of the girl in the school.

The child and family agency made an application under the Child Care Act for an order allowing her to be educated there, arguing it was in the girl's best interests.

The foster parents' own children attended the Church of Ireland school, which is in a rural location, and it was argued that if the girl was sent elsewhere, she would not feel integrated into the foster family. However, her birth parents objected, claiming Tusla had failed to give any thought to the religion into which the child was born.

The judge who handled the application sided with Tusla, and observed that the question of religion had "bedevilled this country for many a long year".

Details of the row emerged in the latest report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP), which outlines some 47 cases heard from around the country.

The project, led by Dr Carol Coulter, has been reporting on child care cases across the country in recent years, following a change to the "in camera" rule for family and child court cases.

A Tusla social worker and the girl's guardian ad litem - a person appointed to represent the best interests of the child - both gave evidence during the application.

According to the CCLRP report, the mother's solicitor put to the social worker that no thought had been given to the religion of the child, even though she had been in care for two years.

The social worker said that the child was very settled and happy and, until that point, religion had never come up as an issue. The solicitor said it was not being suggested the foster parents were not good people, but the girl had needs that went back to the tradition in her family and these had been pushed aside.

The guardian ad litem told the court the mother had no issue regarding religion when she discussed the matter, and she was of the view the father was engaged in a battle with Tusla, rather than holding a strong view.

She said she had spoken to a child psychologist, who had been clear that the girl's attendance at the Church of Ireland school was necessary for her integration into the foster family.

After hearing the school had confirmed it would facilitate the child's Catholic religious instruction for her Holy Communion, the judge acceded to the Tusla application.

In a separate case detailed in the CCLRP report, a judge directed that five children taken into care be brought up in the religion of their Muslim parents.

Interim care orders were made in respect of the children, whose father was under Garda investigation amid child protection concerns.

Irish Independent

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