Conference to debate new approaches to protecting children and supporting families

Jun 10 2015 Posted: 14:05 IST

Protecting children and early interventions that can keep children out of state care will be the focus of a two-day conference which opens tomorrow. The UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway will host its 7th Biennial Family Support Conference on Thursday 11 and Friday 12 June. The conference is called ‘Building Family Support Systems’ and will touch on topics from concealed pregnancies to child-to-parent violence, with a special talk by Garry Hynes, the multi-award winning theatre Director.

The focus of the event is a new programme of prevention and family support from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Known as ‘Meitheal’, the programme aims to put in place a system for protecting children, preventing problems in their lives and supporting their parents and families the system will involve local networks of services working together to help families before problems require their entry to the Child Protection system and acting as a ‘step-down’ support for families exiting that system. The new programme also emphasises supporting parents, and encouraging active participation by children, young people and parents in decisions affecting them.

The conference will stimulate debate on a number of opportunities and challenges concerning the nature of family support including the interface between child protection and strengthening children’s rights and participation, both learning from and informing the experience of other jurisdictions.

Keynote speakers from the US, UK and Ireland and from UNICEF’s prestigious Office of Research-Innocenti will lead the discussions, while Irish and international practitioners and researchers will provide 30 workshops on key conference themes. Following the tradition of introducing a perspective from a leading figure in wider society, Garry Hynes, the multi-award winning Artistic Director of Druid Theatre and NUI Galway Alumnus, is the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre’s special guest this year. Gary will offer some unique insights on life, family and civic society in drama and in Ireland.

Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair at the Child and Family Research Centre NUI Galway, commented: “We have for the first time, since the foundation of the State, a commitment to embed support structures for families in local communities, so that when children and parents need help they know where to get it and more importantly they get what they need, when they need it and where and how they need it. If Tusla get this right, it will transform the Child Welfare system, so that the right of children to be protected and to a family life can be fully realised. At the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre we are delighted to be Tusla’s research partner in this exciting new venture.”

The conference is hosted as part of the ‘Five Nations Family Support Initiative’ in conjunction with representatives from across the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and UNESCO Headquarters, Paris. The aim of this new initiative is to collectively discuss and advance Family Support policy and practice issues which will be progressed and developed on an international stage.

The full list of conference plenary speakers includes:

  • Ms Jasmina Byrne, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti.
  • Dr John Canavan, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI Galway.
  • Dr Deborah Daro, Chapin Hall, University of Chicago.
  • Professor Nick Frost, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University;
  • Professor Nóirín Hayes, School of Education, Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Professor Ursula Kilkelly, School of Law, University College Cork.


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