The referendum on Children which will take place this Saturday is about the state’s responsibility to children who are neglected or abused and at risk in their families – where their parents are not able to protect them or may be abusing them. It is about listening to children in those situations and acting where they need to be protected. It is about listening to children where decisions are being taken on their future, where families breakdown or disappear completely and about seeing them as persons in their own right.
It is not about disability. It is not about Parents with a Disability. It is not about children with disabilities and their disability.
Some of those who are insistent on pointing out disability issues with regards to this referendum don’t actually favour rights for people with disabilities or this state ratifying the UN Convention on Rights for people with Disabilities. They don’t want people with disabilities to make their own decisions or be supported to do so, have excellent services, gain independence or have families and relationships of their own. But that’s not the point of the referendum this Saturday. It’s about a very small group of children in exceptional situations who need the state to protect them. Heretofore the state has not always done this and our terribly outdated Constitution needs to be changed to ensure the state can act in the very small number of situations where children need protecting and need to be heard.
The referendum if passed will also challenge courts to think about children in a different way with regards to many issues. The amendment will allow for much new law to be made to help all children (including children with disabilities) define their rights.
I would like a new constitution please where children and adults with Disabilities were protected. I would love to think that the forthcoming Constitutional Convention would address this and guarantee equality but it won’t. I despair at the fact that this government and all political parties either ignore people with disabilities or patronise us and use us as political fodder and amongst the first to cut.
But I won’t be confused this Saturday when voting and think that because my life is less valued or the lives of other people with disabilities are less valued that I will take it out on children who are regularly neglected or at risk or not listened to in child protection matters or the general case where children are not seen as individuals. I want those children to be heard. They deserve it. I want the state to have to support those children and those families and if it is not working and never going to work, in the exceptional cases, then the state needs to act and be held accountable to act. This is what this referendum is about.
It is up to us as citizens to demand action on all the issues which this referendum and the proposed amendment is not about – not about poverty, not about special needs assistants not about education or denying all children a right to an education, not about interfering in decisions parents make on health, not about replacing parents, not about bullying, and does not stop parents from telling their children what is right and wrong.
We really need to be clear what the referendum is about and not use it as a chance to beat up the government over their oppression of many childhoods while paying bondholders. Too many children have not been heard, too many children have been abused and too many children have died because the state did not or could not act. Children (including those with disabilities) will be seen as individuals if this referendum is passed.
Finally I am upset to have to refute the misinformation which is in danger of creating an automatic assumption that having a disability makes one a bad parent which is another emerging issue from those who oppose this referendum. It is horrendous that they are making people more vulnerable and hidden by scaremongering in this manner. We should be supporting all parents with disabilities to be appropriately supported and valued in having families and being parents – if they need that support.
The Children’s Rights Alliance have prepared a note on the referendum and disability. It is worth studying if you are confused or worried about issues concerning parents with disabilities or children with disabilities.