Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Department of Health
Séamus Kirk (Louth, Fianna Fail)
Question 88: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to improve inter-agency co-operation between the Health Service Executive and the Garda in respect of the investigation of sexual offences against children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8101/12]
Frances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
The HSE’s Children and Family Services are engaged in a significant programme of reform. A major element of the change programme in 2012 involves implementing consistent child protection procedures in line with the revised Children First Guidance which I launched in July 2011 with the HSE and An Garda Síochána. As part of the drive to improve the response to child abuse the HSE published a supporting Child Welfare and Protection Practice Handbook, which I also launched with the HSE and An Garda Síochána. The Handbook was circulated to all HSE staff in order to support the drive for greater consistency in terms of the application of Children First across the system. There has also been good progress in advancing preparatory work on the establishment of the new Child and Family Support Agency and on the preparation of legislation to underpin Children First.
In order to support the consistent implication of Children First across all sectors, I established an Interdepartmental Group on which relevant Government Departments are represented and which is also attended by nominees from the HSE and An Garda Síochána. Furthermore, a HSE/Garda high level strategy group was established this year representing the Office of National Director of Children and Family Services and the Office of the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána in order to ensure close liaison and cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the HSE Children and Family Services in all aspects of child welfare and protection services. An Garda Síochána are also represented on two multi-disciplinary, multi-agency committees established by the HSE to examine the assessment, therapy and counselling needs of children who have been sexually abused and to make recommendations concerning service requirements.
The proper recording of sexual crimes against children is a matter for An Garda Síochána to address in the context of their record systems. I understand, however, that Garda policy in this context specifies the immediate creation of a PULSE record, and that front-line Gardaí know exactly what is required of them in such situations. In relation to the timeliness of investigations it is my understanding that the Gardaí accord a high priority to the investigation of child sexual abuse and will continue to co-operate with other agencies to ensure that investigations are completed as quickly as possible.