Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 28 February 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children
Child and Family Support Agency: Discussion
I welcome everyone to the meeting. Mobile telephones should be switched off completely because they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when in silent mode. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the establishment of the new child and family support agency, a development which everyone warmly welcomes. The establishment of the agency will bring a dedicated focus to child protection and family support and other key children's services for the first time in the history of the State. The agency will be as broadly based as possible, will provide services which may prevent problems arising for families in the first instance, will identify problems and provide supports at an early stage and will assist children and families in managing serious problems requiring specialist interventions beyond their own resources.
I welcome Professor Pat Dolan, Ms Claire Dineen, Mr. Packie Kelly, Mr. Fergus Finlay, Mr. Sean Campbell and Ms Mary Flaherty to the meeting. Before we commence, I wish to remind our witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to so do, they will be entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice, or long-standing ruling of the Chair, to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
During the second part of the meeting we will be joined by Mr. Gordon Jeyes, chief executive designate of the new child and family support agency. I call on Professor Dolan to make his opening remarks.
Professor Pat Dolan:
I thank the committee for its very kind invitation to appear before it. In my role as UNESCO chair for children, youth and civic engagement and as director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, I was invited to participate in the task force which met up until to June of last year in advance of the compilation of the report on the design of the new child and family support agency. I thought the best way I could use my presentation would be by making some comments in respect of that matter and the new agency and by highlighting some issues which I believe will emerge as we move forward.
The fact that a referendum on the rights of children was passed is incredibly important. That was a crucial victory and the margin relating to it has nothing to do with the fact that we now have what we had sought for the past 20 years or more. In legislative terms, it took from the enactment of the Children Act 1908 until 1991 before legislation relating to children was even introduced. The fact that we have recognition of children in our Constitution is incredibly important.
I wholeheartedly welcome the establishment of the child and family support agency because this development, should it come to pass, means that at long last we will have one agency with all the key players in children's lives involved. Despite the fact that we are living in a period of austerity, I am a realist and I am of the view that the overwhelming evidence from research - including the work done by Professor James Heckman, a Nobel laureate, who is sometimes based in UCD - is that if one wants to solve the issues and concerns relating to child poverty, neglect and abuse, one must spend at least 20% of one's budget on prevention and early intervention. The evidence to which I refer is to a factor of 29 in early years. In other words, for every €1 spent in early years is up to a factor of 29 if one invests in prevention. If one considers the cost to the State of legal expenses alone in the cases of some children who have been through the system and if one contemplates what one could do with that money in the context of prevention or early intervention, the results are quite astounding. I am referring here to millions of euro as opposed to low-cost interventions.
I wish to make two or three comments in respect of the new agency. First, I have some concerns about which I am very happy to go public. One of those concerns is that not all the professional disciplines which should be under the system may necessarily be coming under it quickly enough or at all.
I have concerns, for example, that there may be some reticence in regard to the provision of child psychology services. There are also some concerns about child and adolescent mental health services and in regard to public health nursing. This could be a very serious matter. To put it bluntly, it is important that all the services come under the one agency as this affects children's lives. Next month will be the 20th anniversary of the Kilkenny incest report. Two or three of the key recommendations contained in that report were also recommendations contained in the Madonna House report, the Kelly Fitzgerald report, the Roscommon incest report and the report into child deaths and one of those recommendations was that agencies must work together in one organisation. This is crucial.
A second recommendation is that the voice of children must be heard, listened to and acted on. That is crucial also, and that is why the children's rights referendum was so needed in this country. My overall point is that I have some concerns that the agency may not bring in all those that it should bring in.
The third point I want to make is that yesterday the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, together with the Prevention and Early Intervention Network, in collaboration with the Children's Rights Alliance, hosted a fairly major symposium on the development of the agency. There is strong concern that cutbacks on the ground are affecting services and affecting children negatively and this may be getting smothered over, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the development of the agency. The importance of providing services to children is key. This is not only in regard to issues related to the ongoing problem of not having an outside 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. social work service, I am talking about the whole array of child and family support agencies and services that could be brought on board. I must highlight the fact that children are suffering as we speak because of cutbacks. It is not any more complex than that.
My colleagues, Mr. Fergus Finlay and Mr. Sean Campbell, will probably elaborate on this, but our research centre, based on the highest possible standard of a randomised control trial, proved two services are effective but neither of them are being made scalable or supported. I am talking about the Wizard of Words programme in Barnardos and the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring programme in Foróige. They are proven programmes, involving a low cost of less than €1,000 per child, that constitute amazingly effective prevention and early intervention services that need to be supported. As I pointed out earlier, if we invest now we will get the benefit later.
We have just come through the horror of hearing in the proceedings of the Dáil the details of what the women in Magdalen laundries suffered. We must ask ourselves the question: in 20 or 30 years time, what will be the equivalent issue? I would hate to think it would be the fact that we did not act on the evidence of what works in children's lives and that we did not take the necessary steps now, despite the austerity in the country. I am not being unrealistic about the challenges that face the members as legislators but what kind of a civic society do we want for our children? There is enough evidence on the street to show that we must act now, not only in emergency cases, but also in terms of prevention. I thank the members for their attention.
Ms Claire Dineen:
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to make this presentation. I am the project manager of a family resource centre in Ballymote in south Sligo and I am currently the chair of the Family Resource Centre National Forum which is made up of 106 family resource centres throughout the country. My colleague, Packie Kelly, is a project manager in Mullaghmatt in County Monaghan and he also will give a short address.
The National Forum of Family Resource Centres represents 106 projects which are based in towns and villages throughout the country. The first family resource centre was established in 1994 and the programme has significantly expanded since the report of the Commission of the Family in 1998. Since May 2003, the Family Support Agency has managed our programme which includes monitoring, financial support and policy work. Family resource centres promote a community-based, needs-led, whole-of-family approach. The family resource centres assist in the delivery of a community-based approach. We regard family support and child welfare as two sides of the same coin. We have a strong model of social entrepreneurship. Our work is outsourced by the Family Support Agency on behalf of the State and in turn quality community based services are offered at value for money. This was particularly highlighted at the Family Support Agency conference last autumn. We have a highly adaptable approach to service delivery; outputs change with community needs. For instance, at the start of the recession family resource centres were heavily involved in supporting jobseekers and there has now been a shift to supporting people who are long-term unemployed through helping them become more involved in their community through initiatives such as the men's sheds. Prior to 2011 we had people coming in to support our programmes and now these people are coming in and we are supporting them.
Work with the community is very much individually based and the approach is not to stigmatise or label people who come in to access services. The range of services offered in the centres is such that when a person comes in the door the service he or she seeks is not identified. Our centres could have a parent and toddler group, a counselling service, addiction services or an art group. When a person enters a centre, it is not identified that he or she is in the centre because of a particular issue and there is anonymity in that respect.
I will refer to some highlights from the family resource centres work up to 2011. Some 305 new community groups and initiatives were formed with the direct assistance of the family resource centres. Some 17,800 people completed education courses. Those courses were held in the centres because many of those people had a fear of returning to school and the classroom scenario. It was much more successful for them to come into the centres for those courses. Some 11,600 completed training courses. Some 157,000 people got advice and information and some 65,000 people were referred on to other agencies. More than 17,00 professional counselling sessions were delivered. I will now hand over to my colleague, Mr. Packie Kelly.
Mr. Packie Kelly:
The family resources centres and the national forum has been working for the last while on the transition from the current Family Support Agency to the new child and family support agency. As Professor Dolan said, we welcome the new agency. We believe it is a good move and provides for all the key players to work together. As part of that plan, we instigated our own initiative to provide training for all our co-ordinators and managers in the 106 family support agencies to ensure that they are all linked in terms of understanding the way forward and how we will all work together. We are currently building relationships with a range of new partners and with some current partners with whom we have always engaged. We have been examining the uniformity of the systems, particularly for referrals. We have also been looking at three-year work plans to reflect the work and focus of the new agency. Family resource centres envisage their role to be that of supporting families when they are in crisis but also, crucially, when they are not in a crisis. The audience for the services of family resource centres are families who have found themselves in the social welfare system for whatever reason but also families who are on the verge of being in the system, and that relates to the aspect of early intervention and prevention. The job of family resource centres is to support families in the system but also those moving out of the system.
The key issue for us in the move to the new agency is to maintain a focus on family support. One of our concerns, which is held by a number of others, is that the new child and family support agency could be seen as just a child protection agency, which clearly it is not. The Minister and people such as Gordon Jeyes also hold that view. We have a responsibility, as have all the players and the members as legislators, to make sure that does not happen.
We seek to ensure that the legislation that will come before the members in the near future will be focused on family support. We would like some of the elements of the Family Support Agency Act transferred into the new legislation, but we will speak to the members on that in the near future.
We look forward to working with the new agency.
We see it as a major challenge. It is an important piece in ensuring that families that find themselves in difficulties or that have problems have a wide range of support and all the key players are at the table.
Mr. Fergus Finlay:
I thank the Chairman and members. When one sees the sign "Under New Management" over the door of an establishment, it is a promise of change and improvement. It is the reason people put up the sign. It is almost sending out a marketing message that, "We are here to make a difference". In that sense and in that context, the development of the new agency is extremely welcome. It is long overdue.
It is timely and important from two perspectives. The first is that the existing system has failed. It was badly designed in the first place. It is a regrettable fact that in the first five years of the life of the HSE the subject of children never once appeared on the agenda of the board of the HSE. That was because the HSE was set up to deal with a myriad of things, and found itself from the first moment engulfed in a series of crises and lived its life in many ways by trying to manage those crises. In the middle of all that it forgot, essentially, particularly at board and senior management level, that it had statutory responsibility to protect vulnerable children. Taking the responsibility away from the HSE and giving it to a dedicated agency is important and positive, but we should not forget that it was necessary because of failure, and in some senses accelerated because of scandal.
The change is timely and important for a different and perhaps more pressing reason. In my working life I have never been more scared of the number of children at risk in Ireland. They are not at risk in the ways that are most obvious but the latest official figures show that 107,000 children are living in consistent poverty in Ireland. Consistent poverty is well and clearly defined. Those children are living with a much greater risk of hunger, cold, not having the kind of clothes they need and a range of other deprivation indicators that affect them. They are living in families that are under increasing stress.
More than at any time in my working life there are stresses and strains associated with poverty, family breakdown and community breakdown that are at play and that are leading to a rapidly escalating increase in the lower levels of child concern. I say lower levels because the thresholds are far too high. Far too many children are at risk of neglect in Ireland. A smaller number are at risk of abuse but an extraordinarily large number are at risk of neglect. Those children are much more likely to drop out of the education system early. They are much more likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour when young. They are much more likely to drift into crime as they grow, and they are much more likely to be part of the prison population in ten or 15 years’ time. They are the children we are failing now. They are the children the new agency has been established to find and work with. The agency can only do it if it is supported by a community and voluntary sector and bodies such as the family resource centres that are heavily engaged in family support.
We have a culture and tradition in Ireland of being willing to spend whatever it takes to pick up the pieces after damage has been done. Professor Dolan has made the point that if one invests a euro in preventing damage, one gets a €29 pay-off over time. We have got to vest the new agency with the authority and resources to begin to prevent damage. The way to do that is to intervene early, to support families, to be assertive when it is necessary, to be directive when it is necessary, but to have a set of practices and a culture which are absolutely dedicated to ensuring that we nip problems in the bud. In some ways it is as simple as that. The agency is not going to be as well equipped to do that as it should be. It starts off with a budget that was protected on day one in the sense that all of the resources that used to be in the HSE have been transferred across in financial terms.
The agency does not have the right resources or enough resources in personnel terms. Professor Dolan made the point about public health nursing. Anyone who knows the work of the public health nursing profession would regard it as the best early warning system in the State. A public health nurse is supposed, by law, to visit every newborn child in Ireland five times in the first two years of life. The profession is better equipped than almost any other to know what is going on in families but they are not going into the agency. That is daft. It is crazy and it needs to be addressed by the system as quickly as possible. The agency needs authority. That authority must be in the law we have not seen yet. It needs to be set up on a firm financial footing.
It is worth the committee’s while noting that the first decision the agency has had to communicate to everyone it funds is a 5% cut in funding with effect from 1 July. It has done its best, as far as I can tell, to protect resources but one is still talking about a 5% cut. Barnardos is part of the community and voluntary sector which has experienced cuts ranging from 15% to 30% over the past two and a half years. The agency is depending on a community and voluntary sector which, if it has not been decimated, is under intense pressure. It is depending on parliamentarians to pass effective legislation which gives it real authority, and it is depending on real reform in culture, practice and in awareness of the fact that we are not reaching all of the children that need to be reached.
Mr. Sean Campbell:
I wish the Chairman and members a good morning. I thank them for inviting me to this morning’s meeting to say something about our interaction with the new agency.
I will give a short background to Foróige for those who are not familiar with us. We celebrated 60 years in existence in Ireland last year. We work with more than 60,000 young people on an annual basis. Of the 60,000, approximately 40,000 are engaged in universal services – Foróige clubs, youth clubs, youth cafés and youth projects around the country. Approximately 20,000 of the young people we work with on an annual basis come from more difficult backgrounds where we deal with a range of issues. We have a variety of ways in which we work with those young people, for example, Garda youth diversion programmes that are funded through the Department of Justice and Equality. We also run a number of specialist youth services in areas that are regarded as under-serviced or disadvantaged. We operate approximately 24 programmes and projects currently funded through the HSE which will come under the new agency. Those programmes include neighbourhood youth projects, family support programmes and specialised youth cafés, all of which have an early intervention and prevention angle.
In the services that are funded through the HSE we work with approximately 5,000 young people and 1,700 families are referred to us on an annual basis. In some parts of the country we have a very strong working relationship with the HSE. I refer in particular to the west and the north west. In other parts of the country our relationship is non-existent or patchy at best. Even though Foróige is a strong provider of services to young people we do not have a relationship with the funding agency and we are looking to the new agency to make sure that we are available to add value to its work.
I wish to highlight a number of points. Along with Mr. Fergus Finlay, Professor Pat Dolan and everybody here we welcome the formation of this agency, which is long overdue. It needs to be set up quickly, and resourced properly.
We must focus on early intervention and prevention. We must take a leap of faith and put money into preventing the issues becoming problems. We are very good at being reactionary and putting money into dealing with the consequences of systems that have failed. We must take a leap of faith in terms of funding early intervention and prevention.
Like my colleagues, I have concerns about ensuring that the focus is on the young person first and foremost, and not on systems. The focus should be on seeing the potential of the young person, and not just the problem. To do that we need not only the agency but partnerships with existing services, both universal and targeted.
The community and voluntary sector is reeling from cuts. The youth sector has suffered cuts in its funding of over 30% in the past four years yet that sector, in terms of this new agency, will be part of the front line. It will need to support young people and children, yet it is being decimated. It is as if one part of the system is not looking at what the other part is doing, and assuming it will be in place. Currently, it is very vulnerable and it needs support.
Professor Dolan mentioned proven programmes. We are fortunate, because of philanthropic funding in recent years, to have a menu of proven, world-class programmes that we know work. Barnardos have some and Foróige have others, yet these front-line programmes will not be available.
I will give the committee one example. We brought the Big Brother Big Sister programme to Ireland in 2000 because it was a world-class programme proven in the United States and in Canada. It was regarded as one of the best interventions. The World Bank said it was one of 18 programmes worldwide that showed it had an impact on young people and children. We have scaled up the programme in the past decade because of investment from philanthropic organisations including Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation. We have proven the impact of the programme in Ireland through rigorous evaluation - a randomised controlled trial - yet that programme, which young people value and say it is one of the best interventions they have, may not exist next year because there is no one to fund it once the philanthropic funding stops. It is a huge risk for the system and for the new agency if it will not have the partnership supports on the ground to make it work properly.
Ms Mary Flaherty:
It is always nice to be back, and it is welcome that the committee is focusing on the agency. I thank the committee for the invitation.
CARI is slightly different in that we are the minnow here among the big boys. We are a small, specialist agency that provides therapy for child victims of sexual abuse. We are small, but we would never need to be a very big agency because if we were to have our dream of being able to provide an adequate service throughout the country, it would not require many millions of euro. That might become clearer as I make my remarks.
CARI, along with most of the others, has been informed of the evolution of the agency as part of the community and voluntary forum since the appointment of Gordon Jeyes as the child care supremo for the Health Service Executive, HSE, and laterally as the director designate of the new agency. We commend Mr. Jeyes for that inclusive report. It is extraordinary what a difference being part of the loop makes, even if we are being communicated bad news.
That is informal and effective engagement with the non-governmental organisation, NGO, sector whom he told us at our meeting last week provides 20% of the services of the new agency. That is a significant fact. In a time of change it has been effective in communicating developments, retaining trust and reducing stress and distrust, if not eliminating it. I am aware that the process of extracting the portfolio budget of the new agency under the HSE has been and continues to be challenging. Standardising and co-ordinating the child care services into an effective child protection system is also a very difficult task and will take time. We are being kept informed of developments by the forum.
The sector has also been included in mails to key managers on new structures, management arrangements, and it has been invited to apply for new management posts as they arise. It is a case of so far, so good. I will leave that work in the capable hands of Mr. Jeyes who, by and large, retains the confidence of the sector, although there is increasing impatience at the slow pace of development and the delivery of change and decisions. I will leave processing the legislation to the members and will use my time here as briefly as I can to ask them to consider services for victims of child sexual abuse as a model for some of the specialist agencies now being funded by the new agency.
As others mentioned, this has been an historic time. I congratulate everybody in the Oireachtas for their work in finally bringing forward an amendment to the Constitution on the rights of the child. The Houses have discussed the Magdalen laundries in recent years. We have had the Cloyne and the Murphy reports about which we have appeared before this committee. However, with the consequent and appropriate focus on the failures of the past, I have been frustrated in my role with the difficulty in getting any attention for today's victims of sexual abuse. The last Ferns committee to report was the one about the services for child victims but I ask members to keep an eye on what is happening about the Ferns 4 (Children) working group, which was tasked with examining the services for victims. It reported recently and has an implementation plan.
In 2010, the last year for which I have seen formal HSE figures, approximately 3,000 new allegations about child sexual abuse were received by the HSE. If its representatives are here later today or tomorrow morning they may be in a position to give the members the 2011 and 2012 figures. In 2008 the figure was 2,300. We can presume from that, therefore, that between 2,500 to 3,000 new cases are reported to the HSE every year. I would like the committee to examine what is happening to these children and, out of a sense of rightness, to ensure that we are responding to them in a way that will not lead to future tribunals. Also, while we are a specialist intervention agency after abuse has occurred, there is a comparison with the early intervention process in that if children get the service immediately after their abuse and do not have to wait until adulthood, the consequences for them and for society are huge in terms of mental health issues, criminal outcomes and a great deal of pain and suffering because it can be hugely costly to them individually, and to their families and to society. Responding when an allegation is made is important.
In terms of what is happening throughout the country about the 3,000 new allegations made, the Fiona Doyles of our time, about whom members have debated recently - I commend another book to them, Did You Hear Me Crying, by Cassie Moore, which is recently published - they are people who are being raped on a daily basis.
Statistics tell us there are hundreds more in their situation today. The Garda Síochána has developed specialist services that deal effectively with initial interviews and again, there are differences around the country. There is an assessment process everywhere, albeit of varying levels of quality. However, if a child is believed and we confirm, that is, if we face him or her and agree he or she has been abused, in many parts of the country that many members represent, there is absolutely nothing for him or her. In a few areas around Dublin there is a cluster of services, between ourselves and the two children's hospitals, as well as in Limerick where we have a service. A review done by Mott MacDonald found perhaps 12 to 14 specialists around the country who provided therapy. One should contrast this with adult services, where there is a State-funded adult counselling service available in all parts of the country. Moreover, they are relatively well funded and there is a network of voluntary rape crisis centres, as well as One in Four and other NGOs, which offer a choice. In other words, one might have no service available to one at the age of 17 but on becoming 18, one has a choice of adult services. This makes no sense and unfortunately, because of the funding situation, the approach appears to be to spread the thin resources available around the country. At present we have waiting lists in our two centres of between one year and 14 months. Think of telling a child he or she has been abused - this would be a minority or perhaps half of the aforementioned 3,000 - and then offering him or her nothing because the child and adolescent mental health services do not treat them as appropriate for their services because they do not have a mental illness. Here and there around the country, there are ad hocservices in the form of voluntary organisations that might offer them some sort of family support. Again, it probably is not appropriate to their real needs, which are the equivalent to those of adults for a specialist service. In the context of these specialist services, as one watches and focuses on the macro problems of the agency and as others have talked about individual programmes, I would like this joint committee to retain an eye on the services for the victims of today. Moreover, until members are satisfied that a network of services is in place nationwide that is at least as good as it can be, the joint committee should not let go of this issue either.
I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their attendance today. It was a positive development to hear the views of the key stakeholders on the establishment of the new child and family support agency. I also acknowledge the passing of the referendum as a significant milestone and congratulate the witnesses on the role their organisations played in ensuring the electorate was aware of the benefits of passing the amendment to the Constitution. Second, I welcome the establishment of the agency, the need for which has received cross-party support and acknowledgement and to take up a theme raised by Fergus Finlay, a new agency under new management is positive and important. It is of critical importance to get it right from the outset and in this context I have some reservations or more accurately, concerns, regarding the lack of engagement with this joint committee in respect of framing legislation for the new agency.
Perhaps the witnesses could confirm the level of engagement their organisations have had with the Department regarding the establishment of the new agency.
A recurring theme about which each witness this morning has spoken is the need for early intervention and support for families. It is important that families be supported at an early stage to ensure that vulnerable families do not end up in the care system. When one hears of €1 yielding a payoff of €29, it is a compelling argument to ensure that adequate resources are put in place at the earliest stages.
On the subject of proven programmes, someone referred to the Big Brother Big Sister programme, which obviously has tangible benefits and rewards. At a time of scarce resources, are there overlaps between the agencies? Do a number of agencies provide similar programmes where it might be better to streamline them in the future? The witnesses might respond on this point. As for family resource centres and their work, I used to be on the board of the local family resource centre in my own community and am familiar with its good work. As Mr. Packie Kelly noted, no one is stigmatised on going in the door because the centres provide such a myriad of services that no one knows the purpose of one's visit and for all that anyone else knows, one could be going in to have a letter photocopied, which is to be welcomed.
However, to revert to the establishment of the child and family support agency, members must ask Gordon Jeyes two questions when he appears before the joint committee after the witnesses. The first pertains to the allocation of resources to ensure they are properly allocated, particularly to earlier intervention and prevention methods. Second, from the witnesses' remarks today, it appears as though the child and adolescent mental health service will not come under the remit of the new agency and members must try to ascertain the rationale and reasoning behind what to me constitutes a regressive step. Historical reports will show that children who have mental health issues end up in the care system. It would be very important and makes sense to have this critical service held under the remit of the new agency. This is the reason I make the point that when the agency is being established, it is important to get it right from day one. As for the role of public health nurses, I did not realise that legally, they are obliged to visit a newborn baby five times in the first two years. They really are the people who can detect the early warning signs if a problem exists in a particular household. As Oireachtas Members and personally, as spokesperson for my party, when members meet Gordon Jeyes in the next segment of this meeting, it will be their first opportunity to engage with him on the establishment of this agency.
At the outset, the limited time available to members means it is impossible to do justice to all the witnesses' respective contributions. However, I thank them, as this has been very useful. I have selected points in respect of each contribution. I thank Professor Pat Dolan for his contribution and the critical point he made regarding early intervention and prevention and the percentage of the budget that should be ascribed to that role and function. When he spoke of reticence regarding the child psychology and child and adolescent mental health services coming on board under the new agency, he has not used too strong a word to describe the position. He should elaborate a little because this issue is very important. To be frank, members are being lobbied and a continual strong case is being made not to so do. Members are only as good as all the information they have and I ask Professor Dolan to help them to answer this question by elaborating on that point. I also thank Ms Claire Dineen and Mr. Packie Kelly. I agree absolutely with Ms Dineen that family support and child welfare are two sides of the same coin. My next question is directed to both Ms Dineen and Mr. Kelly. Do they believe the Family Resource Centres National Forum has had an adequate opportunity - or any opportunity - to put its case to the Minister, to Gordon Jeyes and those who have been tasked with the preparation of the facilitating legislation, which is yet to be presented and which everyone expected well before 1 March, which falls tomorrow?
Do Ms Dineen and Mr. Kelly expect the legislation will confirm a continuation of the ethos and culture of family resource centres across the board? Do they expect that it will confirm continued representation for the national forum on the board of the new child and family support agency? I have asked the Minister this question repeatedly but I have not received the clarity I need, although she may not be in a position to offer it at this point. Can Ms Dineen and Mr. Kelly offer any further elaboration on the legislation and where they expect it to land? What would they like the legislation to say? Should we seriously consider pressing amendments on Committee Stage of the Bill?
The position of public health nurses is a bit like the position of child psychologists in the child and adolescent mental health services. They are not coming under the aegis of the new agency. I appreciate the wider remit, role and responsibility of public health nurses, which are not only focused on families and children. How can Mr. Finlay help us to present the case properly and in a balanced way? As regards the roles of public health nurses coming under the aegis of the new agency, is it beyond our collective reach that they would have dual accountability? Perhaps Mr. Finlay could elaborate on that.
I wish to acknowledge the important and imaginative programmes that Foróige has sponsored over the years. I am deeply concerned to hear of Mr. Campbell's expectation of the demise of the Big Brother Big Sister programme. Only this week I have had an inquiry in that regard. We should highlight this matter as it is only through public awareness that people will step forward. We know the situation with Atlantic Philanthropies, so others might note the importance and value of such programmes. It would be tragic if that programme, in particular, were lost. I appeal to the media to highlight it. Let us put out the request to see if anybody will step up to the plate in this regard.
As regards Ms Flaherty's contribution, the figure of 2,500 to 3,000 cases of child sexual abuse annually is a hugely worrying statistic. We do not know the full extent. Despite the best efforts of Mr. Gordon Jeyes and everyone else concerned, our current systems are clearly not fit for purpose to meet the cohort of cases that are presented.
If the full situation was to be realised, what would Ms Flaherty say we should be pressing for - apart from the statistics - to avoid a repetition of all we have witnessed in recent years regarding the exposé of past failures? Could Ms Flaherty offer particular advice on what we should be pressing for today?
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. In the lead-up to today's meeting, I had contact with several organisations and practitioners who would also like to have a voice on this important issue. The witnesses, however, have given us a good cross-section and representative sample of some of the key components that need to be part of the new agency. I have made my views on the agency known in The Irish Times today. I want therefore to press on into some more direct questions. I tuned into the symposium yesterday and I listened a lot. It made me think of an exercise we do with the girl guides, getting one to draw a picture while another describes it. There is a lot of talk about the agency's principles and values but I am still not quite clear on its composition and who will be in it. Everybody is agreed on the principles' values and we have great support for the agency.
Does Professor Dolan know what is the status of the task force report that was published last July? Will all the recommendations be taken up? Can we take it that the report is the framework for the new agency or is it an input into the new agency? Professor Dolan also mentioned some concerns. He spoke about how the transfer of professionals will happen. Can he advise us on other concerns that he or others might have? We need to know if there are issues we need to look for so that we can give political support where required.
Mr. Fergus Finlay used the term "under new management", which evokes all those senses. I was pleased to hear from Ms Mary Flaherty about her involvement in the evolution of the new agency. I would like to probe that a bit more. How much has she been involved in the shaping of the new agency, thus bringing her expertise to the table in designing it?
When I was tuning into the symposium yesterday, a public health nurse asked a question from the floor. I do not remember whether it was Mr. Gordon Jeyes or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who responded. However, the response referred to phase one and phase two. It is hoped that within phase two, public health nurses will be part of the design. That is the first time I have heard the terms "phase one" and "phase two". Can Ms Flaherty enlighten me or should I follow up that question with Mr. Jeyes?
Mr. Campbell referred to prevention and early intervention, and in this context we all too often think of toddlers and babies, but it goes right throughout a young person's life. That is an important message for all of us to take on.
I may have got it wrong but did Ms Flaherty say that 20% of the new agency's services will be provided by NGOs? Can she clarify that for me?
I welcome my former colleague, Ms Mary Flaherty. Deputy Ó Caoláin and I are the only two Deputies who served with her in the House. We would be delighted to have her back here at any time in the future.
I have two brief questions, the first of which was raised by Mr. Finlay. The issue of consistent poverty cannot be ignored. There is a perception that consistent poverty is in disadvantaged communities. Sadly, however, I am seeing it every day in my own constituency with middle class families who cannot put bread and butter on the table. Much of the time it is because of a lack of knowledge and information on where to turn and who to turn to. It is not just a matter of investing in such services, it is also about communicating more effectively what supports and services are available. People do not know where to turn.
When one probes issues with families, one can identify where problems are arising. This comes back to the other point I have regarding public health nurses. If public health nurses are brought into the child and family support agency their role will be abolished.
Rather than using the public health nurse, the system is creating a nurse for child health and community health that would deal with anyone over the age of 18 and older people. One loses the advantage that a public health nurse has because the reality is neglect and abuse is not defined by age. Often abuse in a house can be across the age range. Some structure needs to be found to deal with this. The public health nurses need to be brought in at the beginning of this whole process. What type of a structure do the delegations believe needs to be put in place? Everyone agrees public health nurses have a valuable role to play. If that job is split between dealing with children under the age of 18 and those over 18, I believe some of the impact and usefulness of their role will be lost.
Professor Pat Dolan:
With regard to Deputy O Caoláin's question, children unfortunately do not live in compartments or 15 places. They, hopefully, live in one home, one community and go to one school. I am not being facetious in saying this. If we really want to stop the mistakes we have made, we have to truly have child-centred services. Putting it bluntly, one cannot have professional turf wars or siloed professionals. We know from all the reports that one of the key failings was a lack of sharing of information among professionals and acting on it. It is horrific how bad that was. One of the reasons I am passionate about being involved in the agency is to prevent this happening again.
Professor Pat Dolan:
No. With the agency coming on board, a different kind of real culture for child services should exist where they are put first. There is much rhetoric about this but in reality it is what affects children's lives. As Deputy Naughten highlighted, what affects a child who does not have a breakfast in the morning? Whether one is a former worker in the field, like me who is now an academic and who I hope lives in the real world, a psychologist, a child psychiatrist, a teacher, social worker or youth worker, there is an absolute requirement that one plays one's part with other people in the interests of the child. Unless the agency has all the professionals together, it simply will not happen. It will just be moving deckchairs around for the sake of it. There is no point in being ambivalent about this. It must happen.
For example, in child and adolescent psychiatry there is an issue about the gap between 16 and 18 and who has medical responsibility, which can go as far as medical defence unions. The bottom line, however, is that children do not live in unions or professional spheres. The only way the proposed agency will work is on the basis of people working under the agency as one team with full accountability and transparency. I know the professionals have their concerns but the objective and the gain is far larger through this agency. The same mistakes made here were made in other countries, such as in the baby Peter Connelly case in the UK.
My role on the task force was to pull together the framework and design for the new agency. That was finished swiftly in July on the promise we would have legislation swiftly as well. One slight concern I have is that we are in limbo, which is not a good state of affairs. In fairness to Gordon Jeyes and everyone involved, this is not a good position in which to be.
Professor Pat Dolan:
That is true but the task force met from the previous September so it has been long enough. I am not being critical, just being more pragmatic and factual.
Regarding the phasing of professionals, the argument was that there were some professionals who were obvious and easier to pull in and I assume the rationale is that one deals with those first. However, a concern I expressed in the task force is that one of the problems is tomorrow never comes. We need tomorrow today.
It is now 20 years since the Kilkenny incest report which was published by the then Minister for Health, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. I recall that momentous day because it was the actual implementation of the Children Act. The very things that were spoken about then are the same things we are talking about now. God be good to the late Judge Hubert Wine and the late Judge John Garavan who spoke about the same issues. We are repeating conversations here. We need to stop this. The only way forward is through one agency, resourced properly and with an adequate amount of funding prevention and early intervention. If we invest in the spring, we will harvest in the autumn. If we keep chasing ourselves, however, and only manage risk, we just have more risk to manage.
Mr. Packie Kelly:
I thank the Deputies for their observations. The development of this new agency is a challenge for us all. It is clear the system has failed families. We have a chance to put this right and there is a huge enthusiasm to do so. One of the key pieces is early intervention. The 106 family resource centres that have been operating for years are littered with stories of supporting families which have not entered the child protection system. We cannot estimate a figure for the savings to the State that bringing them into the system would entail.
It is important that there is a large range of stakeholders involved in the agency. There are other players, particularly in the primary care system, that should be here today. We hope that wisdom will prevail and they will be included shortly.
We are concerned that the agency could develop and focus just on child protection. Many claim this will not be the case. If it is not going to be the case, we would be looking for the current legislation that is going through the Dáil to take over the family resource centre programme.
Everyone has asked when the agency will get started. Members should ask Mr. Gordon Jeyes, when he attends the committee, when the local area pathways groups will be up and running. When this happens, we will be able to get support to the families in need.
Mr. Fergus Finlay:
Senator van Turnhout asked about the meaning of phase one and phase two. My understanding is phase one means "now" and phase two means "not now". It would be far more helpful if we had a more specific meaning for phase two.
Several members raised the issue of public health nurses. I take the point entirely. The public health nurse is an invaluable community resource.
Perhaps I should say that I am not here to represent community nurses and public health nurses, but we in Barnardos, and many of those present, work closely with them.
In larger urban centres there are a great many public health nurses who are, if I could use a meaningless term, more "child specific" in their work. In less populated areas they carry a wider brief and they are as important to the elderly person living at home and to the disabled adult as they are to the child. That would represent a structural and cultural issue that would require to be managed.
There is a fundamental aspect which is about the sharing of information. Professor Dolan made the point about inter-agency joined-up thinking which has been on the agenda for 20 years. Community nurses have an enormous volume of information about what is happening in the lives of children, younger people and elderly people, but they tend to carry it - I do not mean this disrespectfully - in the boots of their cars or keep it under their stairs at home or in the office. It is not centralised. It is not sought. It is not codified in a way that makes it useful. There is one small experiment going on somewhere in the country where such data is computerised. We would solve many problems if we merely addressed that issue, the real, meaningful codifying and sharing of information in a highly structured way.
The final point I wanted to make relates to Deputy Naughten's point about poverty. The Deputy is correct. The new poverty phenomenon that we all are seeing is deep, sharp and painful. I suspect that if the committee had a representative of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul here, he or she would tell the committee, as a member of the society said to me recently, that the society has many who were active and strong volunteers a couple of years ago who now need its help. We all have experienced the phenomenon - it happens in the workplace that is Barnardos as well as everywhere else - of double-income families now having a single bread-winner or no bread-winner. However, there is a difference - I do not want to overstate it - between the child whose family has suffered a loss of income and the child who is born and reared in a dysfunctional family situation in a disadvantaged community. Both children have mountains to climb. One of them has to climb Mount Everest in order to make it. We cannot lose sight of that either.
Mr. Fergus Finlay:
The pressure that is on the new agency is to keep the children most at risk safe. Saving all the members who are present, the first time Mr. Gordon Jeyes appears in front of this committee to be abused by it will be when a child falls into real danger or when a child dies. The committee will not abuse Mr. Jeyes over the number of children who are staying out late at night, who are not adequately supervised and who are turning up in school with head lice, even through all such matters are good predictors of abuse to come. Mr. Jeyes and the new agency are aware that the day they will be hung out to dry will be the day there is another Roscommon case, not in respect of the children who are vulnerable below the radar.
Mr. Seán Campbell:
I will be quick. I have three responses.
First, in response to Deputy Troy on the area of overlapping of services, the issue with the early intervention programmes is not one of overlapping but of the lack of availability of the services. To continue with the example of the Big Brother Big Sister programme, it is only available in half of the country because we have never had the resources and it is the only one if its type - there is no overlapping.
In the youth work area, where I have some expertise and knowledge, it is also not a question of overlapping, but of an inadequate distribution of resources. If one is a young person in Dublin, there is a spend on you in terms of youth services of approximately €300. If one lives in Cavan, the spend is €1. If one lives west of the Shannon, it is less than €10. The services have not been resourced, certainly not equally across the country.
On Deputy Ó Caoláin's comment, it would be shameful if the programme is let go. We were challenged by Government all along to develop evidence-based early intervention programmes. That was the challenge and it has been the rhetoric for ten years. Sadly, Mr. Finlay and myself joked beforehand that the best way to destroy a programme is to approve it. We have been challenged and we stood up to the challenge. We now have an evidence base of what works for young people in Ireland and we need the funding to ensure that is available.
Mr. Fergus Finlay:
I do not mean to interrupt, but I spoke recently to a senior public servant about a particular programme that, between us and with philanthropic support, we have proved works. This public servant acknowledged that it worked and that it was a very significant programme and a cheap programme, but he stated, "If we endorsed this programme, everyone would want it, so we cannot". That makes no sense to me.
Mr. Seán Campbell:
On Senator van Turnhout's point on early intervention, it is true that it is not only about early years. It is very much about intervening at the time when the issue is emerging. That can be at age 13, 14 or 15 as much as it can be in the first five years. We need to have a system in place that can respond to those early interventions and pick them up. We also need robust universal services in which to treat young people properly, including Foróige clubs, scouts, guides and whatever there needs to be. Whether one is a young person in care or a young person who is going through it, one needs the normalisation and one needs to be part of a community. That is as much part of the protection of a young person as are other, more directed, services. We need to ensure that there is balance in this regard and not to lose sight in this agency that it is all about child protection.
Ms Mary Flaherty:
There were many interesting points and one could go in 100 different directions. I will refer to some of the specifics. On phase one and phase two, there is much work to be done in phase one. Those of us who work day-to-day around the country with cases such as abuse cases will be aware that in different parts of the country there are completely different procedures. One need only re-examine the statistics in any year from the HSE where "the review of adequacy" is the phrase it uses. One should look at the number of reports of abuse of all kinds and the attrition, through the point of being confirmed or unconfirmed, in one area versus another. One should look at whether it would be strange that one part of the country should have figures that are completely aligned. There is a real job of work there with the existing employed social workers - the staff who are clearly within the remit of the agency where there would be no argument.
I accept there are complex issues, for example, around public health nurses. I mentioned Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHS. CAMHS, if it refuses to provide sexual abuse services in the context in which I work, does not treat them as a mental health issue and unless one is suicidal or is self-harming, one has a mental health issue to be resolved. Once that is resolved, one may still have issues around one's sexual abuse that one has not worked through, and in some parts of the country, a therapist or a psychologist might continue with him or her. In many parts of the country, it is excluded. There is a great deal of standardisation to be done. Even in the case of child deaths, if, for example, one brings in the child and adolescent mental health specialists, often it is the mental health specialist working with parents who are the ones who need to be alert to child death dangers. Those areas will be difficult and I do not envy the job of negotiating all of these matters.
In the short term, there is a great deal of work which has already begun in standardising the cohort of staff working clearly within the agency's remit, and ensuring that in every part of the country this is a warning sign that we act on and move in this way.
In regard to what I would regard as a good outcome, the beginning of a plan has been developed. CARI has been involved in its evolution but my concern about the plan for child sexual abuse services, therapeutic or otherwise, is that an attempt is being made to develop them on an expenditure-neutral basis. I think this will be impossible to achieve in the context of a service that is in its infancy. If one takes the model for the adult counselling agency, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, I am concerned about the suggestion that we can roll out a service that would be in any way adequate to the needs of children. They will not be equivalent because the number of adults is limited and children have a specific timeframe. The numbers will not be huge but we should, at a minimum, be able to offer a specialist therapy service to children at least as good as the one we say they need when they turn 18 if they have been victims of abuse. Why is a similar service not to be provided while they are under 18? Children should be able to access a specialised therapy service to cope with abuse. While abuse may occur at any age from two to 18 years, early therapeutic intervention would avoid the need for extensive mental health services and further trauma and abuse in later years, both within the family and over the generations. I invite the committee to keep an eye on that issue. In regard to other preventative work, Ferns five is trying to develop services for abusers because that is also a preventative measure.
I thank Ms Flaherty for her presentation. The main reason for establishing a new agency is to focus on child protection and family support. When this agency is established it will have more than 4,000 employees and a budget of €550 million. When a child comes to the attention of a social worker, an educational welfare officer or a Garda diversion officer, he or she will come under a single tier of services. We previously believed that the social worker had all the answers but child protection and welfare, mental health intervention, primary care, public health, youth justice and domestic violence support will come under the same umbrella. The Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is guiding us in the right direction.
I thank Professor Dolan, Ms Dineen, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Finlay, Mr. Campbell and Ms Flaherty for their contributions. We will deliberate further on the proposed new agency and I understand the heads of a Bill will be coming before the committee. We will suspend the meeting for five minutes.
I apologise to Mr. Gordon Jeyes and Ms Eibhlin Byrne for the delay. Democracy does not stand and wait for any of us to do our parliamentary duty.
This is the second presentation on the establishment of the child and family support agency. I welcome Mr. Gordon Jeyes, chief executive officer designate of the agency, who is joined by Ms Evelyn Byrne, and I thank them for attending.
I thank members for their contribution during the first part of the meeting. It would be appropriate to recognise that today is Rare Disease Day. We might reflect on the people suffering from rare diseases. An international conference on this issue is taking place in Dublin. Earlier we discussed philanthropy and we appreciate the many philanthropists who donate in our country, in particular, Atlantic Philanthropies, which has made a major contribution to our society.
I wish to remind our witnesses that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to so do, they will be entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice, or long-standing ruling of the Chair, to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Mr. Jeyes to make his opening remarks.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I welcome the opportunity to meet the committee. I believe members have a copy of my statement and, therefore, I will go through that quickly to allow maximum opportunity for what I hope will be a wide-ranging set of questions.
With regard to the background, a range of critical reports led to a programme of reform and a particular commitment to separation. The important issues were a lack of clear accountability, too great a degree of inconsistency across the country and poor performance management, data poverty and poor quality assurance arrangements. The first step in addressing these issues was the appointment of a national director for children and family services in January 2011, namely myself. A few months later, the programme for Government set out fundamental changes in the delivery of child and family services and determined that there should be a separate agency dedicated solely to the welfare and support of children and their families as well as the establishment of a Department with representation of children at Cabinet level
I began by looking at all the recommendations from all the reports and found that many of the responses that had been established by various working groups had occurred somewhat in isolation. There were at least 58 of these groups and goodness knows how many recommendations. The first task was to produce a coherent and rationalised programme of reform along clear themes, which are outlined in appendix 1. More material is available on the reform programme for any member who is particularly interested in it. It is important to consider everything in the context of the programme for Government, whose overarching themes were to ensure cohesive reform not only in children services, but across the health sector. It is important that services are accessible and delivered and managed at the most local practical level. They should be customer or patient-centred rather than determined by professional boundaries to create a culture that is responsive, outward-looking and inclusive. The emphasis is on accountability and transparency.
My acronym for the year was very much ACT - accountability where the well intentioned integrated approach within the HSE had led to great complexity and too many people reporting in with too little professional management beyond a certain level. It is now the case that principal social workers are only three steps away in a direct line from the national system and it is also only three steps from front-line staff to area managers. We have a general programme to improve the consistency of the advice and support provided around the country. We have published a book on child protection and that will be followed shortly by one on advice for foster parents, an alternative care handbook. Appendix 2 contains a diagram, which describes a service delivery framework in order that we can have a system that ensures each referral or contact made with us gets a response which is efficient, effective and proportionate to the family's needs while building on the family's strengths. We also have made great strides with regard to transparency. We regularly publish the independent reviews of serious cases and child deaths. They are available for open scrutiny, as is the way in which we drive these forward for learning at local level. Every aspect of the reform programme is regularly discussed, not least with an open-membership voluntary and community sector forum and I also have an advisory group of young people who have been through the care system. They are there to keep me real, as they tell me "You may say that, Gordon, but that is not what is happening". I meet them at least four times a year and they meet ten times a year.
There is a tendency, because I was appointed to lead a social work programme for two years for me to be particularly identified with that. That was a job I was asked to do and I gave it my best endeavour. That is a work in progress. There have been significant strides but much done, more to do. That is a separate issue from the job I am now tasked with, which is about establishing an agency. It is about moving beyond repairing best practice. There is a superb opportunity to redesign and re-imagine and, therefore, we need to take that forward. The devil is in the detail and the big picture. Detailed work is going on in difficult circumstances relating to due diligence, 4,000 transfer letters, a memorandum of understanding in order the health services do not walk away from children, new ways of working and new relationships, joint planning and partnerships.
The nuts and bolts of the agency are taking shape. Families do not live in silos or within boundaries. The intention behind the reform for clearer accountability and transparency makes sense but we must then come together, particularly in disability, mental health and children's services within the framework of primary care networks. We need new fund-holding mechanisms, which are about funding the family or the client rather than the professional services. The new partnerships will be complemented by the legislation shortly to be laid before the Oireachtas to create the agency.
It is important that the agency be staffed by people clear in their values, consistent in their behaviours according to these values and accountable for how they behave. We must acknowledge but not be constrained by the difficult financial circumstances, recruitment issues caused by ceilings imposed by the troika, from which no service is immune, and issues about keeping the reforms in step in order that the crucial relationship between children's services and health and education remain fully aligned to maximise the impact of the change.
The way in which these themes will be pulled together requires a search for fixed points about subsidiarity and delivery according to need as opposed to "the profession knows best" approach. If we do that, I am confident we can have a system which supports the nurturing of children in Ireland who are confident, well motivated, fully rounded and literate and numerate to a level comparable with their peers in the rest of the world.
An important issue for Ireland is children who are resilient, who understand their part as citizens of a democracy, and who can seize opportunities regardless of their background but have the skills and attitude to embrace change throughout their life. It is about the new opportunities and new ways of working and having an agency that will intervene at the earliest possible moment, will be multidisciplinary and will build on the strengths of the family support agency. Without the consent of the community I cannot be as effective as I would wish. It should build on the duties of the educational welfare service to ensure school attendance, and ensure good links with the home to encourage school completion and furthermore to look at projects for alternative education because too many children in Ireland are not receiving an education or when they have a break in their education it takes too long for them to become re-enrolled. We need to look at that jointly with the Department of Education and Skills.
We are uniquely placed to look at the child and family circumstances from a range of perspectives - one child and one plan, but many perspectives and a multidisciplinary approach. This is an agency dedicated to the service of Irish society, aspiring to high standards, particularly for the most vulnerable whom, in the past, we may have let down - an agency for all Ireland's children.
The final appendix, which I did not mention has been widely circulated. It is a draft statement of our central purpose, our vision and our change themes. It outlines values and behaviours that are essential to underpin this activity.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue today. It is timely, given last week's HIQA report confirming that there are still major failings in our child protection system. The HIQA report into foster care workers in the HSE Dublin north-west area confirmed that 35% of foster carers did not have a direct link to a social worker. It found that a number of carers were not deemed suitable yet continued to provide care. The child protection notification system was not in compliance with Children First and the register for foster care was not up to date. If we look at the review of the adequacy of child and family service in 2011-----
I am making the point that there are serious deficiencies within the services here and now. We tend to look back at historical reports. This week The Sunday Business Post reported that €25.4 million was spent on legal fees for child care. These are all relevant issues. I raise them today because I believe the new agency represents a new opportunity. These are current issues and not ones from a bygone era.
What difference will the establishment of the child and family support agency make? Professor Pat Dolan, who appeared before the committee earlier this morning, said he had been working on this since September 2011. What is the delay in putting the agency on a statutory footing? Does Mr. Jeyes feel vulnerable in the absence of legislation? Will the budget deficit of €50 million be carried forward to the new agency? Will it be possible to maintain front-line services with a reduction of €5 million?
Representatives of family resource centres appeared before the committee earlier this morning and expressed concern that they will not get the recognition they need. In terms of protecting early intervention, will the new agency ensure that adequate resources are put in place for early intervention? A recurrent theme of each of the five groups presenting this morning was the importance of investing early. Someone mentioned that if we sow in spring, we will reap the harvest in autumn. Making the investment at an early stage will save having to spend large amounts of money at a later stage. The family resource centres have a track record in doing that and I ask Mr. Jeyes to comment on that.
On governance structures, in his presentation, Mr. Jeyes alluded to clear accountability. Have the governance structures been decided yet? The original announcement made last July indicated a similar structure to the HSE. Will there be political accountability with the new governance structure? What will be the composition of the 4,000 staff? Are all HR issues resolved? It is critical to avoid an excessively bureaucratic system and we need to have adequate staff in the right place, which is in the front-line services. I again refer back to the report I mentioned earlier that indicated 454 children in the care system are without a social worker. Is Mr. Jeyes confident that there will be an holistic approach and that professionals will share their information across the board? Will the child and adolescent mental health service be in or out? Historical reports identified positive consequences of an holistic approach, particularly in the area of mental health. A large number of children who experience mental health issues end up in the juvenile justice and care systems.
Earlier it was mentioned that there was talk of phase one and phase two of the new child and family support agency and I ask Mr. Jeyes to enlighten us on that.
I welcome Mr Jeyes and Ms Byrne. Is Mr. Jeyes concerned over the delay in the presentation of the facilitating legislation to establish the child and family support agency? We had an expectation this would have been in place before the end of last year and it would have been operational since January. Tomorrow is 1 March and the first quarter is nearly complete. I expect we are all equally anxious to see the new agency in situ because only when the new structures are functioning will we be able to properly evaluate its effectiveness and efficiency. We look forward to that.
Representatives of the groups who appeared before the committee earlier and others, who are in continual contact with committee members, have raised the issue of child psychologists and the child and adolescent mental health services. They also raised the issue of public health nurses. As a rural Deputy I recognise that the role of the public health nurse is not specific or particular only to children and the family relationship with the child; it is much wider than would be a neat fit for the new agency. However, the view expressed - one that I share - was that it is essential that the child psychologists and the child and adolescent mental health services would form an integral part of the new agency structure. What is proposed is disaggregation from the existing HSE position to the new agency. Should these respective professionals be within the new agency's remit, which would seem to be their natural home? I also ask Mr. Jeyes to comment on the position of the public health nurses.
There are 106 of these across the State. Their position was again very well articulated here earlier this morning. I am familiar with the detail of their concerns. Perhaps Mr. Jeyes is no more privy to the legislation than we are but would he expect their ethos and culture to be confirmed within the new agency? Would he like to comment on the anticipated structure of the board of the new agency? The family resource centres currently have representation on the Family Support Agency board. Will that continue under the new circumstances? What is the position regarding the local area pathway groups? How soon does Mr. Jeyes expect to see the roll-out of these and progress in respect of their respective remits?
We are advised that between 2,500 to 3,000 cases of child sexual abuse are reported annually. Could Mr. Jeyes confirm the figure? I emphasise that these are reported cases because I do not believe it is indicative of the reality. Unfortunately, many cases are not reported. We hope that will change. Are the current system and support services fit for purpose? We tend to look historically at the situation. We have had report after report which is informing much of the change to which we are all a party and supportive of. Would Mr Jeyes give us his view as to the current services and support structures? Are they fit for purpose in respect of that quite significant number of cases presenting? One would hope that the full extent of it would present in time when people realise how important it is to come forward.
Resourcing is key. I thought it very pertinent for one of our earlier witnesses to make the point that all we hope to see achieved cannot be achieved on a revenue-neutral or cost-neutral basis. We have spoken here before about all that we wish to see regarding greater service provision with regard to social workers. With the advent of the new agency, surely we are going to have to match our intent with improved resourcing to realise the results we all wish to see achieved.
I thank Gordon Jeyes and all of his team. It is good that we have the hearing today and it is great that we have received additional information. This is an area where there is cross-party and cross-group agreement with agencies about what the new agency should be. We are all very supportive of that. My difficulty lies in understanding its component parts and composition because I have no difficulty in agreeing to the principles and values behind it. If we look at past reports, they often talk about changes in culture and practice. In the absence of legislation, what is the status of the agency regarding contracts? Could Mr. Jeyes clarify whether the staff are being transferred or whether they will be new employees of the agency?
Deputy Troy mentioned phase one or phase two. I was tuned into the symposium yesterday where a public health nurse asked about public health nurses. The response related to phases one and two. That was new for me because I am trying to understand what phases one and two are. I cannot remember whether it was Mr. Jeyes or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who used these terms. Is there phasing? If not, I would appreciate some clarity.
Mr. Jeyes mentioned that he was tasked with social worker reform and that it was a work in progress. He then said that it is separate to the job he is now tasked with doing. I am a bit concerned about what happened to social worker reform because none of us would agree that we are in the place we wish to be. Deputy Troy mentioned the recent HIQA report, which is the fourth successive report that has pointed out deficits in that area. When Mary Flaherty from CARI appeared before the committee earlier, she spoke about different procedures in different parts of the country - something of which we are all too aware - for record keeping and data collection, which Mr. Jeyes also mentioned. If we are looking at remedying current issues, is there an opportunity to look at the 24-hour service which has been long promised and long talked about with the new agency? I read in paragraph 3.2 of Mr. Jeyes's presentation about the three direct steps from the national director. What is the current status-----
I spoke recently to an aftercare worker who told me that to get one night of emergency accommodation, one had to go through five levels of management. I was trying to calculate the time, which is probably expeditionary in respect of what that one night of emergency accommodation costs. Will that reform in the new agency empower workers and make them accountable? It needs to be a double-edged sword. Those are my main questions. My difficulty is that I still cannot fully see the picture of the new agency. I can see all the principles and values and I totally agree with them. However, if one asked each of us to write down what the new agency is like, we would come up with a different answer. I want and believe in this agency but I am still grasping what it actually looks like.
I apologise to Mr. Gordon Jeyes, Ms. Byrne and those in the Visitors Gallery for the delay caused by divisions. The duty of a parliamentarian in a parliamentary democracy is to cast his or her vote. Mr. Gordon Jeyes will now reply to the first set of questions and there are three further speakers.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I turn to Deputy Robert Troy's questions first. In the context of the social-work reform programme, I will not go into the four HIQA reports which were produced in the last fortnight, in any detail. Of the four, three were complimentary. I am as disappointed as others that there is still much to do in the Dublin north west area. I give one statistic, although I note that even in respect of it there has been improvement which is reflected in the report if not in the press release. In the first quarter of 2011, a mere 38% of foster carers had been approved, which was a shocking statistic at that point. By the fourth quarter of 2012, 83% of foster carers had been approved. I will not go into other statistics and I am not excusing this. It is unacceptable and there will be intervention. A very good action plan has been produced and the other actions are being taken.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
There will be a national campaign in May and we will ensure that it is not affected by other work pressures. There will be dedicated staff appointed to work with people to see if this is the right activity for them. We will seek the committee's support when we are looking for maximum publicity for the campaign.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I would be delighted. Deputy Robert Troy also asked me what difference the agency would make. With clearer lines of accountability and greater knowledge of what we are doing and what is going on, we can establish a national system that is locally delivered. There must be greater consistency in the support provided to children in every part of the country and there must be better local decision-making. I want somebody who asks for advice about being a foster parent or adoptive parent to obtain the same advice, irrespective of the team he or she goes to. Some services, including adoption services, I intend to run on a national basis and others I intend to operate locally with fewer than five decision-making steps required to get control of a budget. We must build strong local partnerships within the boundaries of local government. This is crucial, as all reports show, including the independent review of child deaths. As much as I need to raise the performance of social workers, this is about education, drug and alcohol abuse, the health services and social workers failing to access those services for their clients.
I was asked if I felt vulnerable. My experience in Ireland has been that it was in the job description for me to feel that way. If I do not feel vulnerable, I am not paying attention. We are not quite in limbo, as was suggested. There is only one legal and governance structure for us which is as part of the HSE. Child and family services will continue to be part of the HSE and accountable to the board until the Oireachtas determines otherwise. While the transition may be taking longer than any of us would wish, we are not in limbo. The legal status is clear.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
There was a later question which I will answer now. I can understand the anxiety the delay has caused. Regarding Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin's question, I am as impatient as anybody else. While I want the transition to take place quickly and to be able to reassure family resource centres and the voluntary sector, I also want to get it right. I want to ensure that if I am to be held accountable, I know how much I am spending, when I am spending it and what I am spending it on. I want to ensure I have good reports to provide proper accountability to Ministers and the people's representatives. There are issues primarily around disaggregation. The services have never been broken into their component parts. We must have efficient reporting systems in place to provide for appropriate financial control before we can run the system. That is the primary issue.
To return to Deputy Robert Troy's questions, there was no budget reduction in 2012. The budget we have in 2013 is the same as the budget we had for 2012. That is a clear difference from the very significant reductions faced in the rest of the health service. It shows that the Government prioritises children's services. The issue was that there was still some over-expenditure. As with every other service, we have used our clear lines of accountability and capacity for budgetary flexibility. We must live within our means and provide value for money for taxpayers.
I take every opportunity to reassure family resource centres. While I am not going to tell them there will be no changes, any changes will be about ensuring that each family resource centre is as good as the best one. Centres should build on the considerable strengths of the best examples and from a menu of activity that is proven to work. Centres should be taking the agenda forward in a way that meets the needs of the community. I have no intention of establishing child protection centres. It is about the engagement and consent of the community and the strengths that are needed there. We cannot do this alone and without the excellent work of family resource centres, our chances of success would be severely diminished.
Deputy Robert Troy also raised the question of early intervention. It is an interesting term as it can have so many different meanings. Sometimes it means a request not to spend on my projects but on others. We should certainly have systems in place which enable us to intervene at the earliest possible time that makes sense and is not intrusive. That can come through the way society as a whole works. The best early intervention to protect a child at school is to ensure he or she is not excluded and attends in the first place. The best schools are inclusive schools. The best health services are responsive health services such as the nursery I visited in north Dublin. There, the speech and language therapist and public health nurses take their checks to the nursery. That should be standard practice. We should not say "two strikes" and if you do not turn up, you are out and will not get an appointment. Early intervention encompasses engaged communities which are respectful of the contribution children make. How often in our debates on children are we fearful for our own children and frightened of everybody else's? We need responsible citizens. Of course, we also need, within our budget, to have projects which support that activity.
We commission in excess of €100 million, which is almost 20% of the budget, from the voluntary and community sector. These are our partners who can reach communities in a way the social work brand cannot. I can only speak about the management structure, which I have attempted to streamline and strengthen accountability. The board will not be similar to the HSE but governance matters are more for the Government than for me, and they will become clear when the legislation comes before the Dáil.
Staffing discussions continue with IMPACT in a very constructive way. During the years of financial difficulty a great number of ad hocarrangements have been put in place so the notion that all HR issues will be resolved immediately is fanciful. Discussions with IMPACT have been very constructive and respectful, and I fully expect a very good framework agreement to be reached shortly, which will take us into the future.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
There has been very good engagement with the HSE on this. Nobody has been transferred yet but we have alerted 4,000 staff that they are liable for this transfer. The numbers in dispute at that point were in single figures. I will come to the issue of psychologists separately.
We want an holistic approach. The view of the child at school, in the family, in the community, with his or her peer group and in social work are all different and all make up the full picture. I come from an education as well as a social work background and we need to work together to maximise the impact we will make. We will take an holistic approach.
An important issue was raised with regard to information sharing. Uncertainty remains in Ireland about information sharing and we need further examination of it. I am often told that data protection is no obstacle but then I find that it is and issues still arise. I have never known children to be at risk because information about them has been shared. I have known children to be at risk because information has not been shared. Sometimes the way legislation is phrased means one can share information if one knows a child is at risk of significant harm, but unless one has all of the information, one may not know the child is at risk of significant harm. There has been talk of legislation yet to come on a duty to share information as opposed to holding it back, and this needs further encouragement. We are too precious about this and it should be considered.
Child and adolescent mental health services are being reformed, and reform of adolescent health services is badly needed. Some adolescents have been very poorly treated as 16 and 17 year olds do not fall within the domain of child services but adult services do not want to treat them because they are children. It was a case of heads, they lost, and tails, the other side won. I support the task force recommendation that community child and adolescent mental health services should be within the agency. The timing was not right with regard to other reforms. There will be a review and a final decision will be reached.
I am surprised by the various references to phase one and phase two. Perhaps with so many announcements one can get confused. Leaving the task force aside, which did not refer to phases, when the Minister announced her response she referred to two phases. She stated she would start by dealing with the many people doing several jobs at once. She also stated stability was required to get it started and listed the essential components for the first phase. The issues for phase two are child and adolescent mental health services, speech and language therapy, public health nurses and detention schools. This has been the Government's position since responding to the task force. It has also always been stated that there will be a phase two; it is just that the response to the task force recommendations is not specific. I share Deputy Ó Caoláin's concern at the delay and I am sympathetic about the uncertainty it causes but I want to get it right.
With regard to a turf war because psychologists are so popular and nobody should leave home without one, we all want psychologists and I support the task force recommendation. The relevant Ministers have a group studying the impact of the most effective deployment which is nearing fruition. I cannot say too much. It is important to emphasise that as we look at a health service with clear and separate components to increase accountability and transparency, we do not think this is the end because we will need systems to ensure we work across these components. The components should be part of acute primary care along with the other carer groups. Mental health services, public health services and ourselves will not be islands and some of us will have services which will reach into other roles. As chief executive designate of the new agency I want to be a provider to mental health services, care groups and others as well as a receiver from them. If any of the component parts are only receivers it will be weaker and therefore I welcome hosting community psychology within the child service. As we create the warp and weave, let us focus on families and customers and not on professional boundaries.
With regard to public health nursing, the person who first mentioned the two phases was the questioner, who obviously knew there would be two phases. It is important that we stay aligned with the rest of the health service. The detail of the health reform is important as is ensuring we strengthen incrementally so we have stability and the capacity of the newly-formed leadership team is not stretched too far.
I visit as many family resource centres as I can and community consent is absolutely crucial. I would like to see initiatives which build on their strengths and I am particularly keen on the contribution children make to the community in sports and the arts because these activities bring out a community. We always think of children as a blight in our community because they are only ever in the newspapers as perpetrators or victims, as opposed to us celebrating the Christmas show or their performance in sports. It is about systems of entitlement and building up their capacity in the arts. Good work is done in the theatre in Ballymun and elsewhere throughout the country.
The role of children in families and supporting the life of families in communities are crucial. We will take this into family area pathways. As of yesterday every area manager will identify a lead manager. We will ensure an audit of all services which contribute and we will have detailed discussions with every provider to the €100 million in the voluntary and community sector. I have stated there will be no reduction in the first six months of this year while the review is being done. I then want to make it more fit for purpose so we fit in with the research work conducted by NUI, Galway which states that what matters is what works. The activities we will fund will enable a community response, which will then mean engagement of social work is less necessary because we will be building on the strengths of family. I expect local area pathways to be operating in the second half of the year, but it will be gradual as we build on strengths and bring more people to the table.
I am struck by the sheer range of voluntary and community activity in Ireland. Much has flowered from the ground up and there could be some harvesting, but for the maximum impact the sector must do it for itself. Perhaps some areas have too many separate initiatives to have the best impact.
There is a need to finalise the complementary work in child sex abuse cases, but I must revert with the exact figure, as I do not want to read into the record a figure in respect of which my memory might not be serving me correctly. We need assessment centres in which children's needs are met, for example, acute health care, and where social workers and organisations such as CARI have a presence. The Garda can also be involved for evidence-based purposes so that as few interviews as possible need be conducted.
As is appropriate, the sexual abuse treatment units remain with the health service. It is an area that needs boundaries. I expect further announcements in this regard. I share people's impatience, as we should be doing more. There is an inconsistency across the country. I hope that we will shortly roll out the sort of model that I have described, one in which a service is available 24/7. Clearly, resource limitations cause some difficulties.
The component parts of the agency are, in the first instance, the services to ensure that children at risk of significant harm are protected; services for alternative care, both trained and registered foster carers and relative carers who are supported by the State; and high-end alternative care arrangements, for example, residential care right up to and including high support and special care. In excess of €100 million in the voluntary and community sector is associated with the family support prevention and partnership work that we do with our colleagues. I retain my lead HSE role for services in response to domestic sexual and gender-based violence. The agency presents an opportunity in that regard to reconsider matters. It is not always about refuges and escape. It is about dealing with the 80% of partners who have suffered violence and are in the community. We can get better community and family-based solutions.
We are not operating in the absence of legislation. We are a part of the HSE. We are more an agency within an agency with our own accountability than last year. However, the only legal and governance route for the children and family services agency is to the board. We will build these services with the 106 family resource centres across the country and the education welfare services.
I welcome the question on social work reform. I do not wish to be misunderstood here but the reform has taken up a great deal of activity. We have tried to put in place a coherent programme, but it is a work in progress and is nowhere near finished. I would happily supply more details of our prioritisation list and the activity that is under way. I do not want people to believe that the agency is merely a continuation or another aspect of social work reform. That reform will continue within the agency, but the agency is far greater than that. I am aware of the challenge of being a social work add-on. We must not let that happen. I come from a community background. We must do this work in a more holistic way, as questioners have mentioned.
The last point raised was on accountability. The accountability of four steps has been in place since May. I am pleased with the progress made by the 17 area managers in a brief time. Previously, those colleagues did not have responsibility for human resources and finance. They are stepping up to the plate following some detailed management training. That makes the liaison with the likes of the Garda Síochána all the more reliable. I meet the 17 area managers on a monthly basis. Overall, it is a significant step forward. The efforts to create an integrated service approach had become a little cluttered.
Many of the questions that I was going to ask have been addressed by Mr. Jeyes's responses to previous questions. I have a number of technical questions. Professor Pat Dolan mentioned that what we are doing now is what we have been discussing for 20 years. It is great to see it coming together. I hope that Mr. Jeyes will not misconstrue our frustration that it is not all happening quickly or our low level of positivity towards what he is doing. Last year, the task force related to different actions and the Minister set out phases one and two. Clearly there are technical or legislative factors involved, but is there an end date in sight by which Mr. Jeyes would like to see the complete picture up and running? It will be a transient body, in that it will change all of the time. By when will all of the boxes be ticked and all of the relevant agencies be within the remit of the agency?
We have been told that 20% of the overall budget is being spent on early intervention. Given the large return factor on every €1 spent, has Mr. Jeyes plans within the short to medium term to increase that percentage?
Ms Flaherty stated that the NGO sector provided 20% of the new agency's services. Is this work being financed through their existing grant structure or is it coming out of the €550 million budget? If the latter, how much will be contributed?
My next point is on a departmental issue, about which Mr. Jeyes might not be able to comment. According to the gentleman from Foróige this morning, the Department sees the significant benefits and merits in the programme but will not tell anyone, as it would then be required to provide it to everyone. This would be the stupidest approach possible. If the Department recognises that it might not have the money to roll the programme out, it should find the money. From where can such programmes be financed in future?
I will be brief, as most of the issues have been raised. I support the agency's establishment, there is widespread support for it and goodwill towards Mr. Jeyes and the entire concept. However, it is a significant undertaking. Although it cannot be compared with the change from the health boards to the HSE, that kind of change comes to mind. I am not satisfied that the change to the HSE was done in an appropriate way or that what we have now is what we had hoped we would get. Can Mr. Jeyes give an undertaking that the idea behind the agency will work in practice? What is the timescale for the agency's implementation? Many have mentioned the delays about which we are all frustrated.
My next two issues have been raised by others, but I need to raise them again. I have raised them with the Minister by way of parliamentary question, but I am not sure what the replies meant. Having listened to Mr. Jeyes, I am not sure what he means either. Perhaps he will clarify the matters for me.
First, I wish to address the culture and ethos of family resource centres. My constituency of Tipperary South has the Millennium, Spafield and Three Drives family resource centres, which do good work. These centres need confirmation that their ethos and culture will be taken on board as part of the new agency.
I have previously put to the Minister the question of whether the centres will have a representative on the board, the response to which was not very clear. Perhaps Mr. Jeyes will say if a decision has been made and, if not, whether in his view they should be represented on the board.
On psychologists, what is the current situation in regard to the psychology service? Has a decision in that regard been taken? If so, what is that decision. If not, when will a decision be made? Also, what is Mr. Jeyes' view on psychologists transferring to the agency or remaining within the HSE but connected to the agency?
I welcome the delegates and apologise for missing the presentation, some of which I have read. The stated purpose of the agency is to work with families in communities to ensure the needs of children are met and to keep them safe from harm. Perhaps the delegates will elaborate on how they intend to do this, which I acknowledge will be a huge task.
How many staff will be employed in the agency and what will be their professions? It was mentioned by the delegates that they cannot deal with this issue on their own. I do not believe anybody would want them to do so. We will support them as much as we can. I would like to make an observation about family resource centres in terms of their diversity. Some deal only with particular sections of the community. In other words, they do not open their doors to the wider community. The downfall of some resource centres is that they home in on areas experiencing particular difficulties rather than meeting the needs of the wider community. It is a problem. How does the agency propose to address this problem?
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I hope it does not take me 20 years. I am doing my best. I appreciate the committee's impatience. In my second interview, which led to my recruitment to Ireland, I quipped that I wanted to bring some evidence-based impatience. I want to drive that forward. This relates to the question of the early starting point, once the other criteria are in place, in particular the financial reporting systems. Important points were made about the need to see the complete picture and to have an end date for conclusion of the discussions, which the agency cannot have on its own because this is about the values and relationships it has with the remainder of the health service. We need to know our template and the template for integration of the component parts of the health service. There needs to be further consultation around the best working relationships in the interests of children, families, communities and the groups involved.
On Ms Flaherty's reference earlier to the 20% grant, I am pleased if she is referring it to contracted work because that is how I see it. We are both speaking of the same figure. I am well aware of Mr. Finlay's success with the Big Brother Big Sister programme. There are many well-funded programmes in other jurisdictions, including urban aid in the UK in the area of technical and vocational education, in which millions have been invested. However, mainstreaming them is an issue. It is an issue Ireland will have to face in a few years, having had significant and important contributions from philanthropy. It is not for me to say from where finance should come. It is, however, for me to ensure that the money I spend on behalf of the taxpayer is spent on initiatives which have an evidence base. We will be looking to do this within finite resources. I recently met Foróige to discuss its budget, the range of contracts it has with us and the ways we can reduce non-productive costs, thus ensuring we get value for money throughout the system.
On Deputy Healy's question, I am never satisfied in terms of driving forward the resources that I have and ensuring we are getting the best from every member of staff. I am deeply conscious that the notion of having a single health service in a country the size of Ireland, which is comparable to Scotland, seemed sensible. If I was not paying attention and learning the lessons of why, in a period of only a few years, it did not work I would not be doing my job. I am trying to avoid some of the issues that led to the later defensiveness of that organisation and how it was perceived by the public. Certain issues within the organisation were centrally controlled while in other aspects of it there was no consistent or strategic management. As a public servant in Ireland, I must be conscious of the constraints. Ireland is not in charge of its own destiny and as such there are constraints on the finances of and recruitment within the agency.
On the Deputy's question of whether in my view with all of the constraints we can do a better job, the answer is yes. I believe we can do a significantly better job with shorter lines of accountability. I am not always comfortable with the word "empowerment" because I am not sure I know how to empower people. I am not sure anybody empowered Václav Havel or Nelson Mandela. I do, however, know that poor managers can disempower people and that this has happened. I can encourage people, set boundaries and responsibilities and seek to provide the best possible service. Through the production of annual standards and quality reports, I am confident of a process of continued improvement.
I can only repeat my reassurance about family resource centres respecting their culture and ethos while setting a challenging environment within the terms they apply to themselves. I am happy to reiterate that confirmation, as I have at their conference and as I do when I visit them. I want them to work effectively to avoid overlap and duplication and to ensure we have more formula-based approaches, in terms of resources, countrywide. Currently, psychologists are employed by the HSE and work with many groups, including children. There is no question of their remaining within the HSE. The status quo is not an option. My understanding is that the HSE will change. My preferred position, as the relationships between the component parts are examined, would be that psychologists would be hosted within the child and family support agency.
On Deputy Catherine Byrne's question, there is a need to develop a whole range of issues in terms of how children can be safe within their families and communities and to ensure the agency intervenes proportionately, building on family strengths and only when necessary. We will work with family resource centres and other community groups in terms of good models of intervention from which families have previously been happy to take advice. We do not want a social work referral approach, with people getting a telling off. We need to keep children safe from harm. We need to move on in Ireland from the "refer-on" culture whereby one person refers on a child to another person.
We need to get to a confident stage where it is not a case of what I am going to do about it but what we are going to do about it.
I recognise that in getting to that point I still have work to do to ensure we have the credibility that the hard-working staff for whom I am responsible deserve. Whether real or perceived, there has been a credibility gap, and with the diversity of resources through family resource centres, the National Educational Welfare Board programmes for school completion, home school links and attendance, I am sure we can free ourselves to reimagine and bring out new ways of working, as we believe in subsidiarity and local delivery, although to national standards and consistency.
I have a brief further question. From time to time, statistics indicate there are inadequate placement opportunities for those who would be referred for special care, high-dependency unit placements. There is also the cohort of some eight to ten children with special needs placed overseas. I understand there are three special-care units and two high-dependency units. Does the witness believe this capacity should be increased in order for us to avoid extended waiting times? There were three waiting before Christmas; one was accessed, one was withdrawn and the other was reclassified, with access to a high-dependency unit. Capacity seems to be an issue so will the witness comment on that? I expect this will continue under the child and family support agency's remit into the future. Are there plans to examine the provision for the cohort of young people currently in placements overseas?
I have a question on the legal costs and the adversarial court system. Are there plans to move from that culture and mentality, and the challenging way in which we do things as a State? There are costs associated with guardian ad litem, as well as benefits to the child. Will the witness comment on that?
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
There are eight young people abroad. One went to Nebraska during my time, against the advice of the HSE. We did not feel it would work and it did not. The seven placed in England all have a mental health provenance. I have had discussions on working more clearly with expanding mental health provision in this country. It is not just our bit that is in need of expansion. Special care relates to circumstances in which a young person is deprived of liberties and it should only be taken in extreme circumstances.
The average waiting time to get a place is very low - it is a number of days - despite cases flaring up. I take the Deputy's point about the two going elsewhere. It is important that we would only wish to deprive a young person of their liberty when it is absolutely necessary. The number of special care places and the specialisms associated with them will be enhanced. For example, there is a very good high-support unit in Crannóg Nua that will have a special care facility, with planning permission agreed last week.
I must be very careful in my leadership of this because I do not want to create a position where the idea is that we will fill it if it is built. We need to keep the idea pretty tight. There is a difficulty where hard-pressed communities, families or social workers need respite from trying to work in a community and family scenario with a young person. We need to consider the number of times we examine cases where the issue is something else, such as drugs and associated criminal behaviour. I would support, in due course, parallel tracks of special care and detention schools blending so that they could merge. I would like to be in charge of both. Ireland has, for all of those under 18, one system dealing with the needs of the young people and their deeds, rather than separate systems. There are plans and I would be happy to provide detail on those if required.
Legal costs are spiralling out of control. Legal services are run as part of the corporate HSE. There was a response, met with some success, that regarded previous management difficulties. It was an error to centralise budgets, as we all like spending somebody else's money. Within the HSE, legal service users authorise work but the budget is held centrally. Once we have sorted the clarity of the budget - and not before - I will have legal services within the children's agency.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
Not at all. The contentious issue concerns the grubby word of money. The budget across the sector is being overspent. I just want to be absolutely sure that the piece of cake I am getting from the empire will be sufficient for its purpose. We must ensure the money is being used properly. There have been times when we have been profligate in seeking legal advice, and we need a better knowledge management system. That may tell us if another team got similar legal advice before.
Mr. Gordon Jeyes:
I know the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is committed to a family court system and I am glad to hear that he intends to bring forward proposals later this year in that regard. I have sat in court and I do not believe family circumstances are best judged by which lawyer makes the best argument at a particular time. It is not an issue of guilt or innocence but rather an issue of repairing damage. People should sit around a table under judicial direction, as there are serious issues at stake. It is not beyond our wit to agree such issues. The guardian ad litem system needs urgent reform and the trend is out of control. They have an important contribution to make but we need greater regulation, role clarity, purpose and function.
On behalf of the committee I thank the witness most sincerely for a very comprehensive presentation. He has been both challenging and personally inspiring. I thank the members for the patience demonstrated during the votes. The IMO has confirmed a meeting for 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
It would be remiss of me not to reflect again my vexation, for want of a better word, that legislation relevant to the committee membership's work was being taken on the floor of the Dáil Chamber at the same time as we meet here. It makes our role virtually impossible. It just happened that I had no amendments for the Bill and was supporting its passage but I had to get a colleague to make a closing comment. It is not great scheduling. It should be within the gift of this institution to recognise that it is not within our gift to cover bilocation.
We will write to the Whips, informing them that our committee is on Thursday mornings at 9.30 a.m., and that we would prefer for them not to have legislation related to children and health on the clár at that time.