Dáil debates

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

2:00 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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Question 21: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when an implementation plan will be published on the recommendations of the Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group; if she will confirm that all recommendations will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33530/12]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I indicated when I published the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group that I welcomed its findings and recommendations and that I fully accept the need for action in the areas identified.

As advised at a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, following consultations with the Taoiseach, I am putting in place an implementation process for the Gibbons-Shannon recommendations. Many of the recommendations of the review group's report echo recommendations made in previous reports and actions are already under way to implement these as part of the reform programme under way in children and family services. Where recommendations give rise to a need for new actions my Department will incorporate these within the implementation process.

My Department is currently preparing a detailed project implementation plan for the reform of children's services. Linked to this, it is preparing a single database of various report recommendations over recent years to streamline reporting to me on these matters. Reporting on the Gibbons-Shannon recommendations will form part of his streamlined reporting mechanism. It is my intention to bring regular progress reports on my Department's reform programme to Government, the relevant Cabinet sub-committee, this House and relevant committees.

On the content of the recommendations, as stated, many of the actions and reforms identified by the review group are already under way as part of the Government's reform programme, the most radical reform of child welfare and protection services ever undertaken in the State. I believe the review group report will add further impetus and support to this comprehensive change programme.

As I have often stated, it is my contention that child and family services have for too long competed with other priorities within the health services. This was a critical factor in the decision by the Government to establish a dedicated child and family support agency. The agency, which will report to me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will on its establishment in early 2013 carry forward key elements of the change programme.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for her reply. This is the first occasion since publication of the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group that I have had an opportunity to discuss it with the Minister on the floor of the House. I commend the authors of the report, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon and Ms Norah Gibbons, on their dedication over the past 18 months in teasing through the detail of each child's case with a fine-tooth comb and highlighting what went wrong with the State services. Tragically in the cases of the 196 children who died in the care of the State, including 112 who died of unnatural causes, much went wrong. That makes it all the more important that each of the recommendations in the report is implemented with no dilution. I specifically refer to the recommendations to change the in camera rule, having mandatory after-care for children leaving the care of the State at the age of 18 and the establishment of a death review panel entirely independent of the HSE. When can we expect to see that implementation plan? Will the Minister state that she will accept nothing less than the full implementation of all the recommendations in the report?

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I join the Deputy in thanking the authors of the report for their work. It is pretty devastating to read a report on the deaths of children. In this House just two years ago there was a lack of clarity even on the figures. With this report we now clearly have increased transparency. Clearly the kinds of reforms needed in this area will not take place overnight and a great deal of work remains to be done. There are significant legacy issues in putting the child and family protection services on the kind of basis we would want to see and that is very clearly illustrated in the report. The question of interagency work needs to be taken very seriously not just by my Department but by a number of other Departments and by a range of agencies as well as statutory agencies. That is a very big challenge.

I have already started discussions on implementing the recommendations and I intend to continue discussions over the summer on the development of the child death independent review mechanism. Yesterday I met representatives of HIQA and began discussions on roles it might play. I will also meet representatives of other relevant bodies. I want to develop a mechanism. In many ways very good work is already being done by Dr. Helen Buckley and her team. The HSE and Government had obviously established a service. The implementation group suggested a new way to develop that independent child death review mechanism and I intend to examine that and see how its recommendations can be implemented. I have already outlined that the child and family support agency legislation will deal with the after-care issues that arise from the report. I have already started work on a number of the areas. We need the database I outlined to the Deputy in order to streamline the various recommendations. We have the implementation of the recommendations from the Ryan report, which is progressing. I am confident that each of the recommendations will be progressed in the coming months.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Minister give a commitment that the recommendation for mandatory after-care will be implemented in full? Unfortunately the report showed that children in after care were failed to an even greater extent than any other children in the care of the State. Nothing less than mandatory after-care is required and I ask the Minister for an assurance on that. As the Minister rightly points out the challenges still remain. Since the period covered by the Shannon-Gibbons report published last week, 40 children in the care of the State died up to May of last year. It is an area that requires much attention by the State and is very difficult. We must ensure that our services are as safe as possible. On the issue of a mandatory after-care policy, I ask the Minister to give a commitment today that she will introduce mandatory after-care provision and not something short of that.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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In regard to any deaths in the recent period, the Deputy will be aware that reports have been published and information is in the public arena on how many of those deaths were natural deaths. It is important to remind ourselves that non-natural and natural deaths of children under the age of 18 occur. They are reported on now immediately by the review mechanism and panel that is in place in the HSE, and that is only right. We are talking about further developing that mechanism.

In regard to after-care, it is important to acknowledge that the numbers receiving after-care have increased hugely from 847 in 2009 to 1,340 as of March 2012. Far more young people are receiving after-care and, clearly, more budgetary resources are being given to young people leaving care. After-care was an issue that was identified in the report. I intend to bring legislation forward, with advice from the Attorney General. As I said, I will bring it forward in the Bill to establish the Child and Family Support Agency to ensure that all children in care have an assessment of needs carried out before they are 18 years of age and that all children in care should be entitled to the supports they need. I have legal advice on this, as the Deputy will be aware, and I have discussed this matter with the Deputy and with Deputy Ó Caoláin on a number of occasions here and the position is that at present that obligation is on the HSE. Not every young person leaving care after the age of 18 will need after-care. The question is one of assessing those who do and ensuring that they get the service. I will seek to further clarify the obligations of the HSE in regard to after-care in further legislation later this year.