Dáil debates

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Other Questions

Child and Family Support

3:00 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Question 25: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has received the final report from the Task Force established to look at setting up the new Child and Family Support Agency; if it will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33337/12]

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The task force that I established to advise on the necessary transition programme to set up a child and family support agency has undertaken a considerable body of work. I met the task force at its 18th meeting last month for an update on this work and I anticipate that the final report will be submitted in July. The report will be brought to the Government, laid before the Oireachtas and published. It will contain advice on a number of key issues that will inform the preparation of the necessary legislation to establish the new agency. In particular, this will include a vision for the agency, proposed governance arrangements and advice on the services that the task force considered appropriate for inclusion in the agency's remit.

The commitment to establish a new child and family support agency is at the heart of the Government's reform of child and family services. The establishment of a single agency, underpinned by legislation and incorporating key children and family services, will provide a focus for the major reforms that are under way. This reform programme contains a number of critical elements, those being, the need for a comprehensive change programme to improve the quality and consistency of child welfare and protection services; the introduction of legislation to place Children First on a statutory basis; and the establishment for the first time of a dedicated budget for children and family services, providing transparency and accountability for the use of resources to meet national priorities. Previously, the budget formed part of a larger budget and underwent a great deal of movement, particularly at the end of each year when demands were made by hospital budgets, for example. The reform programme will also involve the transition of existing HSE child protection and welfare and services into the new agency; the merger of the existing Family Support Agency, which has a budget of more than €26 million, into the new agency; and consideration of the potential for further rationalisation of services for children under the new agency.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

A comprehensive change programme is being implemented under the leadership of Mr. Gordon Jeyes, national director of child and family services. The change programme is designed to enhance the level and consistency of child welfare and protection services significantly. This change process will continue into the new agency, of which Mr. Jeyes will be the first chief executive.

Extensive work is under way in my Department, the HSE and through the task force that I set up last September to prepare for the agency's establishment. I am satisfied that we are making excellent progress in terms of the preparatory work required to meet the Government's ambitious timetable, which will see the agency assuming full statutory responsibility for services for children and families early in 2013.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister has referred to 18 meetings, that she met the task force recently and that, this month, she expects to receive the final report, which she has confirmed will be placed before the Houses.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The final report is critical in respect of the establishment of the child and family support agency in the new year. Will we have an opportunity to peruse it? Will the Minister circulate it upon receipt to Opposition voices so that we can have time to inform ourselves? Will she indicate a facilitation to address the report's content on the resumption of the new Dáil session? The child and family support agency will be a major step in the new year. It should be a given that we would all have an opportunity to engage properly with the report of the task force at the first opportunity. Clearly, that opportunity will not present before the end of next week, but perhaps soon after. Will the Minister indicate that we will have that opportunity and will she let us know that we will not need to wait until the resumption of the Dáil to have sight of the content of the report?

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I can confirm that I will publish it on receipt and will circulate it to all Members in the House. It will also be available for people to read and respond to. I welcome a debate both within and outside the Houses on the work. Great care has been taken and much hard work has been put in by the members of the task force since last September, when I appointed them. It has taken submissions from a very wide range of statutory and non-statutory bodies, seeking their views on how best to deliver services to children and families. It also considered how best to organise services in order to meet the needs of children and families; it is about meeting their needs rather than the needs of the services or the professionals.

It will address those key issues and I look forward to hearing the views of the Deputy and Deputy McConalogue on the task force. It has given us its best thinking on how to progress the development of the agency.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister's commitment to lay the report of the task force before the Oireachtas. As the Minister knows, this is not just about setting up a new agency but how the agency operates and what exactly it does. We went from a position in the past where social work and child protection was the responsibility of health boards to where it came within the HSE's ambit. There were many problems with that agency so setting up a new body will not necessarily mean the problems will not happen again. It is absolutely critical that this is done correctly. I welcome the Minister's commitment to lay the report before the Oireachtas.

This is the last Question Time for this Minister before the recess. She received the fifth report to the Oireachtas of the special rapporteur on child protection in April and as yet, we have not had it laid before the House. That is not acceptable as it is a report to the House. I ask that at the very least, the Minister would ensure it is laid before the Houses go into recess.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I take the points made by the Deputies on the importance of this report and that we have a comprehensive discussion on its recommendations. It suggests the potential blueprint for the establishment of the new agency and, as such, it is critical to have a good discussion on its recommendations and the implementation of same. With regard to the report of the special rapporteur, the procedure is that when the report is received, it is sent to other Departments for comment. That is the normal procedure as it would refer to work done by other Departments.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
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It is a report to the Oireachtas.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Minister, Department of Children; Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Yes, but the normal process is to ask other Departments to respond to it. Those responses have been received and I hope to be in a position to place the report before the Houses before the Dáil concludes this term.