Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Children in Care
75. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to progress legislation on aftercare provision for young persons leaving care to ensure they are provided with the type of transitional support that their individual situation requires; the date on which she expects this legislation to be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53804/13]
The Minister gave a commitment during the passage of the Child and Family Agency Bill to address the recognised need for legislation on aftercare provision for children in State care. I am anxious to know whether she is in a position to advise on what progress has been made since the passage of the Child and Family Agency Bill and if she is in a position to signal with some certainty the legislation which will be presented and when it will be presented.
No, I am asking about aftercare provision. During the passage of the Child and Family Agency Bill the Minister gave an assurance to the House that this was a priority to be addressed. She indicated that whatever legislation was required to facilitate its introduction at the earliest opportunity would be employed. I am asking for an update on the issue. Will the Minister tell the House what legislation will facilitate its introduction and how soon she expects to present it?
My apologies. Last month I obtained Cabinet approval for the Department's policy to strengthen the legislative aftercare provisions.
It is proposed to amend the Child Care Act 1991 to provide for a statutory right to the preparation of a plan that identifies the support young people will need when they leave State care. The proposed amendment will provide clarity around eligibility and the arrangements for preparing, reviewing and updating the aftercare plan and monitoring young care leavers who do not participate in the process. Work has commenced in my Department and the legislation will be published early in 2014. We are finalising a few outstanding issues relating to the amendment of the Child Care 1991 which deals with bringing the three detention schools together. I will include the aftercare provision in that legislation which I envisage bringing to the House early in the new year.
I welcome this, as I did when the Minister first signalled it when we were concluding the debate on the Child and Family Agency Bill 2013. A statutory entitlement to aftercare to ensure young people leaving State care on the attainment of their 18th birthday have at least a comparable level of supports and encouragement to face the challenges of young adulthood is critically important. The provision of aftercare services has been highlighted as a key element in achieving positive outcomes for young people leaving care. When the Minister raised this issue - I note comments she has made since - she said consultation would commence when children turned 16 years to prepare a care plan. I am anxious to know with certainty that the legislation that will provide for the preparation of a care plan will also ensure adequate resourcing to follow through on the recommendations that the care plan will highlight. It is all very well preparing a care plan, but these most vulnerable of young people need certainty on the resourcing of the care plan specific to their needs and potential. This is about helping them to reach their potential in young adulthood that we would wish for our own children. It comes back to equality of treatment of children across the board.
I have indicated in the House previously the great strides made in this area. For example, at the end of June this year 1,431 young people were in receipt of aftercare services. That is a considerable change in recent years when the numbers were in the hundreds. There is much greater sensitivity shown to young people and a higher budget for them. A total of 1,000 aged between 18 and 21 years and 384 over 21 years were receiving some aftercare support. In addition, 656 of those aged between 18 and 21 years were in education and training, while 55.8% were in full-time education. Sometimes, people speak about young people in aftercare as if the vast majority are out of home, education and services, but they are not. A large number of children who have been through the care system are in education and doing well and being supported by the State. There is no room for complacency, but the aftercare provision I will insert in the legislation will bring an even greater focus to the needs of young people who have been in care for a period and need ongoing support when they leave the care system.
It was recognising what the Minister had said that led me to table the question in the context of the young child's care plan assisting him or her to reach his or her potential. Each plan will be unique to the individual young person's circumstances and needs. The HSE national aftercare service is underpinned by a national policy and procedures document which was developed in co-operation with stakeholders.
The HSE national policy on aftercare has been implemented nationally and is monitored by the HSE's aftercare implementation group which has responsibility for ensuring an aftercare service across all areas within existing resources. My question seeks to identify the gaps in resources. Will the Minister provide an update on the HSE's aftercare implementation group's identification of the gaps in the resourcing of aftercare services? This is related to the first point I made. Provision of care plans is fine but resources are critical.
As the Deputy noted, there is a national aftercare policy. The figures I have provided are the most recent available to me, but I will ask the national policy group for an update on the matter. I hope there are not too many gaps because we are trying to reach out to young people who need aftercare services to ensure they receive them. The statistics show that we are fulfilling many of the needs that arise. It is clear that many children decide to remain with foster parents after they reach the age of 18 years, with ongoing financial support. I will be happy to provide more up-to-date figures if they are available.