Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Child Protection Services
1. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his views on the number of unaccessed files found in protection and welfare services in the Laois-Offaly area; the measures being taken to address these shortcomings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19881/15]
Some years ago, citizens voted to enshrine children's rights in the Constitution. This morning, as a result of a Government decision, the time available to Deputies to question the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, has been reduced by 50 minutes.
When I raised these issues two weeks ago in the Topical Issue debate, instead of answering my questions, the Minister showed more interest in pointing out to the Chair that I had exceeded the two minutes' speaking time available to me. It is not surprising, therefore, that he does not want to answer questions and the Government has ordered business in this manner.
Last month, the Minister briefed the Select Sub-Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on the scandalous position in Laois-Offaly where it has been found that in excess of 1,000 files have not been assessed. He set a date of 21 May for the completion of an initial review of the matter. Will he indicate what has been the outcome of the review and what action has taken place and will take place in the coming weeks to ensure all the issues highlighted are resolved?
Deputy Troy repeatedly alleges there have been cuts to the programme and I repeatedly assure him of the Government's intentions in this regard. I have also made clear to Tusla that we hold this scheme in high esteem and do not wish to see its funding cut. The Deputy alleges its funding has been cut but has failed to produce any evidence to support his allegations. Funding for the programme has not been cut.
The Government, not the Opposition, sets the order of the day. It is disingenuous of the Minister to argue the Fianna Fáil Party set the order. The Government is curtailing business in the House and failing to answer questions on serious issues related to the welfare and protection of children.
Shouting will not help. The correct position is that a vote was taken on the Government's proposal for the Order of Business, yet the Deputies opposite continue to disrupt Question Time by engaging in argument. I do not know what it is they are afraid of but there will be a full debate. In any event, I would like to answer the questions.
This Government established, for the first time, a full Cabinet position for the Minister with responsibility for children.
I am pleased to take questions on children. As Deputy Troy noted, I raised this issue initially at the select sub-committee. I did so to place as much information as I could in the public domain at the earliest opportunity. Before proceeding, I remind Deputies that we need to give due regard to fair procedures for any individuals who may be involved.
I have received an action plan from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which addresses the short-term and medium-term requirements to manage the referrals that were not processed as they should have been. This plan includes longer-term objectives for local and national management to ensure this is not repeated. The first step in the action plan was to obtain a clear view of the scale of the problem and this has been done.
The IMPACT trade union claims that senior management were well aware of the position for months, if not years. Is that true or false? Some 127 children were identified as requiring urgent attention. For how long was that the case? Have the children in question now received the urgent attention they require? It is also alleged that 660 children required a social worker. Has a social worker been assigned to each of these 660 cases?
The chief operating officer of Tusla, Mr. Fred McBride, stated the following:
A clear weakness identified in the Laois/Offaly area has been that relating to filing and records management. It is with regret that Tusla acknowledges its lack of capacity to readily access information which would have given a clearer picture of the operation of social work in Laois/Offaly.What steps has the Department taken to ensure an adequate, functioning information technology is in place in Laois-Offaly?
I assure the House that the action plan includes steps to address the management of the intake of cases; engage in liaison with An Garda Síochána; use external child care expertise to ensure appropriate management and prioritisation of the backlog of cases; and put in place the resources needed to support the process. Tusla has in place a mechanism to monitor the progress of the action plan and I have required regular updates in this matter. I have met Tusla management for updates on progress on three occasions and will meet it again later today.
Independent of my involvement, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, has formally written to Tusla. In a similar way to my requests to Tusla, the authority has asked for an update on the steps being taken to mitigate risks to children and provide adequate oversight and to outline the mechanism that will provide assurance that no similar risks are being experienced elsewhere. I appreciate the speedy response from Tusla and the plans to ensure that any other areas with potentially similar issues are speedily identified and an appropriate action plan put in place.
The Minister did not answer my question. The chief executive of Tusla, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, is on record as stating that funding for the operation of his organisation is inadequate. Has Mr. Jeyes requested additional funding in the context of the cases highlighted in Laois-Offaly and, if so, will this funding be provided?
Some 127 children were found to be in need of urgent attention. For how long has this been the case and have the children in question been provided with the attention they require? Has a social worker been assigned to each of the 660 children who were found to require a social worker? Is the number of social workers in the system adequate?
The Minister indicated he will work with a number of agencies. Will he confirm that the information technology system in place in the Child and Family Agency is not fit for purpose and Tusla continues to rely on the Health Service Executive's information technology system? Does the Department intend to fund a new, efficient information technology system in this important agency?
The action plan involved establishing an oversight team in Tusla; commissioning a review of the backlog of referrals using Tusla staff from another area; reducing the backlog through the use of agency staff and the reassignment of staff from another area; using independent child care expertise to support the assessment and address the backlog; and communicating the current position to the Health Information and Quality Authority and Department. A subsequent action plan elaborated on these steps and identified further steps to establish the root causes of the issue and lessons to be learned.
Key actions identified included liaison with the Garda Síochána regarding notifications on retrospective abuse cases; risk assessment and prioritisation of the backlog by an external child care expert; planned allocation of all outstanding cases; diversion of referrals, where appropriate, to local area pathways and the meitheal model; recruitment of ten additional social workers; assessment of ICT systems and addressing the related risks; training and management of supervisory skills; and, management review of Tusla risk-management arrangements.
Therefore, a lot of work has been done and is ongoing. Those at immediate risk are being addressed as we speak.