Thursday, 26 November 2009
Frances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
I also welcome the Minister of State. I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me this opportunity to raise the issue of guardianship payments. I am raising it in the light of the fact that the current criteria exclude some legal guardians and others, particularly grandparents caring for and raising children, from availing of the payment. The latter's circumstances tend to involve parents who are undergoing drug rehabilitation and have little contact with their children. Since the criteria refer to orphaned or abandoned children, the grandparents tend to be excluded.
I have encountered a variety of cases, the likes of which the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is examining, in some of which grandparents are receiving the payment but not in others. The criteria are causing concern. Will the Minister of State outline to the House the specific criteria that must be met to receive the guardianship payment? In the light of changing demographics and family units, is the Government considering changing the criteria? The Law Reform Commission is considering the issue of guardianship and the specific matter I raise may be examined.
Quite a number of my constituents have been affected and the situation is causing much distress. It is not good for the child either, as he or she feels vulnerable upon becoming aware, as children often do, that his or her family is facing financial difficulties. Grandparents apply for but do not receive this payment, despite effectively being the children's full-time carers.
I have read letters from social welfare officers who cited instances in which a child had received a present from a parent, which implies contact, in deciding that the grandparents did not meet the criteria. While the children in question are living with their grandparents, having some contact with their parents, even if they are weaning themselves off drugs, is good. It is a difficult issue, to which there are varying responses from social welfare officers around Dublin. It would be helpful, therefore, if we could bring some clarity to it. There is some discretion, which may be helpful, given that the criteria are so strict and do not quite meet the circumstances I have outlined. However, it is the criteria stipulated in the legislation that probably need to be changed.
I ask the Minister to ensure the criteria governing guardianship payments are flexible enough to ensure support reaches those for whom the benefit was intended and that people do not lose out on this essential payment owing to what I would call an inflexible bureaucratic approach to the issue. It is very much a human story where children are living with their grandparents and being looked after effectively and well but the grandparents are not receiving the financial support, even though they are the guardians. I look forward to hearing the response of the Minister of State.