Seanad debates

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Adjournment Matters

Family Support Services

6:30 pm

Photo of Lorraine HigginsLorraine Higgins (Labour)
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I ask for a review of the policy to no longer fund Home Start services in Athenry, County Galway. In light of recent Exchequer figures and the more healthy economic position, it may be a good time to review cuts to such essential services.

Home Start, Athenry, is a scheme through which volunteers offer support to parents and young children through weekly home visits. Volunteers offer emotional support and practical help to parents struggling to raise their children due to lack of support in the context of mental health issues, ill health and relationship breakdown. The scheme has been operating since 2005 and is embedded in the community. People are aware of its existence and it has aimed to help parents become more independent and confidant so that they no longer need support in future. There is no doubt about its value. Up to 50 families a year use the scheme through home visits to 15 families at a time, parent and toddler weekly support groups and courses in parenting, stress management, play and cookery. Families find the programme most beneficial on foot of the informality of the home visits undertaken and the way in which it is tailored to the needs of each individual parent.

There are a total of 18 active volunteers and five new ones have just completed preparation courses. They are ready and willing to continue to help families in the area who need their support. Unfortunately, Home Start, Athenry, has financial support only up to December 2014 and it is fundamental that extra funding of €30,000 is provided as that is what the scheme reckons is required to facilitate its work supporting families in the Athenry area into next year. The funding would be put toward co-ordinators' salaries, travel expenses, training and support and other miscellaneous expenses required to permit this badly-needed service to continue to be provided in the area.

It is fundamental that it receives extra funding of €30,000 as that is the amount it reckons it will need to carry out their work in supporting families in the Athenry area into next year. The funding received would be put towards co-ordinators' salaries, travel expenses, training, support and other miscellaneous expenses required to continue with the service that is so badly needed in the area.

There is no doubt it is an essential service for the area. I urge the Minister to consider refunding the scheme for 2015 to allow Home-Start Athenry to continue to provide aid and services to families in need.

6:40 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, and will ensure that the Senator's remarks and the reply are conveyed to him. The Minister is not directly familiar with the organisation in question but the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has sought clarification from the Child and Family Agency on the issue raised. l understand Home-Start is an organisation which provides support, friendship and practical help to families with one or more children under five years of age, in their own homes. The establishment of the agency on 1 January 2014, as a key priority for Government, brings together family support services which previously were the responsibility of two State organisations - the HSE and the Family Support Agency. It provides a platform for better integration of these services. With the establishment of the agency we now have, for the first time, a situation where support services for families, who need assistance, are being provided under one roof and in a more co-ordinated and integrated way than before.

The establishment of the agency forms part of an ambitious programme of reform of services to children and families to which the Government is committed. The reform programme involves a series of initiatives which, taken collectively, are designed to radically overhaul the services for which the agency is responsible. In the area of family support, the responsibilities of the new agency include that of supporting and encouraging the effective functioning of families, with a particular focus on preventative family support services and early intervention. A number of priority objectives are being progressed which will inform future service developments in the area of family support. These include: the development of a strategy for family support and parenting to complement my Department's national policy framework; the alignment of the family resource centres with the overall agency approach to prevention and early intervention; a quality review of the implementation of family support processes in each area as well as the integration of family resource centres within the service delivery framework; and the introduction of Meitheal, the national practice model for all agencies working with children and young people.

Family is the most important influence on a child's life. From birth, children depend on parents and family to protect them and to provide for their needs. Often parents need help and support. Family support services offer a flexible programme of interventions which are provided through a broad range of skilled family support staff. The Senator will appreciate that decisions with regard to the recognition of family support organisations for receipt of funding, are appropriate to the Child and Family Agency in the first instance. The agency has authority under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 to distribute funding to organisations providing services to children and families.

At local level the agency is in the process of realigning its services across Galway city and county. As part of this process, the Child and Family Agency opened a family support service in September 2013, based in the Athenry primary care centre. The service covers the greater Athenry, Oranmore, Gort, Craughwell, Ardrahan and Claregalway areas. This is being done in partnership with Foróige and the service has five full-time staff. Plans are also advancing to open a similar community based family support service in the greater Loughrea area later this year. The agency is also undertaking a wider review of commissioning arrangements generally with a view to ensuring that funded services are provided in line with agency priorities and to ensure that there is ongoing evaluation of value for money. The strategy will also ensure best practice and evidence-informed interventions. The commissioning strategy is nearing completion and is due to be rolled out in 2015. The scope of the agency to provide any additional support for organisations engaged in the provision of both family support services such as Home-Start, will be informed by the analysis and decisions on the allocation of funding available to the agency in 2015.

I will ensure that the Minister responsible, Deputy James Reilly, will have the Senator's remarks and the reply conveyed to him. I hope that will be of some help.

Photo of Lorraine HigginsLorraine Higgins (Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State. While I acknowledge the references to value for money and best practice it is a pity that all the expertise built up by Home-Start Athenry and the knowledge of the people it has served in recent years had not been integrated into the new service. A mistake may have been made and perhaps it is an issue the Department needs to look at.