Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Department of Health
Children in Care
Central to the care and protection of children in care is listening to their voice. This principle has underpinned national policy and operational practices over the past number of years, in particular for children in the care of the State. Children in residential care and foster care are allocated a social worker whose role includes visiting the child in their placement and talking with them about their day to day life, and longer term plans. The child's wishes inform Care Plans, and children often attend at Care Planning Meetings to express these directly or with the assistance of their social worker.
It is important to note that the National Standards for Children in Residential Care and National Standards for Children in Foster Care explicitly state that children are to be consulted so as to gain their input into issues that influence their daily life. This includes choices regarding meals, recreation and other activities. HIQA inspect against these standards and in their inspection reports HIQA have found that, overall, children are consulted. The HSE and the Irish Youth Justice Service have taken steps to ensure that children in care and detention are familiar with the work of Empowering People in Care (EPIC). This agency meets with and advocates for children in care.
The Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse made two key recommendations in relation to the voice of the child as follows. The first was that they should be able to communicate concerns without fear and secondly that children who have been in child care facilities are in a good position to identify failings and deficiencies in the system, and should be consulted.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 2009 Implementation Plan , commonly known as the Ryan Implementation Plan contains a series of measures, designed to ensure that children and young people have a stronger voice and are consulted.
My Department led a major consultation exercise with children and young people in the care of the State over the course of 2010. Over 200 children and young people took part in consultation sessions. The aims and objectives of the consultations were to get the views of children and young people in the care of the State on the issues that really matter to them and on which they would like to be heard; to explore existing mechanisms for children and young people to express their views and to make recommendations on future structures to be established for children and young people to express their views. The Report, entitled 'Listen To Our Voices' was launched by me last July.
At the launch of the 'Listen To Our Voices' last July, I indicated that I would be establishing a Voice of Children in Care Implementation Group to be facilitated by my Department. Its work and direction will be informed and influenced by children and young people. It is planned to establish the Group in the current year and my Department is currently working with the HSE on this basis.
Question 70: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the total number of young persons currently in receipt of after care services from the Health Service Executive; the number of aftercare workers employed by the HSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8057/12]
Question 85: To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will outline the current after care supports that are available for children and young persons who are leaving care; if she will provide figures for the proportion of said children and young persons who are provided with after care supports; her proposals on addressing shortcomings in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8082/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 85 together.
Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 places a statutory duty on the HSE to form a view in relation to each person leaving care as to whether there is a "need for assistance" and if it forms such a view, to provide services in accordance with the legislation and subject to resources. All young people who have had a care history with the HSE, be it foster care, residential care, high support, or special care are entitled to an aftercare service based on their assessed needs. The core eligible age range for aftercare is 18 years and up to 21 years. This can be extended until the completion of a course of education in which he/she is engaged up to the age of 23 years of age.The HSE has not routinely collected national data in respect of children who leave the care of the state each year, therefore it is not possible to provide data on the proportion of such children in receipt of aftercare. It is intended that implementation of a National Childcare Information System, which is due to go to tender this year, will provide for the routine collection of detailed information of children in care and those leaving care. However, I am advised by the HSE that 1,146 young people were in receipt of an aftercare service at the end of December 2011.
Some 90% of children in care are in foster care and a large number of these remain living with their foster families, supported financially by the HSE, on reaching 18 years of age. These young people continue in education and training as planned. This remains a key component of aftercare for young people when they leave care. Children who have been in residential care, short term foster placements, multiple placements and those who have dropped out of education/training are most at risk and in need of support when they leave care. The most important requirements for young people leaving care are for secure, suitable accommodation as well as further education, employment or training and social support. Aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. An individual holistic needs assessment identifies a young person's need for accommodation, financial support, social network support and training and education in the months before their 18th birthday. The level of support required will vary for each individual.
There are approximately 45 dedicated Aftercare workers in the HSE and recruitment of 10 additional aftercare workers is currently underway. In addition, many social workers while not dedicated aftercare workers, provide aftercare as part of their workload. The HSE also provides funding and has agreements in place with a number of bodies including Focus Ireland and Clare Care, to provide full-time aftercare workers.
The National Aftercare Service is underpinned by a National Policy and Procedures Document which has been developed in cooperation with the key stakeholders including the voluntary sector agencies involved in Aftercare provision and my Department. The policy commits to promoting and achieving the best outcomes for young people leaving care and in ensuring consistency of support to these young people.The most vulnerable group of young people leaving care are those that have dropped out of education and training and those that have left residential care. Some of these young people have mental health problems or a disability. The HSE is alert to this group and the implementation group is working together to improve their circumstances. The HSE has committed to monitor implementation of this policy in the 2012 National Service Plan. I will review demand and uptake of the service over the course of 2012, with a view to assessing how the service is addressing need.