Child poverty

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1 Debates: Welfare of children, social worker numbers

Children’s strategy, child poverty, youth homelessness

Charlie McConalogue (FF, Donegal NE) raised the issue of the number of social workers now appointed to work with children at risk (Dail Eireann, Debates, 1st February 2012, 817-8; 14th February 2012, 217 – 224).  The Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, told him that at end December there were now 2,442 social workers, compared to 2,432 at end 2010 and 2,189 at end 2009, an increase of 253 since end 2009.  The aim of the implementation plan following the Ryan report was for an additional 270 social workers.  The Health Service Executive had made provision for 62 social workers in 2011, building on 200 in 2010.  Not  all the 2011 cohort was reflected in the 2011 census due to a time lag. The numbers in children and family services increased by 37 from 1,183 to 1,220 from December 2010 to December 2011, with provision made for the recruitment of an additional 62 in 2011, which had either been filled or accepted.  25 had taken up duty and others were due on stream in the coming weeks.  As for the pension reduction grace period, which had created some uncertainty, about 45 had given notice of retirement, or 3.7% of the overall number, compared to an annual turnover of 1% to 2%.  Departures would draw on local flexibility available under the Croke Park agreement and the national director had discretion to fill priority vacancies now and over the year.  Contingency arrangements were in place for redeployment for areas of greatest need.  The government had increased the children and families budget of the HSE by 4% or €21m this year, but she did not wish to minimize the financial difficulties faced by the HSE.


She added that she had established an interdepartmental committee to oversee progress in implementing the Children first guidance launched last year.   A recent audit found that in December 2011, 94% of social workers had received and were aware of the new guidance and practice requirements.  The significant increase in social workers since 2009 was of considerable assistance to the HSE in driving forward implementation.  


Charlie McConalogue accused the minister of failing to have 60 social workers in place by the end of 2011 and 71 social workers were now retiring. The minister, Frances Fitzgerald, told him that the Ryan report had recommended an additional 270, with 260 to be recruited by the end of last year, which was done with another 10 to be recruited this year.  She was pleased to have lived up to that commitment. The Ryan recommendation had been met in full.  Those who were retiring were spread around the country – 13 in HSE South, 8 in Dublin NE and so on.


Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire) described it as difficult to get his head around the figures – but if we add 10 to 60 that was 70, but 71 were retiring, so that was a decrease of one. How did this meet the Ryan report recommendation?  Peter McVerry had said that to get us up to the level of Northern Ireland, we needed an extra 1,200 social workers and there seemed to be no movement on that.  The minister, though, said that she rejected his interpretation and cited the additional government resources applied. She had inherited a completely unsatisfactory legacy and she could not compare work with like work because the data had not been collected.  This was now being dealt with and this was why there was a strong reform programme.  


Caomhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) asked her what contingency plan she had in place to address the current exodus of workers.  Charlie McConalogue accused her of minimizing the impact of the retirements.  Richard Boyd Barrett spoke of children waiting 18 months for psychological assessment and 6 months to have hearing assessed.  


The minister told him that she would communicate with him.  We could not say that more money would solve these issues, although it was important.  We must also look at the voluntary sector providing child and family support services and how it engaged with the HSE.   262 people had been recruited, with a number due to begin in the next couple of weeks.  In 2010 there were 1,183 workers and 1,220 in 2011, up 37 and then the batch of 60 to start, meaning that numbers went from 2,189 in 2009 to 2,431 in 2010 and 2,441 in 2011.  As the economic situation improves, we will have to ensure more resources are devoted to this area, and in the meantime, we would have to reform the services as well.



Youth homelessness review

Later, she told Mary Lou McDonald (SF, Dublin SC) and Michael Colreavy (SF, Sligo – N Leitrim) that she had asked the Centre for Effective Services to make a high level review of the 2011 strategy on youth homelessness (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th February 2012, 229). She wanted to examine what was successful, the blockages, the current challenges and what had not been done.  Consultation was now being held with services providers, NGOs and young people.  It would be completed before the summer and would inform the framework for the following five years.  There had been no regular data collection since the 2001 strategy and she had prioritized better data collection and management.  She would have better data for 2012 next month.  The centre had started its review.  She had met with Focus Point and would meet other groups.  Consultation with stakeholders would take place and accelerate once she had the information from the centre. 



National Children’s Strategy

Asked by Martin Ferris (SF, Kerry N) about the new national children’s strategy,  Frances Fitzgerald told the Dail that she intended to have it by the end of the year (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th February 2012, 231-2).  She had launched a consultation last year and 6,700 children had taken part.  She thanked the teachers and national schools that had participated.  She expected that toward the middle of this year she would ask for submissions from a broad range of civic society.  Mick Wallace (ind, Wexford) asked would the new strategy deal with child poverty and she agreed that there must be a focus on this.



Child poverty

Meantime, Jillian van Turnhout (ind, Taoiseach nominee)  again asked for a debate in the Senate on child poverty (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 15th February 2012, 547).   Ireland was near the top of the poverty level in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, she said, with 19% of children living in poverty.  Child poverty rates were much higher for jobless families and lone parent households.  They were at risk due to the cumulative effects of successive budgets.  Children were living on poor diets, missing development milestones, suffering ill-health, struggling at school and experiencing isolation because they were unable to participate in childhood activities.  She wanted a debate to see how this trend could be reversed and she had brought a group of OPEN, Treoir, One Family and SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Our Kids) to a briefing on the cumulative effectives of the budgets.  Child poverty was a matter of concern to all members.