Child poverty

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Constitutional amendment, reforms for children

Task force for new child protection agency begins work

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, told Caoimhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan-Monaghan) that she hoped to submit a text for a constitutional amendment to strengthen the rights of children to the government for approval in the autumn (Dail Eireann, Debates, 14th September 2011, 460).  She then gave fresh details of reforms in children’s services.

 The minister told Charlie McConalogue (FF, Donegal NE) and Caomhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan-Monaghan) that the 60 additional social workers promised this year under the Ryan report this year had been prioritized and would be recruited by year end (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 417-9, 428).  168 new social workers had been recruited to the beginning of September 2011.  The plan was for the additional 200 and the 60 this year to be in place by the end of this year.   Her department was also finalizing legislation to put the Children first child protection guidelines on a statutory footing. Revised guidelines had been issued in July.  The HSE had published a new child protection and welfare practice handbook last week which would facilitate implementation of the guidelines.  

 She told them that she had established up a task force for the setting up of a new child and family agency, which had already met.  She did not yet have a timetable for this because it was a complex task and would not happen overnight.  She added that youth justice issues would be transferred to her on 1st January, except for the Garda diversion programmes, which would remain with the Department of Justice & Equality.    Later, she told Pearse Doherty (SF, Donegal SW) that the task force had held its inaugural meeting on 15th September, a second the following week and it was chaired by Maureen Lynott (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 523). The task force had been asked to propose a vision and principles to guide operations, advise on service responsibilities, review resources and propose a method for resource allocations, propose a design, prepare a detailed implementation plan, identify the main priorities and core relationships and oversee programmes.  The task force was currently finalizing a work programme and had established sub-groups.  The task force would meet fortnightly and the subgroups in between.  

 She told Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) that the Health Information and Quality Authority had convened a Standards Advisory Group to advise on national standards for the protection and welfare of children (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 524).  This advisory group  comprised wide representation from the health and social care sector, had met several times and would continue to advise HIQA on standards prior to a wider consultation.  They would then be amended and the final draft standards would be sent to her for approval early next year.  

 Later, she told Caomhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan-Monaghan) and Mary Lou McDonald (SF, Dublin C) that her department had met with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government at a workshop at the end of May to review the progress of the youth homeless strategy of 2001 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 525).    The workshop was beneficial in getting the the views of stakeholders and work would commence shortly on a high-level review of the 2001 strategy that would form the basis of an implementation framework to address youth homelessness over the next five years.  It was appropriate that a strategy ten years old should now be reviewed.  A progress review had been made in 2008 and a new review was being undertaken by her department.  There were still serious information deficits about the number of children accessing services, so work was under way to improve the quality of information on young people under 18 who were homeless to establish what services were working well and to see where further improvements were needed. 

 Caomhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan-Monaghan) asked about aftercare services for young people leaving care (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 526-7).  She told him that 1,051 young people were receiving aftercare in March 2011, 46% male and 54% female. The HSE National Aftercare Service was underpinned by a National Policy and Procedures document developed in cooperation with the key stakeholders, including voluntary sector agencies and her department.  The policy aimed to promote and achieve the best outcomes for young people leaving care and ensure consistency of support.  The policy was being rolled out nationally under the watch of the HSE aftercare implementation group which included representatives of the HSE, mental health, family services, disability services, representatives of the voluntary sector and a young persons’ representatives from Empowering People in Care (EPIC).  She was acutely aware of the challenges facing aftercare services, such as the needs for information, consistency, links to adult services and helping young people who might first reject its services.  To accommodate such challenges, funding was reviewed in 2011 to support 10 additional aftercare workers, with funding for EPIC for a national aftercare service for young people in care, leaving care and aftercare.

 Later, the minister told Michael McGrath (ind, Tipperary S) that the new Literacy and Numeracy Strategy had been launched that July by her colleague, the Minister for Education & Skills (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 521-2).

> Related references:

> Government strategy on child poverty: Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 525-6.

> Funding for youth services: Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 527-8.

> Social work staff: Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th September 2011, 527.