Child welfare

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Family Resource Centres in the new Child Family Support Agency, aftercare service

Several deputies raised the future of the Family Resource Centres (FRCs) in the new Child and Family Support Agency (Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th December 2012, 138-140; 142-4; 270-1).  The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, told Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S) that the government had approved the heads of the Bill for the new agency so that it could be established in early 2012.  She reassured him that the new agency would build on the excellent work undertaken by the Family Support Agency and that a community-based approach would be an integral part of the new agency.  Child protection services could not work properly if they did not have a base of community work and family support.  

 

Seamus Healy sought the representation of the FRCs on the board of the new agency.  She told him: ‘I expect there will be someone on the board representative of the work of the family support agency and the family resource centres, but the essential criteria for me will be the mix of skills needed to take forward an organization of more than 4,000 people, rather than a broad mix of representative individuals from various organizations.  That has not worked as a model for boards, as we saw with FAS and other agencies’.  

 

Later, she told Caomhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) that she expected the legislation to be available in January.  The organizational preparations were being overseen by a high level group chaired by the secretary general of her department.  The new agency would be one of the largest public agencies in the state, with over 4,000 staff.  The legislation was long, with a lot of detail and more than a hundred heads.  He told her that in the absence of information, there were real concerns among political voices and the non-governmental sector.   Later, she told Willie O’Dea (FF, Limerick City) that the allocation for the new agency in 2013 was €546m.  The budget plan included provision for 260 social workers.

 

The role of the FRCs was raised on a topical debate by James Bannon (FG, Longford Westmeath) (Dail Eireann, Debates, 20th December 2012, 927-9).  FRCs, like those in his constituency, were anxious that their work not be compromised by the new agency.  They specifically sought assurance that the FRC national forum be represented at board level and that the budget of the FRC programme be ring-fenced.  Recent cutbacks had put massive pressures on the FRCs.

 

Responding, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, told him that he could be reassured that the work of the FRCs would not be compromised but would be supported.  The FRCs would play a strong role.  She herself had seen many of them at close hand.  FRCs were subject to a 5% funding cut each year for 2012-14, which was tough on them, but less than others had been asked to take.  Centres had been asked to focus on greater efficiency and a reduction in administration and overhead costs.  James Bannon told her that her concessions were not enough for him to be satisfied.  Being penny-wise and pound-foolish could result in greater costs in the future and did not make economic sense.

 

Asked by Padraig Mac Lochlainn (SF, Donegal NE) about the HSE National Aftercare Service, the minister told him that the HSE had provided her with a report at the end of November, one which responded to the findings of the national implementation group  (Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th December 2012, 268-9).  The current spend on aftercare was €17m, with 1,387 children in aftercare and 42.2 full-time aftercare workers in the HSE, with additional services commissioned from Focus Ireland, Don Bosco and Crosscare.  There had been improvements in the delivery of services and the issue was under active consideration in the national implementation group and her officials would continue to engage with the HSE to ensure that the service was meeting the needs of vulnerable young people.