Minister Hanafin reiterates Government’s commitment to providing comprehensive services to children in need of care and protection
Ms Mary Hanafin TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for children, reiterated the Government’s commitment to providing comprehensive and high quality services to children in need of care and protection.
The Minister said that in the year 2000 alone, an additional £31.75 million revenue has been approved for the expansion of child care and family support services. Further resources are available to the health boards to fund capital projects such as new buildings, refurbishments etc. as these become necessary. This funding is being allocated under the overall framework of the Child Care Act, 1991. The Minister acknowledges that there are difficulties in providing adequate responses in such a difficult and complex area.
However, she pointed to the many positive developments in progress and to the commitment and dedication of staff and others such as foster-parents. These developments include:
- Expansion of early intervention programmes such as the Springboard Projects, teen parenting and community mothers programmes.
- A national programme by health boards to increase the number of high support and special care places from 17 in 1996 to a current total of about 65 places. A comprehensive development programme is underway to increase this number to 160 as soon as possible.
- A Special Residential Services Board for children convicted of committing offences and children who have behavioural problems and are in need of special care and protection was established by Minister Hanafin earlier this year. This body advises the Ministers for Health and Children and Education and Science on co-ordinating the delivery of services and on the development and provision of educational and other programmes in health board special care facilities and in those facilities run by or under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science for offending children. This Board was set up on an interim basis until Part 11 of the Children Bill, 1999, is passed.
- The Children Bill currently before the Oireachtas contains a number of important measures for non-offending children who are in need of special care or protection. These include Part 3 of the Bill which empowers health boards to apply to the courts for special care orders to detain non-offending children in need of special care or protection and Part 2 which introduces the Family Welfare Conference on a statutory basis for the first time. The Bill will also raise the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 years.
- The Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) was established in April of last year. The SSI has been given the task of supporting the child care services by promoting and ensuring the development of quality standards. The SSI began inspecting children’s residential homes last year and has now completed a detailed inspection of at least one home in each health board area. The SSI is, at Minister Hanafin’s request, finalising a composite report of the results of their inspections. This report will be widely circulated and will inform health boards and voluntary service providers regarding good practice. Minister Hanafin said “the SSI has a crucial role to play in the care and welfare of our most vulnerable children. We are currently looking at ways in which we can develop and expand the role of the SSI in order to assist them in their important task”.
- Implementation of the new national child protection and welfare guidelines “Children First” is underway and will help to improve inter-agency co-operation in protecting vulnerable children.
- A Working Group on Fostercare will be reporting to the Minister in October. The Minister said that she looked forward to receiving the Group’s recommendations which would provide a blueprint for the future of these essential services.
- On the broader children’s front, the Minister said that work was well advanced on the preparation of the National Children’s Strategy. The Strategy will reflect the provisions of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and will aim to improve the quality of children’s lives over the next ten years. A wide ranging consultation process, including consultation with children, has been completed. The Strategy will address the full range of children’s needs.
In regard to the ISPCC proposal for the establishment of an independent authority to run residential and alternative care services the Minister said that the proposal would be both undesirable and unworkable. Under the current health board system, services for children at risk are provided in a structured and coherent manner under the Child Care Act, 1991. The statutory responsibility must remain with the health boards who are fully accountable for the considerable expenditure incurred. However, the Minister stressed that many child care services are provided in co-operation with the voluntary sector and she said that she looked forward to a continuing and strengthened relationship between the statutory and voluntary sectors.