Press Release

Statement by Minister for Children on Social Services Inspectorate Report on Newtown House

The Minister for Children, Mary Hanafin T.D. today (Monday, 26 February 2001) received the report of the inspection by the Social Services Inspectorate on Newtown House. The report was requested by Minister Hanafin last July. The Minister has requested that the families involved be given copies by the Inspectorate and that the report be published immediately thereafter.

Minister Hanafin said “This report highlights a number of areas of serious concern regarding Newtown House. The centre is now closed and I have asked the Chief Executive Officer of the Health Board, the body which has statutory responsibility, to take urgent action to address the findings of the report. Resources have already been made available to the Health Board for this purpose.

The report demonstrates the importance of having an independent inspectorate system for our child care services. It was for this reason that the Government established the Social Services Inspectorate in 1999.”

Addressing the content of the report the Minister said: “I am concerned that the report indicates that good child practice was not followed in a number of instances. Children admitted to residential care have already experienced a lot of adversity and difficulties in their lives. It is important that this very vulnerable group of children receive services of the highest quality. The safety and care of those children must always be a primary concern. In the light of the findings I have asked the Health Board to advise me of the actions which they, as the body with statutory responsibility, propose to take.

I have asked the Health Boards to report to me on the arrangements they have in place to safeguard the rights of the children in residential care. The rights of parents and families must also be upheld as the aim must be to re-integrate the children with their families as soon as possible”.

Minister Hanafin also recognised that children in care have special emotional needs and she said “I have asked each Health Board to ensure that children in residential care get priority for psychological and psychiatric services.”

She continued “I am also concerned that correspondence addressed to a High Court judge was not forwarded. Given that children are currently placed in such centres under High Court orders, there is a clear Constitutional right of access to the High Court and I regard the failure to forward this correspondence as a serious matter. I have asked that it be forwarded immediately.”

The Minister also recognises that working in residential care is particularly challenging and that staff must be provided with the relevant training and support.

A fundamental review of the training available to child care workers in Ireland is already underway with a view to upgrading the qualifications and skills of staff working in the area. Because staff in residential care find the work stressful, the Minister has asked all Health Boards to strengthen their support for managers and staff.

The Minister emphasised the importance of adhering to good standards of practice as set down by her Department and the Social Services Inspectorate.

The Minister announced that the key position of Chief Inspector was recently filled and that an additional Inspector is to be recruited to strengthen and expand the work of the inspectorate. This will bring the number of inspectors to five.

Minister Hanafin summarised recent progress in the provision of additional places for troubled children:

  • In 1997 there were only 17 high support type places for children nationally
  • Currently, there are over 70 such places
  • A further 56 places will be available by the end of the year

In addition, Health Boards will be continuing to be funded to provide individual support packages for troubled children and this will ensure that about 160 places are available nationally by early 2002.

There has also been a very significant improvement in funding of the core child protection services: over £90 million extra has been provided on an annualised basis since the current Government came into office and this has allowed for a major expansion in these services. Minister Hanafin noted “the Government will continue to invest in child protection services and early intervention and prevention are the corner stones of our policies and the Children Bill 1999 currently before the Dáil is evidence of this.”

Minister Hanafin concluded “the National Children’s Strategy, launched last November, provides a coherent framework for the provision of services and supports to children. This involves an ambitious programme for change. I am working closely with the National Children’s Office to progress the implementation of key aspects of the strategy over the coming months.”