Speeches

Address by Mr Brian Lenihan T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the Family Support Conference, Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney

I am delighted to have been invited here today to open this Family Support Conference. I trust that we have greeted any friends with us from Armagh with a warm welcome, for once we Dubs and Kerry people are in the same boat. Just think it´s only another 50 weeks before Sam comes back home to Dublin!

As I said, I´m delighted to be opening this Conference. The dominant focus in childcare services since the early 1990´s has been on the protection and care of children who are at risk. More recently, the policy focus has shifted to a more preventive approach to child welfare, involving support to families and individual children, aimed at avoiding the need for further more serious interventions later on.

Family support projects form a fundamental part of this Government´s Health Strategy which was launched late last year. The Strategy detailed an expansion programme for family support services which includes:

  • Child welfare budgets will be refocused over the next seven years to provide a more even balance between safeguarding activities and supportive programmes;
  • Springboard and other family support initiatives will be further developed;
  • Positive parenting supports will be expanded;
  • Priority will be given to early intervention for children with behavioural difficulties.

I think this is a most appropriate occasion on which to update you on developments in the broad area of Family Support.

Springboard

The existing 17 Springboard projects have been established as a mainstream service to health boards. Funding to the existing Springboard projects has been and will continue to be prioritised. It is hoped that existing projects will keep their committed, highly experienced staff and go on to strengthen and further develop the responsiveness and effectiveness of the Springboard services to those children and families most in need in their area.

My Department has expanded the Initiative by four new Springboard projects this year and is committed to establishing a further four new Springboard projects over the next two years. These are being located in Knocknaheeny/Farranree (Cork City), Kings Island (Limerick), Arklow and Finglas in Dublin.

Teen Parents Support Projects

My Department is currently implementing a pilot initiative on Teen Parents Support as part of the National Child Care Investment Strategy. The Teen Parents Support Projects were established in 1999 and 2000. They provide services to young parents, particularly those deemed to be at risk, as well as identifying and developing models of good practice.

The outcomes of the initiative include:

  • increased access to services;
  • increased support services to teenage parents;
  • improved safety and well being of children;
  • improved family functioning.

In addition, as part of the initiative, Treoir (Federation of Services for Unmarried Parents and their Children) have produced a Resource Pack for services containing information on regional parenting support programmes and guidelines on specific issues for young parents. The pack lists the services available so that organisations can network and learn from each others experience.

I will be launching the Evaluation Report on the Teen Parents Initiative in October together with two discussion papers on areas relevant to young parents lives.

Family Support Services

I think we all would agree that, in general, the family provides the best context for the rearing of children. This principle is clearly enshrined in international and national legislation and is a fundamental principle of our own Constitution. If we truly believe this then we must espouse this by our actions and this is best achieved by supporting families by providing such care. Only where considered absolutely necessary should this objective be achieved by providing alternative care either in fostering arrangements or in residential homes. I am not for one moment denigrating the care which such facilities provide through the laudable, and altruistic efforts of those involved but I think we have to be mature and realistic in placing these services appropriately in the overall scheme of service provision.

An overview of the current landscape of childcare services suggests that support mechanisms are only put in place when a situation of dire need or crisis is reached. I’m sure those of you working at the coal face would agree that there are many families who would benefit from an early intervention approach and who can readily identify children in families who would benefit from support before the crisis hits. To allow this crisis to develop puts at risk the fundamental of each child´s life – that they be allowed to develop and achieve their true potential.

As Minister for Children I am pleased to be in a position to say that we do have excellent examples of family support work across all health board areas. However, we must have a strategic plan in place to further develop these services. We must look to develop a shared view of what we want these services to achieve; we must be clear in assessing and prioritising need; we must allocate funding in a planned way rather than be seen to be almost throwing money at specific or immediate problems; and, perhaps most crucially of all, we must educate ourselves as a society by learning from our past mistakes in the whole area of childcare and ensure that these mistakes remain firmly where they belong, in the past and never allow ourselves to run the risk of replicating them in the future. We are the designers of our children’s tomorrows, it is an onerous task but a task which is more than achievable if we ensure that the right strategies and mechanisms are in place.

My predecessor Mary Hanafin announced earlier this year that a major review of family support services was to be undertaken by the Department of Health and Children. This review of policy will underline the importance of an evidence-based approach to inform the development of supports and services for children and their families.

My Department´s Child Care Policy Unit has responsibility for leading this review. They have consulted with the Health Boards on what the review of family support services should achieve and how best it should move forward. I will give the Review Group every assistance in their vital work and I look forward to examining the results of their deliberations in due course.

In conclusion, I would like to re-affirm this Government´s commitment to the welfare of children and the protection of the family unit generally. Commitments must, however, by underpinned by financial resources. This commitment has already been shown by this Government this year with an additional €47M being allocated to the Child Care area.

I know you have a very full programme to get through today. Can I again thank you for inviting me here to open the Conference and may I wish it every success.