Speeches

Address by Mr Brian Lenihan T.D., Minister of State, Department of Health and Children at the Annual General Conference of the Resident Managers Association

Introduction

I would like to thank the Resident Managers Association and in particular Mr Andrew Meaney for inviting me here this evening to open the Association´s Annual Conference.

The ethos of the Association has a significant resonance with my own as Minister for Children, that is one of “Partnership and Quality in Child and Adolescent Care”. I know that the Association has done sterling work in this regard since its foundation in 1932. Obviously the whole area of child care has changed dramatically since then. Too often, though, this change has been a reaction to events, the ramifications of which we, as a society, are often coming to terms with nearly two generations later. However, I am proud to say that this Government, with the invaluable assistance of agencies such as the Resident Managers Association, have become pro-active in our approach to child care. I am confident that this long overdue approach will reap rewards for our society in the years to come.

Too often we here in Ireland take a “hurler on the ditch” view of our child care services. People don´t always take the time to look closely at the detailed work which goes on in trying to improve our services. I think it would be apposite, therefore, to just briefly touch on some improvements which we are striving to make in the very complex area of child care and support of the family generally.

Residential Care

As you know, the Children Act 2001 is the statutory document which outlines how children should be cared. The Act contains four main areas of law and provides a range of measures for dealing with out of control children.

The National Children´s Strategy states that “children with behavioural problems coming before the courts or in trouble with the law will be supported in the least restrictive environment while having their needs addressed”. To assist in this, the Special Residential Services Board will shortly be established on a statutory basis. I am confident that the Board, with the expertise which it possesses will provide a valuable resource in ensuring that this aim is achieved.

Springboard

In 2002 all existing 17 pilot Springboard projects were continued as a mainstream service by the health boards. It is hoped that existing projects will keep the committed, highly experienced staff and go on to strengthen the responsiveness and effectiveness of the Springboard services. The initiative has been expanded by four new Springboard projects since 2002. Annual funding of€7.6m is made available to support the Springboard initiative to health boards. The Department of Health and Children is committed to the ongoing and, resources permitting, the further development of Springboard and this commitment will continue as long as there are positive measured outcomes for those children in the area who are at risk of coming into care or being excluded from school or getting into trouble with the law.

Family Support

In seeking to understand the needs and potential of children and families, studies have proven that it is important that we accentuate the positives. There are whole sets of questions which never get considered if attention is only focused on the negatives in a child or family profile. Through actively looking for positive resources, we validate the strengths of the family and open up vast potential, especially for children. In working from this perspective in family support, whether we are administrators, policy makers, practitioners or parents, we will be doing our solemn duty to our children, that is, that we facilitate and help our children in any and every way possible to achieve their true potential in life. This is without doubt the single, most important task that we as adults will undertake. We must always remember that as politicians, administrators and, most importantly, parents, we are the designers of our children´s tomorrows. We have the capacity to shape the Ireland of the early years of this new century. It is a task that we dare not fail – a task that if we succeed at will result in a wonderful, confident society at ease with itself long after our days are done.

The support of the family unit is, I believe, crucial in the thinking of a progressive society. I am pleased to say that this Government has supported this area of family welfare in the many initiatives such as the Springboard initiative which basically highlights and accentuates the positives of the child and the family unit. Through actively looking for positive resources, we validate the strengths of the family and open up vast potential, especially for children.

I am pleased to say in this context that my Department has initiated a Review of Family Support Services. The purpose of this process is, inter alia, to develop a national policy on family support. Contact has been made with health boards and other interested parties in order to compile an overview of service provision and to identify needs. I would ask all health boards and the other interested parties to continue to stay fully engaged with this process.

However we also know that many families experience huge adversity in their lives. It is against the backdrop of ongoing difficult circumstances that parents can find it hard to be emotionally available to their children. It is important therefore that positive measures to promote attachment are used in the interventions available to families.

The evaluation on Springboard has shown that parents and children experienced considerable improvements in well-being while attending Springboard. Virtually every parent and child attributed their improved well-being to the intervention of Springboard. It is hoped that through its Family Support Projects, Springboard will build on its quality base and continue to provide a range of best practice services which meets the needs of vulnerable families.

Youth Homelessness

I am sure that, like me, you are disturbed by the continuing social problem of Youth Homelessness. We singularly fail society if we do not have the necessary contingencies in place to ensure that Youth Homelessness becomes the least favourable option and an utter last resort. To this end, since 1997 approximately €18.5m has been invested in Youth Homelessness and related child care services. My Department in association with the National Children’s Office and the Health Boards have placed a high priority on this area. Following on from the Youth Homelessness Strategy and through the ongoing work of the Youth Homelessness Monitoring Committee, all efforts are being made to ensure that young people who, for whatever reason, leave the family home, find a safe haven and are not reduced to fending for themselves on the streets thus risking being exposed to the myriad of problems which that can bring. The National Children’s Office has the lead responsibility for driving and co-ordinating the actions necessary to ensure the full and successful implementation of the Youth Homelessness Strategy. They deserve and will receive every assistance in their endeavours.

Statutory Registration for Health and Social Care Professionals

I would like to move on now to say a few words about the Department´s proposals for the establishment of a system of statutory registration for health and social care professionals, which will include social care professionals.

The primary purpose of statutory registration is to protect and guide members of the public so that they can be fully confident that the professional treating them is competent and of good standing. This is pivotal to realising the Health Strategy objective of providing quality and accountable health care to the public.

As many of you here today will know, the Department undertook a consultation process on this system of statutory registration between April and October 2000. A series of one-day workshops were facilitated by the Institute of Public Administration where the practical issues involved in establishing a system of statutory registration were considered in some detail. These discussions culminated in a consultative document entitled “Statutory Registration for Health and Social Care Professionals – Proposals for the Way Forward” which was published in October of 2000.

In essence the proposals are for a system of statutory self-registration for social care professionals and the other twelve health and social care professions involved. The regime will provide a formal legal framework and administrative infrastructure within which the quality of the services provided to the public and the future development of the professions can be assured.

The regulatory system will comprise a Registration Board for each profession to be registered, a Health and Social Care Professionals Council with overall responsibility for the system and three statutory committees to deal with disciplinary matters. The system will be administered by a Chief Executive Officer and staff. In order to ensure consistency across the Registration Boards, the Chief Executive Officer will act as Registrar of each Registration Board.

The current position is that the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government. As you may be aware the Bill is a legislative priority for the current Dail session and it is expected to be published shortly.

I am very grateful to the Residents Managers Association who has worked over a long period of time in partnership with the Department to support this objective. Your Association has made a significant contribution to bringing the legislative proposals to their current advanced stage of development.

I would like to thank all concerned for their input and assistance in advancing the process to its present stage. I am particularly pleased with the success of the partnership approach embraced by the Department and the professional bodies representing health and social care professionals including the Resident Managers Association. I believe that statutory registration is a very worthwhile initiative which will further enhance the professionalism of social care professionals in the future.

Joint Committee on Social Care Professionals

As you know, considerable attention has been given in recent years to the need for the continued professionalisation of child care workers. The Resident Managers Association has a particular interest in this process and participated in a joint committee established to look at the issues arising from the recognition of the autonomy of child care workers. The Joint Committee’s wide ranging report, which also encompasses houseparent grades in the intellectual disability sector, looks at career structure and the management of change and places special emphasis on training and education issues. As a result of the Committee’s recommendations, the childcare and houseparent grades have undergone a change in title to Social Care Worker and Social Care Leader. Also arising from the work of the Joint Committee, agreement has been reached in respect of the restructuring of the grades of Resident Manager in the childcare sector. This agreement provides for the amalgamation of the existing three grades of Resident Manager into one grade to be known as Social Care Manager. A new post of Deputy Social Care Manager in the childcare sector has also been agreed in the context of the work of the Joint Committee.

I mentioned the focus on training and education in the Report of the Joint Committee on Social Care Professionals. As managers, you will be keenly conscious of the need to ensure that practitioners have the core competencies, skills, training and education required of the profession. In its report, the Joint Committee too placed emphasis the core competencies required for the successful carrying out of the social care role and on the integration of knowledge base and skill competency. It recommended that the minimum standard for accreditation as a social care professional should be equivalent to a HETAC/DIT diploma level and went on to recommend that entry to the profession should be at degree level within five years, subject to other factors being in place including the requirement that all staff working as social care professionals at that date have achieved diploma level accreditation.

The Joint Committee also acknowledged that a number of staff are in post who do not hold diploma level qualifications. It therefore recommended that training audits should be carried out for all existing staff and customised individual training plans should be developed, beginning with the upskilling of staff without formal qualifications.

You will be pleased to learn that my Department hopes to be in a position to tender for the carrying out of an individual training audit of social care workers and social care leaders in the childcare and intellectual disability sectors who do not possess the standard recognised professional qualification.

The training audit should establish in the case of each relevant member of staff the skills, competencies and work experiences acquired by the individual and the type of additional experiences, academic training and skills development, if any, the person needs in order to achieve the professional standard required for the future. It is envisaged that the individual training audits will result in a detailed report of the overall further academic competencies and skill requirements nationally. This local and national overview will enable each service and location to establish the best way of facilitating the delivery of the individual training programme.

Conclusion

I know that for all those associated with the child care area such as social workers, child care workers, youth and community workers and project workers, child protection and family protection is the bed-rock of their thinking. As a modern, progressive society, I believe we are reaping the rewards of this mindset and will continue to do so in the years to come. While we still have a long way to go in developing services, I am pleased to say that since 1997 the Government has provided an additional approximately€178m revenue funding to services for children who are at risk and their families. I am confident that this Government, with the assistance of agencies such as the Resident Managers Association, will continue to strive to provide a quality child care service which we can be proud of.

Can I again thank you for inviting me here this evening to the Association’s Annual Conference. I know that the North Eastern Health Board has been very supportive to the Association in the facilitating of the conference and I commend the Board for that. I would like to take this opportunity to wish every success for the conference over the next few days and to again thank the Resident Managers Association for your work to date and to wish you well for the future.