Joint Committee on Health and Children 16 February 2012

Joint Committee on Health and Children 16 February 2012

Joint Committee on Health and Children 16 February 2012

Question 1 (Deputy Jerry Buttimer)

To ask the Minister to outline her plans for supporting young people and families in particular the new Child & Family Support Agency, the continuation of the free pre-school year and the development of youth cafés.


Child and Family Support Agency

I established the Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency in September 2011 under the chairmanship of Ms Maureen Lynott.

The Task Force will advise my Department in regard to the necessary transition programme to establish a Child and Family Support Agency, and will base its work on best practice in child welfare, family support and public administration; consistent with the Government’s public sector reform agenda.

In relation to the Agency it has been asked to:

·Propose a vision and the principles to guide operations;

·Advise on the appropriate service responsibilities, and the delivery of same;

·Review existing financial, staffing and corporate resources; and propose a methodology for resource allocation;

·Propose an organisational design and operating child welfare and protection service model;

·Prepare a detailed implementation plan;

·Identify the main priorities and core relationships required;

·Oversee the implementation and monitor progress, pending establishment of the Agency.

The Task Force met for the eleventh time earlier this month (February 2nd). I look forward to receiving the report of its work, which will inform preparations for the new Agency, including the drafting of legislation. I am anxious to advance the full establishment of the Agency at as early a date as possible, subject to the work of the Task Force and the necessary legislative provision. It is my intention to bring forward legislation during the course of this year to provide for the Agency’s establishment in 2012.

In addition to taking over responsibility for child welfare and protection services, which are currently operated by the HSE, the Agency will also assume the functions of the Family Support Agency. This decision was announced in the run up to the Budget and the Family Support Agency has been fully included in the planning for the new Agency which is being led by my Department. I will also be considering other operational functions which the Child and Family Support Agency might usefully discharge and this will be taken into account in developing legislative proposals.

In the interim, and during the course of this year, child welfare and protection services are being delivered, managed, funded and staffed on a dedicated programme basis within the HSE. Overall operational responsibility lies with the National Director of Children and Family Services, Mr. Gordon Jeyes. A dedicated subhead for these services has been provided in the HSE Vote for the first time this year. In addition dedicated management arrangements specific to children’s services are being put in place under the National Director at national, regional and area level. The national supports, in particular, will be strengthened so as to have robust arrangements in place to manage the transaction to the new standalone Agency. These arrangements and the dedicated budgetary provision will assist the smooth and timely transition of child welfare and protection services to the new Agency from next year.

Continuation of the free pre school year

I was very happy to secure the continuation of the free preschool year in the context of the finalisation of the Estimates for 2012. Increased costs due to growth in the number of children qualifying for the scheme due to demographic factors have required provision of €9.8million in additional funding for this scheme in 2012. In the context of wider public expenditure curtailment I believe the increased funding for the universal preschool year is recognition of its importance to young children and families, and the wider social and economical benefits.

Development of Youth Cafés

In 2010, funding of €1.5m was allocated from the Dormant Accounts Fund to improve Youth Café facilities in Ireland. Some 64 projects were approved for funding under two strands i.e. small-scale funding for existing youth cafés and the establishment of new youth café facilities. As a result of this scheme, a total of 16 brand new cafés are gradually coming on stream. In addition, a further €200,000 capital funding was made available late in 2011 to 18 youth projects, thus enabling them to upgrade existing premises and/or purchase additional equipments in order to provide a safe, supporting and enabling meeting space for young people.

My Department estimates that between 75-100 youth café facilities now operate across the State and these facilities are proving hugely beneficial to local communities in terms of broader engagement with young people. In addition, my Department supports a range of youth services and volunteer-led youth groups which offer similar resources and spaces for young people locally.

To support my Department’s commitment to the development of quality, front-line youth projects and services which address the changing needs of young people and their communities, I have ensured that as part of the Government’s Capital Review published in November 2011, capital funding available for youth projects will increase to an annual amount of €1.5m in 2012 and again in 2013. My Department is currently developing a strategy for the implementation and administration of this measure so as to ensure impact, resource effectiveness and value for money.

Question 2 (Deputy Jerry Buttimer)

To ask the Minister is she intends to review the 2001 Youth Homelessness Strategy as proposed in the Programme for Government

Question 4 (Deputy Robert Dowds)

Does the Minister intend to review the 2001 Youth Homelessness Strategy as called for in the 2010 Rapporteur Report, in particular noting his concerns about:

  • Aftercare services for over 18s who have been accessing out of hours services while under 18, but who may not have been in the care of the HSE
  • Liaison with local authority homeless services to ensure that support is given to children living with homeless families.


I propose to take Questions 2 and 4 together.

The Programme for Government 2011-2016 commits inter-alia, to (i) end long term homelessness and the need to sleep rough; (ii) review and update the existing Homeless Strategy, including a specific focus on youth homelessness.

A National Strategy for Youth Homelessness was developed in 2001. A review of progress undertaken in 2008 by the HSE in conjunction with other agencies, found that significant progress had been made, especially in the areas of interagency cooperation, early prevention and an ‘out of hours’ service.

The Department has engaged the Centre for Effective Services (CES) to undertake a high level review of the implementation of the Youth Homelessness Strategy, 2001. The purpose of the review is to establish the extent that the strategy has been successful, to identify blockages and challenges to its implementation and to make recommendations. Consultations will be held with the relevant service providers, non-Government agencies and young people as part of this process.

It is the case that the information system regarding the number of children who use service is poor. Work is underway to improve the quality of information on the number of young people under 18 years who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, and to establish what areas of the service are working well and where further improvements are needed.

Question 3 (Deputy Jerry Buttimer)

To ask the Minister to report on her efforts to reopen intercountry adoptions with Vietnam?


The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption entered into force for Vietnam on 1 February 2012. I recently had a very positive visit to Vietnam. My visit coincided with a visit of a delegation from the Adoption Authority of Ireland led by the Chairman, Mr Geoffrey Shannon, to discuss arrangements for the putting in place of an administrative agreement between Ireland and Vietnam for intercountry adoption. My visit provided the opportunity for direct, personal engagement with the Vietnamese authorities, and the fostering of cooperation between our two countries on intercountry adoption.

Under section 72 of the Adoption Act 2010, the Adoption Authority may enter into administrative arrangements with another contracting State. In this context, the Authority has prepared and submitted to the Vietnamese authorities a suggested scheme of administrative arrangements to be established between Ireland and Vietnam for the resumption of intercountry adoption between the two States. The Authority is awaiting the response of the Vietnamese authorities to this proposal.

The Adoption Authority has also recently announced its approval of ARC Adoption Ltd as a registered accredited body for the purposes of adoption mediation within Vietnam. Further applications from other bodies remain under consideration by the Authority and a decision is anticipated shortly in this regard. Agencies accredited by the Adoption Authority of Ireland also require the approval of the Vietnamese authorities.

As with any other country we must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the required standards are in place for intercountry adoption and that the needs of the children are paramount throughout the process.

Question 5 (Deputy Robert Dowds)

What progress is the Minister making in providing some form of 24 hour social work oversight for children, so that families and foster parents are supported and the Gardaí are not made responsible for the care of vulnerable children?

REPLY :Out of Hours

Emergency and Homeless Services

The service provided in the greater Dublin area is through the Crisis Intervention Service (CIS) and outside the greater Dublin area through the Emergency Place of Safety Service (EPSS). The HSE has put in place a standardised national system whereby Gardai can access an appropriate place of safety for children found to be at risk out of hours under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991.

Ryan Implementation Plan - Out of Hours Pilot Projects

The HSE National Service Plan for 2011 included a commitment to pilot and evaluate an out-of-hours social work component to supplement the EPSS. Two pilot projects are being undertaken; one in Cork and the other in Donegal. The projects involve the provision by local HSE staff of on-site social work support out of hours where deemed necessary by Gardaí. Minister Fitzgerald met with the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors on the 28th July, 2011 to discuss the two "Out of Hours" Pilot Projects.

Further rollout

A decision on progression to a national rollout will be made following evaluation of the two pilot projects and other relevant data. An assessment of the cost of developing the service nationally will also be informed by the pilot process.

Question 6 (Deputy Robert Dowds)

What are the Minister’s plans for providing a replacement for Saint

Patrick’s institution for young offenders now that responsibility for a

new facility has been transferred to her office?

Question 26 (Senator Jillian Van Turnhout)

Inform the Committee whether interim measures will be put in place to ensure that children in detention in Ireland, currently held in the adult prison facility St. Patrick’s Institution, will be more suitably accommodated pending the delivery of the National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown.


I propose to take questions 6 and 26 together.

The proposed National Children Detention Facility (NCDF) is a project to provide residential detention places for all young people detained by the courts on criminal charges, within a children detention school setting at Oberstown, North County Dublin. The Oberstown campus is currently the site of the 3 existing detention schools, Oberstown Boys School, Oberstown Girls School and Trinity House School.

The Government is committed to ending the practice of sending 16 and 17 year old boys to St Patrick's institution. It is a priority of mine to ensure that this practice ends as soon as possible and the funding of the Oberstown project is a key element in resolving this issue. I have asked the Irish Youth Justice Service to reassess the projected cost of the Oberstown project to bring it into line with current price levels and current economic realities. This process is ongoing and the Irish Youth Justice Service has been tasked with progressing to completion during 2012 the design work and tender documentation for the NCDF project. Even when funding for the construction stage of the project is finalised, this work will still have to be completed. I do not propose to comment on estimated project costs in advance of any tendering process.

I had consultations on this issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality in advance of the taking over legal responsibility for this area from 1 January 2012. I met with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the funding of the Oberstown project on 29 November 2011, 6 December 2011 and 10 January 2012. I wrote to him on 17 January 2012 to emphasise the priority that should be attached to this project. I do not propose to comment further on these consultations, except to say that the Committee can be assured that I will continue to make the case at Government level on the priority that should be given to this project.

I visited St Patrick's Institution twice in November last year, prior to assuming legal responsibility for the children detention schools from the Minister for Justice and Equality in January 2012. I received a briefing from the Governor and his staff on the efforts that are made on a daily basis to provide appropriate, safe and secure care for 16 and 17 males. I also visited each of the children detention schools on the Oberstown campus during 2011. The Government appreciates that, as far as possible, the 16 and 17 year old age group is accommodated and cared for differently from the other offenders held in St. Patrick's Institution, in line with best practice and child protection guidance procedures. Nevertheless, it is unacceptable that children continue to be detained with adult prisoners and the Government is committed to ending this practice.

In taking over responsibility for the children detention schools last month I tasked a group to look at interim and innovative solutions that could provide alternatives to detention in St. Patrick's Institution for as many 16 and 17 year old boys as possible. The group is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and comprises of senior officials from the Irish Youth Justice Service, Irish Prison Service, and the Probation Service. I understand that the group is making significant progress and I expect to be in a position to provide details of the short term measures to be taken on foot of the group's deliberations shortly.

I appreciate that Committee members will be interested in the options that may be developed in this regard and I will be happy to address the Committee again in the near future. At this stage, I do not wish to prejudge what interim steps may be taken but I can assure the Committee that my priority in this area is the provision of appropriate safe, secure facilities for all children in detention, in compliance with public safety and the requirements of the Children Act 2001.

Question 7 (Deputy Catherine Byrne)

Update on current status of international adoptions with particular

reference to Vietnam and Ethiopia; how many adoptions have been halted

pending the outcome of negotiations with the relevant authorities in these

countries; and will they be allowed to proceed?


I have addressed the issue of Vietnamese intercountry adoptions in my reply to Deputy Buttimer.

With effect from 1 November 2010, intercountry adoptions can be effected with other countries which have ratified the Hague Convention or with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement. At present, Ireland has no bilateral agreements in place.

As the Hague Convention is designed to ensure a minimum set of standards in intercountry adoption, it is appropriate that the immediate priority for the Adoption Authority is on reaching agreements with other Hague countries. The Authority is in the process of developing administrative arrangements with a number of countries which are signatories to the Hague Convention, including Vietnam.

Under the provisions of section 73 of the Adoption Act, 2010, "the Authority, with the prior consent of the Minister, may enter into discussions with any non-contracting state concerning the possibility of the Government entering into a bilateral agreement with that State." An official delegation from Ireland travelled to Russia in December last for preliminary discussions around the potential for a bilateral agreement on intercountry adoption. I am currently awaiting a report from the Adoption Authority which will inform the next steps to be taken in this regard.

In addition, I have recently given the AAI approval for the commencement of the process of examining the feasibility of a bilateral agreement with Ethiopia. I should emphasise that this process is in the very early stages.

I am aware that applicants are waiting for Vietnam in particular to re-open for intercountry adoption. The Adoption Authority does not directly hold information on the number of applicants hoping to proceed to that country. However, I understand that in the region of 350 prospective adopters have indicated a preference for Vietnam. It should be noted that this figure is indicative and the data has not been validated. It is to be expected that a number of these applicants will have, at this stage, proceeded to adopt from another country.