Home > Seanad Éireann debate. Child and Family Agency Bill 2013: Committee Stage (continued).

[Oireachtas] Seanad Éireann debate. Child and Family Agency Bill 2013: Committee Stage (continued). (03 Dec 2013)

URL: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/Debates%20A...


  Question proposed: "That section 58 stand part of the Bill."
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: I raised the issue of special care on Second Stage. I have read the Bill and can find nothing therein in this regard that can be changed per se. However, I am extremely concerned about special care placements. The Minister kindly responded to my concerns in this regard on Second Stage. I would like to read into the record the following for the benefit of my colleagues. Under the special care order of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011, only children and young people aged from 11 to 17 with serious emotional and behavioural difficulties that put them “at a real and substantive risk to his or her health, safety, development or welfare” and who are unlikely to receive special care or protection “unless the court makes such an order” can access these facilities. An example of this may be a child who is self-harming, suicidal, abusing drugs and-or alcohol, where all other attempts by the Health Service Executive have not stabilised the current, serious situation.

I previously advised, and the Minister confirmed, that there are 16 children on a waiting list. An article in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times by Carl O'Brien states that the waiting list in this regard is 65 days, on average. The case in respect of these children is the subject of a High Court order. The lead-in period in terms of reaching High Court order stage is quite lengthy. I do not know what the longest or shortest waiting time on that list is but for these 16 children it is on average 65 days. These are the children that everything else has failed. These are desperate situations. I cannot understand or accept that we have a waiting list in this area.

We are all aware of the recent Health Information and Quality Authority's report into Rath na nÓg in which serious concerns were raised. The response by the HSE was to close the facility, which made me believe at that time that there was a demand for places. I know, having spoken with social workers, that if there was not a blockage in the system in terms of accessing services, there would be 40 children on the waiting list. Rightly, one has to go to the High Court to obtain an order to ensure safeguards are put in place. As well as placing children on a waiting list, we outsource. The figures in this regard were reported in yesterday's The Irish Times. Could we not develop a home grown solution that would be in the bests interests of the children?

The Minister stated on Second Stage that by 2016, 35 places would be available. As I said, there are currently 16 children on a waiting list. If there is one thing that this agency should ensure it is that there will be no waiting list for these special care placements. By the time these cases get to the High Court they have been through a lengthy process. Since the Second Stage debate I have spoken to many social workers who told me of the number of different hoops through which they have to jump before getting to the High Court stage. It is really serious that children are on waiting lists for, on average, 65 days.

There has been much talk about Ireland's past failings, in respect of which some 30 reports have been published. For me this is not about the past rather it is about the present. That there are 16 children and young people whose health, safety, development or welfare is at substantive risk are on a waiting list for on average 65 days is unacceptable. I accept that the Minister cannot give assurances in the Bill. However, I am extremely concerned. This issue is not going away. It should be the driving factor for the new agency. We need to change this practise. There should not be a waiting list for special care placements. I do not doubt the Minister's integrity and compassion in this regard. However, the more I talk to social workers about these particular children and they explain these cases about which we are talking the more concerned I am. I do not want to read about these children in a child death report. I want us to do something about this issue now. I do not want to be talking in the future about how desperate this situation was. That would make headlines in the papers. The real headline for me is that we cannot provide these places for these children today.
Deputy Frances Fitzgerald  Everybody is working to ensure that we put in place the best services in terms of special care. Clearly, there are many challenges in relation to the development of the type and level of child protection services that we all want to see provided. This will not happen overnight. As I said on the last occasion we discussed this legislation, there is a national plan in place to increase the number of placements. I note Senator van Turnhout's concern and want to assure her that this issue is a priority for Gordon Jeyes. For the first time since I took office, we will have a national director of special care and the focus will be on the needs of these children. Placements have been and continue to be increased. A huge amount of attention and service is being directed at these children while awaiting placements. They are not on their own. Many of them are in high secure places or specialist foster placements. I take the Senator's point in regard to the High Court's statement that they require special care.
  An assessment, consultation and therapy service, ACTS, team has been appointed to work with these children and to provide them with psychological support when in and on leaving the special care placement. The members of this team, which includes among others a psychologist and social worker, were appointed in the past few months. This service has not heretofore been available. There are many challenges in working with this group of children in terms of their high levels of need. Some of them end up requiring placements abroad. It is not feasible right now for us to provide in this country the range of services these children need. However, our goal must be to ensure we have in place those services in this country. In this regard, I am exploring a North-South dimension. We could seek to provide these facilities, which are specialist in terms of the needs of these children who often have behavioural and sexual problems and serious addictions to alcohol and drugs, on a North-South basis. We do use placements abroad. The number in this regard has varied considerably. Every effort is made to ensure that the services required are available in this country because, clearly, this is preferable. However, just as children with medical complications often need to go abroad to get a specialist service if not available here, for which the HSE pays, so, too, do these children in terms of treatment for emotional and sexual problems. The facilities they attend abroad are usually very specialist and experienced in working with young adolescents. Some of the outcomes from the work done by these services with these children have been very good. Families have been very satisfied and the young people have gone on to do well.
  We are increasing placement numbers. Waiting times vary considerably. The waiting list can sometimes be cleared following referral to services by the courts, as in the case of the referrals to Oberstown, the reason for which were not quite clear. The waiting list then reduced and beds became available. The Senator will have seen how the publicity waxed and waned in relation to the demand for those beds. This is an area which Gordon Jeyes and his team are paying a lot of attention to and are treating seriously. As I stated, a national therapeutic team has been appointed and the waiting list, which as stated earlier varies from time to time, is being managed as well as possible. I am and will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that those children most in need of the service get it, although much is dependent on the placement they are already in. Where serious concern is expressed in regard to a particular child being required to be moved to special care, this is done as quickly as possible in all circumstances.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout: I thank the Minister for her response. I welcome what she said. The idea of the development of services on a North-South basis is to be commended. Perhaps that is the way forward. The difficulty is that these children still have to be supported. This will require the pulling together of essential resources and a skewing of those resources to ensure young people who are particularly vulnerable are supported.

[For full debate, click on the link above]

Item Type:Dail Debates
Date:3 December 2013
Subjects:L Social psychology and related concepts > Marital relations > Family and kinship > Family relations > Family role > Role of child
T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Social services
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
T Demographic characteristics > Child

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