Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Children (Amendment) Bill 2015.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Children (Amendment) Bill 2015. (24 Jun 2015)

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Deputy David Stanton: Before the debate adjourned, I was making the point that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is a new and important Department which has great potential and much to offer. In 1970, the great educationalist and sociologist, Basil Bernstein, wrote that education could not compensate for society. Bernstein's main thesis was that inequality plays a major part in the lives of children before they reach the school gates. Any discussion of children in detention must consider the root causes and reasons for the detention of children.

 

Schools are doing great work, for example, through the school completion programme. I encourage the Minister to give this programme as much support as possible as it has great potential and tremendous work is being done under it. Having met a number of people working in the area of school completion, I am very encouraged by the results being achieved. Much more can be done under this programme, which comes within the remit of the Department and Tusla. Last week, I attended an event at a local school, Midleton CBS Primary, to launch an active schools flag. I was very impressed by the work that went into achieving the standard and with the engagement of the boys in doing everything required to get the flag. Schools can do a huge amount and they are doing a huge amount, but they cannot do everything. That is why I stressed the need, when I last spoke here on this, to focus on out-of-school youth programmes. I mentioned Foróige and Youth Work Ireland, and I could go on and talk about Scouting Ireland and so on. Informal education is provided out of school where trained youth workers engage with young people. There is a risk when we talk about these issues that we focus only on children at risk. Obviously, these programmes and organisations also facilitate the development of the potential of all children. I encourage the Minister to support youth cafés, youth centres and youth organisations across the country. I mentioned on the last occasion in the House my disappointment that the Youth Work Act had not been fully implemented. The national youth work development plan from 2006 still has not been brought in. There is an opportunity for the new Department to focus on this issue as has never been done before and to truly develop this area, in which the potential is enormous.

 

Getting back to what Bernstein said in the 1970s, my overall point is as he said: education cannot compensate for society. I came across another research report recently which was published in 2007. I spoke this morning to one of the authors, Dr. Gary O'Reilly, and it is still as relevant today. The report was co-authored by Dr. Jennifer Margaret Hayes of UCD. It sets out that young people who end up in detention centres are usually on a multi-generational journey. They often come from backgrounds and areas of social deprivation in which drugs and alcohol play a very big part. These are areas we need to focus on for prevention. I am very pleased to know the Ombudsman for Children now has the power to inspect centres and make reports under section 11(2)(a) of the Ombudsman for Children Act, which the Minister commenced by order in 2012. The number of children sent to detention centres stood at 133 in 2013 and 134 in 2012. While the numbers are quite high, the research I mentioned set out that eight of every ten boys in care at that time met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder. It spoke about high rates of co-morbidity and multiple psychiatric problems. The Minister might comment on the psychiatric conditions of the children in detention and set out the supports and services in place for them. The research also said that approximately equal numbers of detained young people with addictions reported using cocaine as reported using alcohol and cannabis. What is the situation of young people in detention with respect to the use of alcohol and other drugs? We must always remember that alcohol is a serious drug which causes a lot of problems. The results of the research suggested that the drug use can often begin in early childhood. It was stated at the time that young people with substance dependency disorders reported that they first began to use alcohol and cannabis at an average age of just nine years and cocaine at 13. That is very worrying.

 

Recently, a number of members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality visited Portugal, where we met a lot of people. We looked at the Portuguese model. Where young people are detected in possession of a small amount of a substance such as cannabis, cocaine or heroin for personal use and it is a first offence, it is treated as a health issue rather than a criminal justice one. The person is moved to treatment and sent to a dissuasion team. Under the model, there are 18 dissuasion commissions nationally and these commissions are well resourced. Each commission consists of a psychologist, a social worker and a person with a legal background, and they have a staff that works with them. When a young person is arrested and taken to a police station, a senior officer can make a decision not to prosecute but rather to refer the matter to a dissuasion commission. At the commission, the young person is assessed and provided with all kinds of supports. He or she can be sent back to the police station and end up in the courts, but usually the person is sent for treatment or education or told, where it was a small amount for personal use, not to do it again. What happens in Ireland is that if someone is found with a small amount of one of those substances on his or her person, he or she ends up being prosecuted and gains a criminal record. The Portuguese model is definitely worth exploring, and I understand the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, is interested in debating it. We will be bringing forward a report on the model in the joint committee, hopefully before the summer recess.

 

Rather than criminalising young people, we should consider other methods. That is not to say that we will go soft in any way on the dealers and the movers and shakers who profit from drugs. They have to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and, if necessary, given sentences of detention to take them out of circulation. In the Portuguese system, a ten-day supply is considered a small amount for personal use, and where it is a first offence, the person often goes to the dissuasion commission and is diverted from crime. While it is to stray a little from the topic, I note that the number of people infected with HIV has dropped substantially in Portugal as a result. Malta has adopted a similar project and it is worth looking at. The reason I raise the matter here is that many young people who end up in detention have major issues with drugs, alcohol and social deprivation, as the 2007 report pointed out. The report also maintained that young people in detention possessed a reduced capacity to accurately perceive emotions in themselves and others, a reduced ability to use emotions to prioritise thinking and a reduced ability to regulate their emotions.

 

We did quite a bit of work in the joint committee some time ago on penal reform and our report was published in March 2013. During that work, we received a great many written submissions and engaged with many people. I mention a number of them. Care After Prison, which is based on Aungier Street, does amazing work engaging with prisoners before they are released and supporting them after release. Up to recently, Care After Prison had a success rate of 100% non-recidivism. The former prisoners did not reoffend. We should look at that with children who come out of detention centres also. If a person comes out of prison and there is no job and nowhere to live, he or she will end up homeless and, very often, back in prison. I visited Churchfield Community Trust in Cork recently, where I was astounded at the work that was going on. I met some of the people who are engaging with the work of the trust, many of whom are former detainees of Cork Prison and other centres. Many of them have addiction issues. One of them told me he had been in care since he was 12 and that he did not know any other life. He thought that was the norm. Prison became his home and outside it was a frightening place. He could not cope. Thanks to the work of the Churchfield Community Trust, he has found that is no longer the case.......

Item Type:Dail Debates
Source:Oireachtas
Date:24 June 2015
EndNote:View
Subjects:J Health care, prevention and rehabilitation > Prevention approach > Early intervention (young children)
T Demographic characteristics > Child
T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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