Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - ISPCC Funding.


asked the Minister for Health if he will release finance to allow the South Eastern Health Board to continue adequate funding of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children centre at Wexford or alternatively make a direct grant to the centre to promote its work on behalf of the disadvantaged families and children in Wexford, in view of the recognition by all Deputies and the people of County Wexford of the tremendous results achieved by this group.

I would first like to explain briefly the background to this matter.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Family Centre at Wexford was established as a three-year pilot project in January 1980. As the project approached the end of its pilot phase the South-Eastern Health Board, having reviewed its work and achievements concluded that it had not been as effective as conceived at the outset. The members of the board subsequently agreed unanimously with the recommendation of its chief executive officer that the board should not continue to fund the project, in its existing form, as from 31 December 1982 which marked the end of its pilot phase.

However, the health board would like to have the continued involvement of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in child care in the Wexford area but on a basis which the board consider would best meet the needs of the most deprived families of that area. The society has been asked to consider participation in a pilot preventive social work scheme, which the board had designed to meet those needs. The board's intention is that this pilot study should last for two years; it should be undertaken by a qualified social worker, aided by volunteers, and that the study should be financed by a grant from the board to cover 60 per cent of the (a) costs of the social worker and (b) agreed budget of the family centre. The society had indicated its willingness to discuss this proposal with the board at a meeting arranged for 4 March next. The board will not be in a position to make a final decision as to the extent of future funding pending the outcome of that meeting.

I might emphasise, however, that the board will have to act within its restricted resources. I am not in a position to increase the financial allocation already made to the board. Furthermore even if the necessary funds were available to me, it would not be appropriate for me to fund the project by direct grant since it is clearly providing a local service and therefore appropriate to funding by the health board.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Is the Minister aware that this centre is still in operation on the basis of local funding? The operation will cease on 31 March and schemes such as day care for deprived children will have to cease. How does the Minister propose to cater for this need?

The health board have a statutory responsibility in relation to child care services, social worker support and the payment of such workers. The health board have, if I recall correctly, four social workers in the County Wexford area and it is of critical importance that the four social workers should be available to the whole of the county and that the limited resources of the health board should not be concentrated solely in one area. That is the view of the health board. It is not for the Minister for Health to direct any health board as to their organisational structures in any area, otherwise my Department might as well take over the whole running of every health board operation in every part of the country. I am very concerned that the conflict which appears to exist between the society and the health board in the Wexford area should be resolved as quickly as possible and I am prepared to give every assistance in that regard.

Can the Minister tell me why the health board feel that this project was not successful? All the Wexford Deputies and all the people of Wexford feel that it was an outstanding success. Is the Minister aware that an arrangement was made between the health board and the local voluntary organisation to review the situation at the end of the project? This review did not take place and the South Eastern Health Board decided to close down the project.

I have taken a very active interest in this matter, not with a view to cutting across the unanimous policy of the health board in relation to their budget or the professional decisions of the community care team. I have no intention of interfering in such a way and I am currently trying to help both sides. I may be in a position later, not today, to make my intentions known. That will become evident to the Deputy.

There is another question I should like to put to the Minister which arises directly from the question before us. Deputy Hugh Byrne has asked for adequate funding. I wonder if the Minister realises how small this amount of money is. The sum of £20,000 would see this centre through the next year. I ask this question from an informed point of view. I was on the management board of this family centre for over two years and I feel I know what I am talking about.

I would stress that the funding of the centre is a matter for the health board. It is not a matter for the Department of Health. It is for the health board to decide on the allocation of resources in the Wexford area. I cannot direct health boards as to how they should allocate funds.

We have spent too long on this question.

The Minister's information is not quite correct.

We cannot have an argument about it.

Give her a chance.

Will the Minister accept that all reports in relation to child care facilities have recommended that policy should be directed towards community-based facilities?

Not necessarily. I am at present awaiting a research report on the outcome of the pilot project and when I have that report I will be able to give a fuller answer.

A Ceann Comhairle——

I am sorry, I am leaving this question.

I wish to raise this matter on the Adjounment.

The Chair will communicate with the Deputy.