Before I moved the adjournment of the debate I was referring to the fundamental need to support vulnerable families. A healthy, well supported and adequate family means that we do not have to have recourse to a lot of the legislation dealt with in the House. We all agree that the ideal is that children be permitted to stay within their own families but that will not come about unless we provide the proper resources to support such families. I drew attention to the evaluation report on the Wexford Family Centre which was co-sponsored by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the South Eastern Health Board. Many of the reports on children and their rights have regretted that we lack research in this area. I paid tribute to the information and research produced by this evaluation report.
One of the points raised in this report is in line with the Minister's thinking of getting as many of our health and welfare services into the community rather than institutionalising and centralising them. I pointed out that the cost of keeping one child in residential care and one teenager in Loughan House, which was open at that time, would have been greater than the entire cost of running the ISPCC family welfare centre in Wexford in 1981. The figures showed that such a centre gave value for money and that even on the economic front the work of the family centre made sense. The final sentence of the report said that the work of the family centre in Wexford epitomised the type of community based service that recent Ministers for Health had advocated as they endeavoured to shift the thrust of our health and social services from institutional to community care. This is very much in line with the Minister's statement that the aim would be to bring about a redistribution of resources away from institutionalised towards community services, particularly those of disadvantaged groups. The Minister might give further study to this evaluation report and have such a service provided on a national scale. Most of society's ills stem from a background of deprivation and inadequacy.
Deputy Shatter dealt at length with custody and he concluded that there might be a need for a referendum because of constitutional difficulties that might arise under the guardianship legislation. The thrust of this legislation is that the rights and welfare of children will be paramount and that any obstacle, whether constitutional or otherwise, will have to be looked at and firmly dealt with. I have already asked if our Constitution as it stands will serve the needs of the people for the eighties and the nineties. Rather than having an endless number of referenda at great expense, we might consider a debate on a bill of rights which would be enable us to have a society based on justice and individual civil rights without having to constantly look over our shoulders or having the Constitution challenged in the Supreme Court by privileged interest groups who have the time and the money to constitutionally obstruct the equalisation of society which we are attempting.
Again we come back to the need for resources and the back-up needed so that the families at risk, and particularly their children, will be supported and that intervention will be there when it is needed, and not when it is too late. I have dealt with the urgent need for day care facilities and I have given some idea of how that can be done at little cost to the taxpayers. This could be done by making sure that developers provide facilities when building housing estates. Another area where help is needed is in home help services. This hits the poorer and more deprived families. We might consider how effective the rural home help scheme has been in allowing farming families to take time off and having a rota of skilled people who are willing to take over when the farming family wish to take time off or when a member is sick.
I want to bring to the Minister's attention the pressure which can be brought on a parent, be it a single parent family or a mother in the home where the father cannot take time off from work. Regardless of the mother's help or her need for a break, we do not have the network of services to help her. I realise that I am appealing to a Minister who is committed to community care, but I hope we will be able to set up a similar home help scheme in urban areas to facilitate parents who are under pressure. This could be done on a sliding scale of payment. The training of the home help service should not be undervalued, as work in the home is at present. For families who can only afford to pay part of the cost, we might be able to set up a sliding scale of payments. Those who could afford would pay the full cost but the poorer families would only pay what they could afford.
The Council for the Status of Women explored the possibility of getting money from the European Social Fund to train people to provide this type of scheme. Their idea was to provide a service which would provide social help but would also create employment. Unfortunately the guidelines were too rigid to allow money to be made available from that fund, but I wonder if the Minister would explore this matter once again to see if we might get this funding now because there are many people who would be keen to have such a scheme and to provide the training for those involved in home help services.
I welcome section 57 which says that a child care advisory committee under each health board area should be set up. The Minister said that persons who are not members of the health boards would be members of such a committee. I welcome that too because the expertise and the experience of these people will add to the value of the board.
As well as welcoming the regional child care advisory committees, as Deputy Shatter mentioned, we would also welcome an overall national children's council to co-ordinate, standardise and keep in communication with such regional committees. This national council would be a base, not only for the input from such committees but also for information, providing, perhaps, workshops relating to research. There is a great need for such co-ordination, particularly having regard to the number of voluntary and statutory organisations working towards the same end but very often in a disparate fashion.
At a poverty council held in Kilkenny some years ago, Ms. Noreen Carney, who had done some research into the available social services, came to the conclusion that there was a great amount of goodwill and a certain amount of resources, but sometimes these were not effectively used through lack of co-ordination. She instanced a case of a child from urban Dublin attending, in progression, three or four different hospitals where the file would not be transferred from one hospital to another but each hospital would set up the bureaucratic administrative work. Not alone did that mean incomplete information because of lack of the background to the case, but a huge waste of time and investment at administrative level. I am sure the Minister and members of his Department are examining that matter. One would expect the National Children's Council to effectively deal with such cases. The Kennedy Committee as far back as 1970 recommended that there should be such a national council and stated that not much research was entered into with regard to child care and the need for facilities for children. Since then, many reports have been published and we are all trying to use the information received from such research to bring about a good Bill, and it is hoped, the necessary resources to back it up.
It is to be hoped that the type of continuous research referred to by the Kennedy Committee would be part of the work of the national council. It is through research that our learning becomes complete, our mistakes are eradicated and that a tremendous amount of cross-fertilisation of ideas, sometimes from other countries and from other structures, comes about. Year by year, more is found out about the development of children, their place and their rights in society and research is of paramount importance here.
Part VI deals with the role of the courts in this legislation. It is a little depressing that at present the District Courts would be the courts mostly dealing with these cases. We have research and the experience of other countries to show that District Courts, as now run, are not appropriate or adequate to deal with the whole area of child care and children's rights. Even as recently as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown, a strong recommendation was made for family courts to deal with children in a non-threatening, flexible, fluid fashion, where not alone the children's rights but their welfare would be paramount. It was advocated that they should not be dealt with by a judge who might not particularly be a specialist in that area. In other countries, judges for the specialist children's courts, as well as having legal training must have some insight, experience and expertise in child care.
Such a family court should have not alone the proper back-up welfare system but should allow for all kinds of evidence to be given by social workers, guidance counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and any group that could contribute to the welfare of the child and the family. Deputy Shatter suggested, because of the amount of tension, pain and conflict arising particularly with regard to the custody of children, the presence of an independent advocate in such cases, not to take sides but to ensure that there would be the least trauma and pain inflicted on all involved.
We note the Minister's serious consideration of the effect of volatile substances on youngsters, particularly the dreadfully destructive effect of glue sniffing on very young children. In section 83 the Minister has brought in legislation to deal with that. I am sure that other Deputies as well as I would ask that substances which are equally destructive, if not so volatile, such as the early addiction to alcoholic drink and tobacco, be tackled. There is a problem in preventing young children from having access to these substances. We need to highlight not just the responsibility of persons who would sell such destructive substances to young people but the need for an educational awareness on the part of older people of the harm done, even in goodwill, by purchasing such substances on behalf of those children who cannot obtain them themselves. There is a certain lack of awareness of the total irresponsibility of so doing and that is the main source of access of young people to alcoholic drink and cigarettes.
Addiction to these substances may not quite so quickly or painfully effect young children as glue sniffing which leads to drug abuse, but there is a huge problem involving rehabilitation for the rest of the children's shortened lives or terrible problems to be overcome in later years at tremendous cost.
One matter which has surfaced, of which we must all be aware, is the danger to children from sexual abuse. This has received far less consideration and there have been far fewer speeches on it than on the ills of drink and drug addiction for young people. Last week Deputy Ormonde said it was estimated that one in six adult women were sexually abused or assaulted as children. That is a horrifying figure but in all countries, and particularly in Ireland, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We know from the experience of the Rape Crisis Centre that many women have blocked the crime from their memory because it has been so painful and traumatic for them or because they have felt so guilty about it. For far too long in Ireland it has been a taboo subject. We need to carry out far more research on the subject and I compliment the Minister for giving some funds towards this end.
We must show openness, honesty and total compassion not only towards the victims but also towards the perpetrators of that kind of sexual abuse. The crime is so sick and tragic that help is needed certainly for the child and the victim. There is also the need to remove the child from a family when this crime begins. We must also, with compassion and help, look into the kind of help that needs to be given to an adult who is so perverted and sick that he carries out an act of sexual assault or abuse on a young person. The intimacy and sacredness of the family has allowed incest within families to continue for far too long with tragic, dreadful results. A point I welcome very much is that all of this has been brought out into the open. The Minister has given us statistics but the Members of the House know that the figures are small in comparison with the reality.
We will have gone quite a way when we have completed the debate on Committee Stage of this Bill. It is essential that the resources be given to enable us to have the necessary back-up system to help the families at risk, namely, the vulnerable deprived families who will have a sense of guilt and inadequacy when their children are taken from them. That aspect must be considered very seriously and we must set up the network of support that is necessary.
We have to make a start at second level education in our schools. We expect that the resources will be given to back up this legislation and we will also expect that the necessary information and education be given so that we will not have the same number of casualties or the same painful cases coming forward each year. If all this help is given, fewer families in the future will have to be subjected to measures like this. The necessary supports must be given to ensure that children are not at risk and that families will not find themselves at the point where their children have to be taken into care.