Private Members' Business. - Child Care Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

In discussing the new Child Care Bill, I would immediately like to draw attention to the enlightened thinking behind the 1908 Act. We live in a dramatically changing society. Because of the dramatic changes in values and attitudes it will be necessary in future to review existing legislation on a much more regular basis. Some Members suggested that we could go into the next century before reviewing the Bill, but that cannot be tolerated at any time in the future.

Much more follow-up legislation will be required in the areas of child care, family support services and community care services. Discussions in this area should be ongoing. Legislation should not be brought forward as a reactionary response to bad cases. Rather it should be brought forward as a result of a careful and logical approach to the issues involved.

Young people in general are at greater risk than ever before. It is simplistic to suggest that only the children of financially deprived families are at risk. Anyone involved in youth affairs will know that children from all sections of society are now in danger. Although it is correct to say that children of financially deprived families will have less opportunities in the educational and social areas, it is arrant nonsense to suggest that children from the more affluent sections of society are not in danger of being neglected, assaulted or sexually abused. What is likely to happen, and what has happened in the past, is that such abuse will not become known because that section of society may not come to the attention of the social worker or others working in the field. There is a grave danger that many commentators are becoming much too smug about the source of potential danger. The Minister's directive last year that all reported cases of child abuse, including those reported anonymously, would have to be investigated by a director of community care was most appropriate in this regard.

I do not think we can ask the question often enough why there has been an upsurge of child neglect, violence and assault. We do not ask such questions with a completely open mind. We are much too ready to fall back on the simple and convenient answer of financial deprivation. Of course, that answer neatly avoids the need for each one of us to examine our own conscience. It avoids the need to question heavy drinking by the more affluent sections, the incidence of watching damaging video films and other sources of amusement for the adult section of society which is not financially deprived. However, we cannot avoid the fact that children in such an environment may be in danger.

Another aspect of the child care legislation which is a considerable worry and must be examined — this has cropped up during the debate and people seem to be taking sides — is the possible conflict between the points of view expressed by what I might loosely describe as the pro-family group and the pro-State supplied safety group. Both groups have very clear and strongly held beliefs about what is best for the child. It must be said, however, that both groups are totally sincere and honest in their approach but believe in a different solution in providing for children at risk. The first group would seem to have the backing of Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution, whereby the family is described as (a) "the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society" and (b) "the primary and natural educator of the child". The second group however would have the clear evidence from social workers and others of the terrible happenings within some homes and families and would be aware of the need to prevent these happenings. The Minister has to bring forward legislation which while recognising the Articles of the Constitution also recognises the need to get any child out of a dangerous situation as speedily as possible. Whatever the differences, all legislation must begin from the basic principle of giving precedence to the safety of the child. Many people have taken sides on this issue, and both arguments must be recognised, but the safety of the child must take precedence.

The provisions of section 16 of the Act enabling the court to make a supervision order allowing for the health board to supervise a child in its own home seems to be a fair compromise between the previous stark choices of taking a child into care or gambling on leaving it in a very dangerous and unsupervised situation. The Minister has had to modernise the legislation and to cater for the new dangers in society.

I referred earlier to a previous attempt at legislation which resulted in the tabling of 150 amendments. It is to be expected that amendments will be tabled also to this legislation and I think the Minister will take them on board. We need to realise that legislation alone will go nowhere near solving the problem. Public opinion must change. Health care finances must be diverted into the Cinderella areas of family support and community care in general. Related legislation must be introduced and supported. We have had arguments about legislation which not only affects children but also affects adults' comforts. Very often arguments are put forward by pseudo liberals. The availability of pornographic material, of drink and other mood changing substances, the sheer lack of parental control, which is very often the results of too much socialising are just some facts aside from unemployment and poverty which directly affect children. I question the reaction we get when we attempt to improve this situation. Recently the Minister for Justice brought in legislation to prevent young people buying drink directly from supermarket shelves. This source had been previously identified as one of the major areas for such supplies to young drinkers. Some of the adult population have complained that they could not select their Christmas wines directly from shelves — so much for their being willing to make sacrifices for those at risk. We cannot tolerate that sort of double think. We will have to bring in legislation where necessary and where there is a conflict of interests between adults and children we will have to support the interests of children.

There is a massive and articulate campaign waged by many sources for the funds available in the health care area. I know that the personnel involved in child care and family support services may not be as well organised or as vociferous as many of the other disciplines. I also know from representing a large urban area and being a former chairman of the Southern Health Board, that their request for finance will have to get the same degree of recognition as the other sources. In fact they will need more resources to compensate for their poor starting position. I believe that if extra money is not immediately put into family support services that the situation will deteriorate beyond control and it will be useless bringing in any legislation. However, from experience, I believe this is a decision for the local boards rather than for the Minister. No matter whose responsibility it is we must divert cash into this area or we will be in very deep trouble.

In asking the question why there is such an increase in child-related social problems we could look at it under a number of headings. Is it because the family unit is being undermined? There are many attacks on the family unit, some of which are obvious and very blatant but some are much more subtle. I have been contacted by many people who expressed grave anxiety about the schools training programmes which are loosely described as skills for life or life skills. The people who contacted me were genuine family-loving people, neither ultra-conservative nor ultra-liberal, just ordinary down-to-earth people. They come and tell of happenings which should worry anyone in public office. They complain of activities which apparently lead to mood changes in their children, and in some instances they feel that these children could end up in the situation covered by the Bill which we are now discussing.

It might be argued that this point might be more relevant to the Department of Education but if this kind of activity leads children into these areas of conflict we must ask questions, There are questions to be asked by a number of Departments in this area. One of the prime worries about these particular sessions is the apparent secrecy in which they are conducted. The parents who are the so-called primary and natural educators of children according to the Constitution are being deliberately kept ignorant of what is going on.

In relation to the contents of the Bill, generally speaking the public are not aware of how limited is the existing legislation. It is only when a particularly notorious case hits the headlines that interest is taken in the power that exists for dealing with it or, as up to now, which did not exist. One of the primary sections is section 2 the main effect of which is to raise from 16 to 18 years the age up to which health boards are responsible for children. That will immediately make an important change which was clearly required. I would like to ask the Minister if this definition of "child" will apply to all legislation which is child-related as in the areas of justice, labour and so on because if not there will be a lot of confusion. I have seen confusion in the past with regard to factories Acts, safety regulations and so on. It is important that basic definitions as the age of responsibility should be standard right across the board. I ask the Minister to look at that and to see that it extends into the other areas.

Sections 3 to 9 contain a number of provisions aimed at promoting the welfare of children and preventing family breakdown. I referred earlier to finance but this will be money well spent because up to now it depended totally on the type of director of community care or the programme manager of each health board. The family support services must get a good share of health budgets in the future; otherwise it will reflect in the dependency rate on health boards and social welfare. There is a need to go from just minding it to actively promoting the welfare of children and I hope we will do that as a result of what the Minister is proposing.

In section 5 it is proposed to establish one or more child care advisory commitees in each health board area. This is something that many of us have asked for in the past. We want these committees to advise the board and come forward with their knowledge — because voluntary bodies and professionals would be involved — on the performance of its functions under the Bill. This opens up a new area of child care which was an essential move. I commend the Minister for getting the voluntary groups involved. Section 7 enables the health boards to make arrangements with the voluntary bodies and section 8 empowers health boards to grant-aid voluntary bodies. I would ask the Minister to tighten up those two sections to ensure that the health boards are required to support child care and family services. At present it depends very much on having an enlightened director of community care or programme manager available. I would ask that this would become mandatory. In the Cork area we are lucky as we have got tremendous people many of whom are religious groups who help in the area of child care but I think they need financial support.

Section 10 relates to a controversial area which was challenged in the courts and that is the right of a garda in an emergency to remove to a hospital or other children's home a child who has been assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused. Initially, that removal could only be for a maximum of 24 hours. The time now proposed is reasonable because it could be a very traumatic experience if something goes wrong. We are all aware of the recent case in Britain where the professionals were proved wrong. It was so traumatic for the families involved that they will never recover from the experience. It is essential that we have a brief period to look at the position. That immediately leads to the question as to whether there will be training for the Garda to recognise the reality of a given situation. They are not experts in this area and there is need to provide some type of training for them which will probably come under the Department of Justice but we need liaison between the Departments. There is need for training of the Garda because they would not have the expertise.

Section 16 enables the court to make a supervision order. This is enlightened legislation because up to now we had stark choices: a child was put into care or a child was left in the confines of the dangerous area because there was no alternative where people could take extra care and still leave the child in the home or in another safe place. This provision is good as it will give the professionals the option of working with families and of pointing out to them the danger of the child being taken away and so on. It is an excellent compromise between the two previous levels.

Part VI of the Bill is very important as it deals with the introduction of a system for the inspection of services for pre-school children. Deputies trotted out a whole range of issues on that subject during the debate. The primary areas are day nurseries, crèches, playgroups and pre-schools. Pre-schools, in particular, have mushroomed. That is a reflection of the change in society where so many women quite rightly, feel that their place in society may be at the workplace even though they may also be mothers. They put the children either in the day nursery, a crèche or a pre-school. Pre-schools are totally supported in the Cork area through the Cork Community Services Council. Those who would now be considered almost professional in the area know that there is a need for the introduction of standards and inspection and all of this will mean that extra funding will be required. There is no use in saying to a programme manager of community care that there are another 40 places to examine when there is nobody to examine them. We will have to look at the whole question of funding.

The most humane section which was widely greeted by everyone is section 57, providing for the abolition of the death sentence in respect of crimes committed by persons under 18 years of age. As a newcomer here I find it incredible that such legislation even existed on the Statute Book. In relation to that legislation we were really in the dark ages and I am delighted the Minister had the courage at last to get rid of it. It is incredible that it took so long to arrive at this stage.

The final point I should like to mention is one that is very topical and about where there was great public disquiet: it relates to the question of the abuse of solvents. It is an area fraught with danger. Going through the motion of writing down the various household products which may be abused can, in itself, be a temptation to young people. Many of us who have worked in the area of drug and alcohol abuse have been aware of the many alternatives to glue sniffing over a number of years. There are hundreds of substances that can be bought off the shelf in shops or found in offices and so on that can be used for that purpose. It is practically impossible to police the whole area. The Minister is attempting to do so in rendering it an offence to sell solvent-based products to children where it is suspected they will be abused. I do not know how that could be proved in a court of law. The deterrents, of a fine of £1,000 or 12 months imprisonment obtain, but it is an area very difficult to police. It constituted a weak area in respect of which there was no legislative provision.

We will have to be prepared to move more speedily. I do not see why a Bill pertaining to any issue must consist of 50 or 60 pages. Whether by way of ministerial order or otherwise we shall have to move more speedily in order to head off obvious difficulties such as glue sniffing when the Garda tell one: sorry, we cannot do anything about it; there is no legislation in this regard.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are seeking mandatory reporting of cases of abuse. Such provision would be good and would mean that nobody involved in a case would be allowed slip away. There have also been efforts made to effect a change from the circumstances in which the offended person, that is the child, rather than the offender is removed from the home. Because of the pattern emerging, showing that in many cases more than one child in a family is sexually abused, further examination of this area is warranted. When there is evidence to the effect that a number of children in the one family have been abused over a number of years by the same person the notion of removing the offender will have to be examined. I agree with that notion particularly where the evidence suggests that such action would be more beneficial to the family concerned.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children referred to the child care area as being the Cinderella of our social services. Community care in general has been put on the back boiler for years. It was the last programme to be formally recognised, the general hospitals and psychiatric programmes having existed longer. The whole of the social services area — community care, care of the aged, child care, family support, will have to receive a greater proportion of the overall health budget. If it is an issue for the health boards then let us face up to it and put our money where our mouths have been to date.

While I agree with much of what Deputy Dennehy had to say about the provisions of this Bill I contend there is a myth around that somehow children and families were happier, better protected, almost by nature itself, automatically guaranteed full growth and happiness hitherto. When we look into recent history we find the opposite to be the case. That occurred because of our not having legislation for the protection of children, affording them their rights. The last sentence of the explanatory memorandum accompanying this Bill is particularly apt. It reads:

The opportunity is being taken to repeal a large number of outdated provisions in relation to children.

It must be recognised that we live in a crisis-ridden, difficult world. It would appear that we are confronted by problems that did not exist in happier times.

As Deputy Dennehy speculated about the breakdown in family life and child care I jotted down a few of the difficulties and deprivations the majority of children encountered until very recently. For example, there were orphaned children who had absolutely no rights at all, sometimes living in hellish-like orphanages. The former head of the children's section of the Department of Health — for which section I have tremendous admiration — outlined the suffering and lack of rights of such children in his wonderful book entitled "The Lost Children" which demonstrated that until recently we did not perceive children as human beings much less grant them their rights. For example, there was child labour when children were sent up chimneys and down into mines. Until recently colonising countries deported children, sending them to their colonies at an incredibly young age and submitting to dreadful punishment for very small crimes. The recent trauma of children being evacuated in wars has left them with many a scar. There was also the more recent almost moral right of adults to subject children to corporal punishment in the home, schools and other educational establishments. Thankfully that practice has been outlawed, so that we can now look back on a more barbarous age.

All of that meant that children had no rights, which is what the provisions of this Bill are about and the reason they are so welcomed by us all. Indeed one of the greatest abuses of children was that of child prostitution and subjection to pornography. Now that such practices are out in the open I would hope that our society would deal with them. A reading of history uncovers evidence to show that in Victorian times in Britain — and I am sure elsewhere — there was a high level of child prostitution and pornography hidden under the cloak of respectability. Therefore, I welcome a less so-called respectable society, a more tolerant and more open one, that allows us to examine the sins committed against our children and the rights denied them. While affording protection to children and their parents — without invading the rights of either — constitutes a dilemma, it is a welcome fact that for the first time we are recognising child abuse and introducing legislation to protect them and guarantee their rights to survival and development. Bearing in mind the world in which our children must grow up and the honesty with which we endeavour to prepare them for such I believe the skills for life programme in our schools is essential. In the course of our deliberations in the Committee on Women's Rights during the term of office of the last Government we examined carefully the development of children in education. One of the strongest recommendations of that all-party committee was that there be a well defined integrated skills for life preparation of all children.

It should be remembered that children can be abused in two ways, by the abuse of power by an adult and by denying them information, allowing them be used and abused through ignorance. None of us has the right to allow our children grow up in ignorance pretending that in some way we are maintaining their innocence. It should be remembered constantly that the victims of crime, usually of physical and sexual abuse, are children least capable of defending themselves. This turns out to be far more traumatic for those who have not been prepared to face this problem or to avoid it. That is the kind of education we have to offer our young people so that this legislation will not need to be used to the extent that I think it will need to be used when it becomes law. If we give those skills to our children we will end up with a less authoritarian and a far more healthy society, with many of these abuses being eliminated. That is the hope of all those involved in child care.

I am sure that the Minister and his officials have taken note of the points which have been made again and again. Consequently, I will not dwell for too long on any one of them but I would like to highlight a number of areas which I, in my arrogance, believe have not been referred to as yet. Each one of us welcomes the section of the Bill which provides for the revised arrangements in respect of the inspection and approval of residential centres for children but it is very important that the correct income levels for suitably qualified staff are applied and the proper value put on child care because one of the difficulties experienced up to now is that we have allowed child care to be considered as an extension of family care, mostly carried out by women, and not valued. Suitably qualified staff are not paid at the rate they should be. This is one of the most demanding professions a person can get involved in. The decisions which require to be taken, particularly in regard to the removal of children or offenders from the home, need to be taken by those with the highest qualifications and skills. Rather than being seen as a Cinderella profession and, unfortunately, social work is seen in that context at present — one has only to look at the income levels which apply and the status of social workers compared with some of our more glorious professionals — to see that this is the case. I would like, when residential care centres are being established, to see a defined level of remuneration and superannuation entitlements being applied.

Like everybody else I welcome the provision that the word "child" will now be defined as any person up to 18 years of age other than a married person. I would remind the House, having regard to the kind of residential care that would be needed for children within that age group, that the implications will be enormous in that many of our residential care units have not had to cope with children in that age group up to now. Children who have been institutionalised during their childhood need to progress through units which would act as halfway houses where they would be prepared for employment and marriage. There is a huge amount of work to be done and I hope, on Committee Stage, to be able to go into that aspect in much more detail.

This may sound like a clichè but, like most clichès it is true. All the emphasis should be placed on preventive action and family support services so that families would not need to be broken up. I have read the report produced by the Wexford family group who provide support for families with children at risk. The evidence of that report shows that if we provide assistance at the time when the family most need support, in the long term this would prove more beneficial than in removing either a parent or the children from the home.

Section 21 of the Bill provides for care proceedings to be heard in private and to be as informal as possible. This highlights the need for a children's court. The section provides for the proceedings to be as informal as possible. I am sure that other Members of the House will share my concern on this. A practice had developed in the children's court and even in the ordinary courts of the land when children were involved in legal cases where a real attempt was made by each person involved in the case, be it the judge, solicitors or members of the Garda Síochána, not to wear their garb or uniforms but I have heard to my great disappointment that not alone has this development not evolved further but a directive has been issued that members of the Garda Síochána should wear their uniforms. I think that is a retrograde step. I cannot see any reason for it and I would like to think that this practice will not continue.

Section 32 enables a health board or the Garda Síochána to recover children who have been unlawfully removed from care or who have absconded. While this is not the responsibility of the Minister for Health but rather the Minister for Justice I would like to place on the record that we are still awaiting legislation which I believe is being drafted, which would prevent children being kidnapped from the parent who had been awarded custody of them and being taken out of the country. In some cases these children are lost to the parents forever. We have not been able to ratify the European Convention as the appropriate legislation has not been introduced. By the time parents may have the resources which would enable them to take action to get their children back the children have been with the other parent for so long that they question whether they should disrupt that relationship. Some parents have decided to make a great sacrifice and give up their children. No greater sacrifice is asked of a parent than to give up their children. Even if it only affects a very small number of people this should not be allowed to happen. I would like to place on the record that we are expecting that legislation which would enable us to ratify the European Convention.

Section 3 (2) lists the powers which a health board shall have under this Bill. Section 3 (2) (a) says that the health board shall "take such steps as it considers requisite to identify children who are not receiving adequate care and protection". In fairness to everybody who will be involved in making that serious decision, we must give the resources for the training and qualification of staff so that when they make that decision they can make it with the sense of knowledge, information and education which they need but which will not place them at risk of having action taken against them because of what they did in good faith. The question of the education and qualification of staff who will be dealing with children needs to be looked at and defined much more than it is at present.

Section 5 in Part II of the Bill spells out what the health boards shall do. One of their obligations will be to establish child care advisory committees to advise the health boards. This is one part of the legislation I wish to stress. Those who have been involved in recommending and pressing for legislation and who have experience of working in the child care area have pointed out again and again that in order to have uniformity and to standardise the level of confidence we would all like and appreciate we must have a national child care council or authority. The Kennedy report, the task forces, the ISPCC and others have said that the standards and regulations must be done on a national level. Because this is a small country that would not be such a large or difficult task. If this is not done on a national level health boards might be left at a disadvantage in not knowing what standards to use. Anomalies may arise between one health board and another and I believe that that would be an invidious position in which to place them or the people for whom they are administering. I believe we need a national council or authority to administer and define at that level.

I believe all of us welcome the acknowledgement given and the request made in section 7 in Part II of the Bill that the health boards should recognise and make arrangements with voluntary organisations or other persons for the provision by those organisations or other persons on behalf of the health board of child care and family support services which the board is empowered to provide under this Bill. What that section is saying is that we should acknowledge, value and continue to use as positively as possible the great contribution made by voluntary bodies in this area. However, section 8 states "...say a periodic contribution to funds of the body or person". Here is where we get to the nub of the problem. You, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Minister and all of us know that sometimes the voluntary contribution and the huge demands which are made on either voluntary persons or bodies to carry out vital services on behalf of all of us are done so under tremendous stress and with a tremendous need for resources. With the critical situation many voluntary organisations — and certainly women's organisations — find themselves in because of budgetary cutbacks, if we mean what we say in section 8 of this Bill then, in ordinary every day parlance, we have got to put our money where our mouths are. We cannot continue to demand qualified and skilled contributions in sensitive areas from voluntary bodies without giving them the necessary resources to carry these out.

I welcome very much the provision in section 9 whereby a health board may conduct or assist other persons in conducting research into any matter connected with the functions assigned to the board under this Bill. It is only recently that we in this country have faced up to the fact that, while we seem to have a tremendous number of centres and resources to give us economic research and projections and programmes of reality and, at times, unreality, we do not have a complementary research programme in the social area. Social research works at the most fundamental level can anticipate problems and make cost-effective the running of our society by showing us where investment is needed before it is too late. No more than the voluntary bodies getting the necessary resources. I would once again like to think that this is not just lip service and that money will be invested in research. I particularly welcome the provision that not alone may the health boards conduct research but that they may assist other persons in conducting research. From my experience on the Joint Committee on Women's Rights I know that with a small amount of funding we could have access to very important and useful social research which we would not have the time or money to invest ourselves. Allowing the health boards to assist in research gives them a flexibility which is very welcome and which the Oireachtas committees do not have at present. However, that is another area of work.

Part III of the Bill deals with the protection of children in emergencies. Naturally we welcome the powers being given to the Garda Síochána that, where they have reasonable grounds for believing that a child is being assaulted, ill treated, neglected or sexually abused or there is an immediate or serious risk to the health or wellbeing of the child, the child may, without a warrant, be taken to a place of safety. This is one of the most strengthening sections in the Bill and gardaí, social workers, health boards and child care residential centres have suffered because of the lack of such a provision before this. However, I want to raise a point — and I am sure the Minister will be confronted again with this — to which I think we should give serious attention. With regard to treating child abuse, particularly the sexual abuse of children which is very recent in this country, people looking after the health of children who have been abused make the point that, for two reasons, the emphasis should, perhaps, be on removing the offender and not the child from the family home. Deputy Dennehy referred to one of the reasons, that is, other children may be at risk of being abused if the child is removed. Secondly, it can add considerably to the guilt of a child who is suffering tremendous guilt already. If a child is removed from the loving relationship of the other parent in the home it may create such trauma for the child that it only exacerbates the situation and will take much longer to deal with the guilt of the child.

I have said that this is a sensitive and complex issue, and I know the people who have drafted this Bill are more than aware of that, but because this Bill is fundamentally about children's rights and the protection of children, I believe our first emphasis must be on the child and leaving them in an environment of safety and protection. Naturally there will be emergency situations where that power will be needed to remove a child immediately until other arrangements can be made but if we are looking at a case of child abuse within a family I believe that in the long term it is the offender who must be removed and treated. We cannot begin to cope with the difficulties and the cycle of child abuse without a support system, not just for the child and the offender but also for the rest of the family. It is probably the most complicated relationship that has to be dealt with. It is astonishing and horrifying that most abusers were themselves abused. We have evidence and statistics to show that. It shows the level of abuse which has occurred down through the centuries, but it is also a hopeful piece of evidence if we can use that knowledge to break the cycle of abuse by treating the family, the offender and the abused. This treatment can take years and we must have units with qualified staff to enable the treatment to continue until people are fully recovered.

Part VI of the Bill deals with the supervision of pre-school services. Looking through my files and at my bookshelf I realise that this is one area in which a great deal of research has been done. There have been many reports on the whole area of child care and pre-school services. We have models and documentation from other countries, but unfortunately that is all. There is a tremendous need to strengthen this part of the Bill, based on the evidence which is already available. Anybody who has had experience in this area believes that the legislation must be strengthened in this respect. There must be standards and qualifications in the area of child care. The necessity for statutory registration and the statutory control of standards in day care facilities have been stressed by various bodies, including the Child Minders Union, the Pre-School Playschools Association and the ISPCC. The point was also made in the report of the Working Party on Child Care Facilities for Working Parents. That report contains a summary of main recommendations and proposals but begins by recommending the adoption of a statutory scheme for controlling and regulating day care facilities. They refer to a code of practice which would complement the legal framework. This code of practice should be drawn up to include other desirable standards which day care facilities would be encouraged to aspire to or to adopt.

Many meetings, seminars and workshops have been held in relation to child care facilities. Those concerned have recommended statutory controls. All the groups and associations I have named make their recommendations in the first instance for the protection of children and in the interests of having qualified people looking after them. These people are also motivated by pride in the work they do, being aware of its importance. A person should not be allowed to carry on a pre-school practice or a childminding service without being registered under the law. The Bill provides that a person shall give notice to the relevant health board of intention to carry on a pre-school service. A health board shall cause to be visited from time to time each pre-school service in its area in order to ensure that the person carrying on the service is fulfilling the duty imposed on him or her. People working in this area believe that one should not be allowed to practise without being registered and that registration should not be possible without a qualifying inspection. If this is not done, people could set up hidden or half-hidden child care units, without fulfilling the necessary conditions and meeting the required standards.

The National Childminding Association issued recommendations for good practice in Britain in July 1985. Their recommendations are along the lines I am suggesting. The regulations for good practice were drawn up after discussions all over the country at seminars in every area of Britain. They incorporate suggestions made by people involved in childminding and child care there. The report states:

There was general agreement with the proposed aims of any legislation or guidance concerning childminding. It should ensure the following:

(1) That registration should be recognised as a mark of ability to provide a good standard of overall child care;

(2) That childminding should be supported;

(3) That all childminding should be registered.

Another recommendation is as follows:

It was felt that it should be a statutory responsibility of local authorities to inform the public that registration is a legal requirement.

The report goes on to suggest that a network of training facilities for childminders should be established. Many of the existing pre-schools associations here have a high level of qualification but the area of childminding is somewhat more vague. There is a childminding union here with a directory where childminders are registered. They also attempt to ensure that the necessary skills are given to people to allow them to reach the standards that would be required for registration.

I have spent much time on this area of the Bill but we have been waiting a long time to have the issue of standards and regulations addressed in the pre-school area. It is very important that we encourage high standards and the training of qualified people. Everybody I have spoken to who works in this area would lobby for this to be done.

I want to refer briefly to the importance of including in Part IX of this Bill that it will be an offence for persons to sell, offer or make available substances other than a controlled drug to a person under 18 years of age. Considering that lives can be destroyed when dealers feed drugs to young people, the penalty being imposed for this heinous offence is to be welcomed.

It has been said that we have a positive and constructive approach to our law and I agree. When discussing this Bill one of the points we will be making is that this legislation is not about removing people's rights but about giving people their rights, the right to protection under the law. This is a positive, not a negative, Bill and I welcome it. I agree with other speakers who suggest that if it is suspected that this Bill will run into constitutional difficulties, we should have the President take steps to ensure that it is constitutional and that will not be challenged. I have no problem with that, and I would like to think the majority of our people would not either.

Because children are so vulnerable and cannot defend themselves there is a greater need for us to place an importance on children's rights rather than on adults' and parental rights because we can fight our own corner. Children's rights should be fundamental to the Bill. The people who drew up our Constitution wanted that, too. There should be independent legal representation for children. Where it is needed children must have access to independent legal representation and the interests of the children should be paramount.

To make this Bill as positive as possible I would ask the Minister to ensure that we protect the rights of children, even to the extent of taking them temporarily from parents or the people over them. This legislation should be as flexible as possible. As I said, the children should be our prime interest, but to ensure that these children are properly protected, it should not be necessary to prove that parents have failed. There should be an understanding that at times parents or those in authority may not be the best people to look after a child but as far as possible we should give every support and help to the parents and ensure that when upholding children's rights we do not in any way downgrade the rights of the parents or the adults in authority. Early intervention provide a safeguard for the family and the family might never break up.

We pride ourselves on being a child centred society. A very high proportion of our population are children, and we welcome that, but it is not enough to protect them against the most obvious abuses of violence as well as sexual abuse. When we talk about the maintenance, the rights and the development of our children we must ensure that no child will go hungry, that no child will be less than well clothed, and that every child will have the same opportunities. This Bill will empower the health boards to intervene where necessary to protect children, but society must not only safeguard children against violence and sexual abuse, but ensure that no child will suffer from lack of food or lack of opportunity and that every child will have the same opportunities.

If the necessary support services were available and if every family had a decent income, we would not have to cope with the numerous problems we face now. I would like to think that the most powerful section of this Bill would be used only in the minority of cases. I would like to see a society which concentrated on the rights of children and provided that every child had the same right to survival and success.

In producing this Bill the Government have taken a great step forward in providing for the welfare and protection of children who are at risk. I welcome the Bill because in the past I fear the State was very slow to come to the rescue of the children we are now aiming to protect.

The majority of Irish homes are happy and the children born into them can be sure that they will be protected and provided for, loved and reared to adulthood, by steady good decent parents. They may not all have very high incomes but what they have they use to the best of their ability. However, there is a small number of children born into families where they are not exactly welcome or where abnormal situations arise. It is the plight of these children that this Child Care Bill is addressing. For such children their arrival into the world is the beginning of a nightmare and one that can last their whole lives. These are children who have arrived into the homes of monsters. That is the only way I could describe parents who horribly neglect, starve, torture, burn and batter their children in this fashion, or parents who sexually interfere with and abuse their children before they are out of nappies and beyond, or children who, for want of a better description, live in a war zone. These children are often daily witnesses to acts of violence perpetrated by one parent on the other. Many of these unnatural and terrifying situations are caused by circumstances outside the family, such as alcohol abuse, poverty, unemployment, selfishness, infidelity or lack of love. These problems can undermine the stability of ordinary family life which in a small minority of cases, can lead to the base and mindless acts of abuse and degradation I am talking about.

Children living in these frightening circumstances are sometimes so traumatised and emotionally shocked that they cannot speak about their experiences at home to anyone. They do not call the police, the health centre, the solicitor or any other person about these happenings. They are usually too terrified of the abusers to do so. The people most likely to discover the situation — or to have their suspicions — are a school teacher, a close neighbour or a family friend. Generally, these people do not alert the authorities because there is always the feeling that the Garda or the health boards cannot do anything to relieve the problem as they do not have the necessary clout. In any case, people do not want to become involved. This leaves the children in a desperate plight; every often they are emotionally stunted and never reach fulfilment and happiness in their lives. The responsibility for their well-being and future is very definitely in the hands of the State.

In dealing with the care of these children, the main thrust of the Bill is to place a statutory duty on the health boards to ensure that the welfare of these children is being properly provided for and that they are given full protection. The Bill also strengthens the powers of the health board to provide child care and family support services and to improve procedures to help immediate intervention by health boards and the Garda where children are in serious danger which, in itself, is a godsend. It also revises provisions to enable the court to place children who have been assaulted, ill-treated, seriously neglected or sexually abused in the care of or under the supervision of health boards. It will introduce arrangements for the inspection and supervision of pre-school services and revise provisions in relation to the inspection and approval of residential centres for children.

All these provisions are well intentioned and needed but I cannot see any of them working properly unless there is financial backing to support them. The most important provisions in the Bill are that the health boards now have a duty and responsibility to protect and accommodate these children and that the Garda can intervene immediately in a family where the child is under threat and remove that child to the care of the health boards. I ask the Minister to ensure that the necessary finance is made available to the health boards for the provision of accommodation and the cost of care for the children. If the Bill is passed in its present form there will be nowhere — at least in Dublin — for the Garda to leave these children as there will not be enough beds available in any of the homes run by the health boards.

I welcome the fact that day care means the right of the family to remain a family. It is obvious that it is not the Minister's intention to destroy or try to break up the family unit but to give the health board responsibility to give support and assistance to families in difficulties and, in all but the most serious and difficult cases, to leave the child at home but under the watchful eye of the health board. Another plus for the Bill is that in each area where the health boards operate, a committee made up of representatives of voluntary bodies, presumably child care organisations such as the ISPCC, St. Vincent de Paul, district nurses, community workers and teachers, people with a working knowledge of the area, will be set up with the intention of advising the health board of their duty under the Bill to carry out periodic reviews of the adequacy of the child care and family support services in the area. They should have a working relationship, with the help of grant aid, for the bodies who provide child care and family support services in these areas. This will give the community a part to play in ensuring that the well-being and welfare of these children is being maintained.

A large part of the Bill deals with the responsibility of the courts under the heading "care proceedings". In extreme cases, where the health board are seeking the custody of a child, they apply to the court for a care order in respect of the child. A care order would suspend the parents' right to custody of the child and place him or her in the custody of the health board. To receive a care order, the health board must satisfy the court that the child has been subjected to assault, ill-treatment, serious neglect, has been sexually abused, that the child's health or well-being has been, or is being avoidably impaired or seriously neglected or that there are reasonable grounds for believing the same. They must also satisfy the court that the child requires care or protection which he or she is unlikely to receive unless he or she is under the care of the health board.

In granting the care order, the court must take into consideration the rights and duties of the parents under the Constitution. More important, it must take into consideration the natural rights of the child. This care order would remain in force until the child reaches the age of 18 years or if it was successfully challenged by the parents or discharged by the court because of changed circumstances. I very much welcome this provision in the Bill.

The health board can also apply for a supervision order which would enable the board to have the child visited at his or her home to ensure that he or she is being properly cared for. The court could also have the power to direct the parents to bring the child to a day care centre or child guidance clinic or hospital or other such service or help which the child might need. A supervision order would apply for 12 months and could be renewed but I should like to know how the Minister will carry out this provision. The court will also be responsible for a number of other matters, including the right of parents or other persons to have access to the children in the care of health boards.

The following provisions are also covered in the Bill: what happens to children in the care of the health boards, the supervision of pre-school services, the standards and administration of children's residential centres which all come under the scrutiny of the Minister for Health and, in some cases, the Minister for Education, which is satisfactory and adequate.

Last but not least, there is a provision for fines of up to £1,000 or 12 months' imprisonment for anyone selling solvent-based products to children for glue sniffing. Everybody here knows that a number of children and teenagers died over the past few years from sniffing these products. This provision will be welcomed by parents and guardians. The Bill is up to date and will go a long way to ensure that the rights of children are maintained and provided for.

I should like to refer briefly to one point made by Deputy Mooney, namely, the monsters who beat and abuse their children. I preface my remarks by saying that my sympathy and concern are entirely with the children who are beaten and abused but it must also be said that parents are not born monsters, they are created by society. It would be useful to examine the question of what creates the kind of people who beat and abuse their children. Who are those most likely to be disposed in that way? Can we pinpoint them and try to use preventative measures which will ensure that fewer and fewer children are beaten or abused by their parents? Of course, in many cases, children are not abused by their parents but by older brothers, sisters or other near relatives, perhaps uncles. It is necessary for society to look at that aspect of the problem which the Bill attempts to address.

There has long been a need for a radical updating of legislation in relation to children, which has been widely acknowledged for many years by all concerned with their care and welfare. However, the pace of legislative reform in this area has been extremely and painfully slow. Some progress has been made, the Status of Children Act which is now in operation being a notable case. In other areas little or no progress has been made. The Children (Care and Protection) Bill, 1985, introduced by the Coalition Government, although flawed in some respects, was a serious attempt to deal with some of the problems. Regrettably there seemed to have been an absence of the necessary determination to get that Bill through the Oireachtas at the time. It was put through a special committee. I attended one or two of those committee meetings as an observer — I was not given the right to attend as a member — and it was clear from those meetings that the Bill was going to die a death. In the event, it disappeared because of the general election which followed fairly soon afterwards.

This Bill is quite different in many respects from the Coalition's Bill. The 1985 Bill had more than 45 pages whereas this one has only 27 pages. While I would be the first to admit that bulk is not always necessarily a sign of quality, the fact is that some significant sections of the previous Bill have been dropped. There are some improvements in the Bill such as the raising of the age, under which a child is defined, to 18 years compared with 15 years in the 1985 Bill. That eliminates the limbo in which 16 to 18 year olds found themselves. The authorities who had to deal with the care of children also found themselves in a similar limbo.

I wonder whether this change has any implications for the payment of children's allowance. After all, children's allowance is generally paid up to the age of 16 years. In certain circumstances, where the child is in full time education, it is extended to 18 years and it is extended still further to 21 years where the child's mother is a deserted wife or a widow. Perhaps this applies to some other categories also which I cannot recall at present. It is worth nothing that we are raising the age under which a child is defined. I am quite certain that children's allowances will have to be paid likewise for children up to the age of 18 years. I hope the Minister who has responsibility for social welfare will take note of that fact when he is drafting his social welfare Bill after the budget.

On the other hand some of the areas which the 1985 Bill sought to tackle, such as the question of private foster care, have been totally ducked in this Bill. Other areas, such as the question of pre-school care have been greatly reduced in scope. Before dealing with specific aspects of this Bill it is important to put into some kind of economic context the sort of problems this Bill purports to address. According to the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of the Bill is to up-date the law in relation to the care of children, particularly children who have been assaulted, ill treated, seriously neglected or sexually abused or those who are at risk. It has to be said that the many good ideas and progressive proposals in the Bill will have little effect if Government policies in other areas lead directly or indirectly to children being neglected, ill treated or otherwise put at risk. Child neglect and ill treatment are problems that are experienced in all social groups. There is no doubt that the incidences of these problems are most frequently found in those families who are under pressure as a result of low income, inadequate housing and general social deprivation. As long as there is poverty and deprivation we will have to face problems of ill treatment and child neglect. That is an unfortunate fact.

In the past ten years unemployment has grown to a level that most people thought they would never see again. Over 60 per cent of the unemployed are now on unemployment assistance, the lower level of payment for the unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of children are living in families which are existing on a totally inadequate level of unemployment assistance. They receive little more than £80 per week to feed, house and clothe a family of two adults and two children. It is virtually impossible to ensure that children receive an adequate level of nourishment and care on such a derisory income. These children are the victims of child neglect but those guilty of neglect are not the parents who, in most cases, do a tremendous but virtually impossible job in trying to make ends meet. Those guilty of neglect are successive governments who have failed to provide families with a sufficient level of income to enable them to provide an adequate level of care.

It is a shocking indictment of Irish society that the infant mortality rate among the offspring of unskilled manual workers is three times higher than among those of middle class professional parents. According to a report prepared by the Minister's Department the rate of peri-natal death, late foetal death and death of infants under one week was 5.42 per thousand live births where the father was in the higher professional classes. However, the death rate was as high as 18.55 among babies of unskilled manual workers.

The recent ESRI Combat Poverty Agency report disclosed that children make up a greater proportion of the poor than was the case 15 years ago. According to the report, households with children are increasing as a proportion of the poor. Two types of household were identified as being particularly at risk — two-adult households with three or more children and one-adult households with children. There are children in more than six out of every ten households below the poverty line. The report said that the risk of poverty increased as the number of children in a household increased. The risk of poverty is between two and three times as great for households with children as for those without children.

Given the scale of the problem it is worth quoting what the Combat Poverty Agency had to say in relation to the action which needs to be taken to address the problem of poverty among children. It is worth reading into the record of the House what the agency had to say because it is highly improbable that we will get an opportunity to debate that report here, although the Minister has indicated that it can be put on the Floor of the House with the agreement of the Whips. I would be happy if that report were to be debated but nevertheless on the basis that I believe it will not be debated, it is important to have on the record of the House the recommendations of the Combat Poverty Agency in this regard. Part I of the report deals in the first place with the question of unemployment and poverty and Part II deals with the inadequacy of welfare payments. On page viii of Part I, paragraph 3.5, it is stated:

The third key issue that needs to be addressed is the widespread extent of poverty among families with children. Even with the qualifications that the ESRI researchers make about how the exact levels vary depending on the equivalence scale used, their findings raise concern about the number of children growing up in poverty and highlight issues such as the fall in the real value of child benefit over time. There is clearly a need to look at all policies that affect children, especially social welfare, health and education, and to develop a comprehensive integrated policy to tackle family poverty. Also, in view of the sensitivity of the findings to the equivalence scale used, there is a need to investigate in some detail the actual costs associated with children. The Agency has already prioritised the issue of child poverty and is undertaking a comprehensive review of the extent of the problem and the range of measures necessary to counter it. These findings give this task an added urgency.

The agency go on to recommend:

(i) there should be a recognition of the costs associated with bringing up children and a significant increase in the state's financial support for families with children;

(ii) to this end, immediate consideration should be given to increasing the value of Child Benefit as a way of recognising the additional costs associated with bringing up children while avoiding the creation of poverty traps.

(iii) to complement action in relation to income support, urgent attention should be given to developing high quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children, increasing resources to primary schools in poor neighbourhoods and providing comprehensive day-care services for poor families.

I will be referring later to the last recommendation. Let me say that this Bill fudges the issue of pre-school education and child care facilities, and attempts to deal with it under the broad heading of pre-school services.

Despite this evidence from the agency, the present Fianna Fáil Government and, indeed, the previous Coalition Administration, have introduced a series of cutbacks which have directly affected the welfare of children and made it even more difficult for parents on low incomes to cope. There was, of course, the withdrawal of food subsidies and the almost total withdrawal of clothing grants. This Government have followed suit by reducing the value of shoe grants for children, deliberately increasing the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools and blocking the appointment of new remedial teachers. Under both Governments there has been a general tightening up of supplementary welfare payments. The introduction of the hospital charges has contributed to the pressure on families with children, and the almost total absence of decent dental and particularly orthodontic treatment for children has been a disgrace. All these factors lead to greater pressure on parents. Some parents simply cannot cope, and the result sometimes is that children are simply neglected or ill-treated. It is not enough to express concern about this or take action against parents who offend, until we have a society where poverty and deprivation have been eliminated. Those who determine the economic conditions under which people live must share the guilt for the neglect and ill-treatment of children.

Even if this Bill is passed and the proposals in it put into effect, they will have little impact on the overall problem unless the staff and resources are devoted to implementing them effectively. Over the past few years most health boards have had to implement sweeping cutbacks because of the savage reductions in their financial allocations from central Government. Indeed, we have heard dramatic accounts from consultants in Temple Street Hospital, the children's hospital on the north side of the city of Dublin, of the impact of the cutbacks on the standard of health care in their hospital. The health board personnel who are already dealing with the child care area are already stretched to their limit and simply will not be able to cope with the additional workload arising from this Bill unless there is a substantial increase in finance and staffing levels.

In some respects the priorities in the Bill seem to be wrong. There are pages and pages dealing with procedures for taking children into care and dealing with the custody of children outside the so-called natural family, but little or nothing on the support needed by the natural family to ensure that it will not be necessary to take the child away in the first place. Again, in relation to cases where children may be sexually abused by another member of the family, the emphasis in the Bill is on the removal of the child from the family home. Those organisations dealing with the victims of child sexual abuse have made the point on a number of occasions that the best approach in many cases is to move the offending person out of the home and leave the child with the rest of the family. That may not be possible in all cases. It depends on the circumstances.

Section 10 of the Bill gives important power to the Garda in relation to taking children to a place of safety. This raises the whole question of the training of the Garda to deal with these situations, something I understand is almost nonexistent at the moment. It will certainly be necessary for the Garda authorities to be involved in these matters on some occasions, but it is important that it should be only those members of the force who have received the training necessary to enable them to carry out their functions without causing further distress to what is already probably a very distressed and upset child. It is a responsibility on the Garda authorities and on Government generally to ensure that the Garda authorities have the resources to train sufficient gardaí in every district so that they are capable of dealing with these extremely sensitive issues.

One area not dealt with at all in the Bill is the question of school attendance. I understand that only in Dublin city and Cork city there are school attendance officers, and that the officers do not operate generally as school attendance officers, or truant officers as they used to, but act more as welfare workers, which is all to the good. Indeed, their name, if nothing else, should be changed. In other areas of the country, technically the question of school attendance is a function for the Garda. The Garda cannot deal adequately with that question and, even if they could in terms of resources and personnel, it is doubtful in this modern age that simply having a garda call to the house about a young girl or boy who is not attending school and threatening jail or court proceedings against the parents or taking the child into care is an inadequate approach to the problem. The way the service has developed in the Dublin and Cork areas should be extended throughout the country but it cannot be done simply by putting those responsibilities on to the Garda. The whole question of that area of responsibility has to be looked at.

The part of the Bill, dealing with the question of children who may be the subject of care proceedings also raised the question of the right of legal representation for parents who may want to contest these proceedings. The present system of legal aid in civil cases where it can sometimes take several weeks even to get an interview with a solicitor is quite unsatisfactory. There is a need to establish the right of parents to proper legal representation in these cases.

This Bill also appears to adopt a much more limited approach to the question of child care services. The 1985 Bill obliged the Minister to make regulations for the registration by each health board of "premises in its area other than premises wholly or mainly used as private dwellings, where children are received regularly to be looked after for reward for such period of the day as may be prescribed". This Bill, which refers only to pre-school services, would seem much more restrictive and it seems to me the Government have ducked an area which needs regulation urgently. I propose to introduce some amendments on Committee Stage in relation to this whereby there will be a clear definition of what is pre-school education, at what age it starts and what should be the regulation in regard to child care services.

A scheme of registration of day care nurseries, creches and childminders was one of the recommendations made by the working party on child care facilities for working parents. However, it is regrettable that this Bill, and the 1985 Bill, totally ignored one of the key recommendations of The Workers' Party under the provision of day care facilities for children in chapter 3. Recommendation 11 says that day care needs of working parents should be regarded as an aspect of the totality of local community needs and, as such, any measures designed to meet these needs should be regarded as part of the total network of community-based services which are intended to cater for community needs on a co-ordinated, integrated basis. Recommendation 12 says that all child care services should be provided through or under the aegis of the community care programme administered by the regional health boards.

In this Bill, unlike the 1985 one, the question of private foster care is totally ignored. Private foster care is not an ideal arrangement and probably should be abolished completely, but as long as it is allowed to continue there is a need for control. Many of those who have to use private foster care at the moment are people for whom day care is not a practical proposition for instance, single parents, who work night shifts or who have to travel in the course of their work. A nurse, for instance, who is a single mother will still probably have to work night shifts and will not be able to use normal daycare services. This is a category of people who face particular problems and their needs require particular attention.

On the question of solvent abuse, this Bill again restricts the attempt to deal with this problem. The provisions of the Bill dealing with solvent abuse are disappointing and inadequate. The provisions of the Bill represent a watering down of the provisions in the previous 1985 Bill. There is a point I want to make in relation to this matter. Given that the problem has been spreading and that in the last year seven young children have died as a result of solvent abuse, I would hope that this Bill,in toto, would be passed by this House by Christmas. If that is not the Minister's intention, I would urge him to take the section on solvent abuse out of his present Bill, strengthen it, and bring it forward as a single short Bill which could be dealt with urgently by this House. The fact that seven young boys and girls have died in the last year is sufficient evidence for the Minister to take such emergency action. It is an urgent problem and it requires urgent attention. There is no indication that the problem is reducing. In fact the evidence is that the incidence of death from solvent abuse is increasing. That is why I urge, if it is not the intention of the Minister to get this Bill completed by the end of the year, that he should bring forward a short Bill covering the question of solvent abuse. I have no doubt that if he does so, this House will agree to process it quickly. I have no doubt that it could be passed through this House in a matter of a day or two with agreement on all sides, because all Members of the House have experienced this problem in their constituencies, and it is not a problem confined to urban areas nor indeed to disadvantaged areas, urban or rural.

It has to be said that the measures seeking to control the sale and distribution of solvents is only part of the solution. There has also got to be a major education campaign to alert young people to the dangers of solvent abuse. Many of them are simply not aware of the danger, and it is surprising that except for a few recent cases the death of young children from solvent abuse has not got the kind of press coverage which other incidents of death among young people have received. I know that the deaths of young people as a result of heroin abuse get headline coverage, but the fact that a child dies as a result of solvent abuse does not seem to merit the same attention from our media. Indeed, without the law at all, health boards should be encouraged to get in touch with schools. It has to be said, unfortunately, that it is the primary schools that need to be contacted, certainly the older children in primary schools; children as young as six and seven years of age have been found to be abusing solvents and those right up to the age of 15 and 16 years seem to be the main area of problem. I would urge the Minister to tackle the problem on two fronts by urging the passing of legislation to deal with the sale of solvents and restoring to the Bill the right of the Garda to seize solvents from youngsters who are believed to be abusing them. That power has been deleted from the present Bill.

To conclude, it has to be said that we welcome the Bill which is long overdue. Its main value is that it gives health boards not alone the power but the obligation to intervene in certain circumstances. It has also made it obligatory for health boards to set up child care advisory committees. What is absent from it is a matter which virtually all child care agencies have called for, that is a national children's council.

There is an interesting reference in section 31 to after care which is important and perhaps the Minister would explain exactly what is intended there. As far as I know, at present there is no facility or procedure at health board level for after care of young people. Once they pass the statutory age of being defined as a child, they are no longer the responsibility of the health board. I would therefore ask the Minister what way he proposes the health boards would have a responsibility for after care.

I welcome the Bill's reference to the need for informal court procedures — the reference to the need for that underlines once again the urgent need for family tribunal-type procedures in special family courts — the need for justices and judges to have special training in the area of dealing with family affairs of this kind, the need for expert advice to be available to courts to assist judges in deciding on the matters before them. I also welcome the reference to the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child. This is important even though it is qualified. It shifts the balance away from the concept of family rights to that of the right of the individual child, although it has to be said that some have argued that it also places children's rights a poor third to parental and constitutional rights. However, on balance, in terms of a compromise, it would seem to be welcome. We also welcome the fact that the passage of the Bill will enable us to accede to the United Nations' covenant on civil and political rights.

It must be repeated that the question of funding is crucial to the effectiveness of the legislation. Health boards are unable to meet their existing duties and will not be able to do what this Bill requires of them without considerable increases in resources, including staff. We have the largest child population in Europe but the least resources for child care. It would be disgraceful if we passed the Bill and the Government do not provide in their budget in January adequate resources for health boards to implement the provisions of it.

In general terms I welcome the Bill. My first comment about its provisions is that they are not a threat to family life or to the institution of the family. In fact, there are provisions in it which will act as a necessary prop to families which may be under stress or under threat. It must be said that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of cases of child abuse and child sexual abuse in particular. In 1987 there was 763 cases of child abuse and that figure represented an increase of 54 per cent on the 1986 figure of 495 cases. In 1987 there were 456 cases of child sexual abuse, an increase of 60 per cent on the 1986 figure of 274. Although the rate of increase in 1987 was less than the rate of increase in 1986 it is still clear that we have a real and escalating problem.

In July 1987 the newly elected Government set about dealing with this problem when they published the child abuse guidelines which, in the words of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Leyden, set out procedures which would have a systematic and a sensitive approach to the problems. They were also designed to protect parents and other interested people, particularly professionals, from unfounded allegations. This year, as another practical expression of their concern, the Government, apart from the funds they set aside specifically for the Dublin area, set aside a sum of £450,000 out of the national lottery for the seven regional health boards. Indeed, my own constituency of Waterford benefited from that allocation of resources. That finance was very welcome.

The Government also this year introduced an Adoption Bill and Members will agree that there was a crying need for that legislation. There remained a need to address the issue of child care and it is pleasing to note that the Minister for Health, Deputy O'Hanlon, has done so in the Bill before us. The measure will up-date, strengthen and improve the law, particularly in relation to children who are being assaulted, abused, sexually ill-treated, neglected or at risk.

There are about 40 children's homes in the country, about half of them are industrial schools of the old order and the remainder have been approved for the reception of children under the Health Act, 1953. The Bill proposed to turn them into children's residential centres. The desirable and interesting development there is that they will be subject to inspection by officials of the Department of Health and will have to comply with ministerial regulations.

The powers of inspection, particularly if they are pursued with vigour by Department officials, as I presume they will be, will be a great addition to the present system. The regulations the Minister is empowered to make will cover such matters as the ratio of staff to the number of children, the condition of buildings, and the necessity for facilities. There is also power to insist on records being kept. That is a useful provision in that it will prove a good monitoring procedure. It will prove useful in the future if there is a necessity, as there always is, to introduce amending legislation. I welcome also the decision to introduce a superannuation scheme for the staff of children's residential homes. The staff, and their representative organisations, have been calling for such a scheme for some time.

Section 57 proposes to abolish the death penalty for people under 18 years of age. I am sure all Members consider that a desirable and welcome development. The inclusion of the provision is an indication of how the law in this area has been allowed to become totally out of date. The fact that it has been found necessary in the later half of 1988 to introduce a section in a Bill abolising the death penalty for people who are not adults clearly demonstrates how out of date our law is.

It is generally accepted that the existing law is antiquated and does not reflect the enormous complexity of the problems affecting children, their families and the professionals who deal with them. It rarely relates to modern developments in psychology, particularly child psychology. The law in this area should be a vehicle for the solution of problems affecting children. It should facilitate the expression of concern, both of the people directly affected and the official bodies who bear responsibility in this field and their professional advisers. The law does not perform that function. Until the Bill is passed it is arguable that the law is a positive hindrance in dealing with children's problems. It most definitely is a hindrance in finding solutions to their problems and trying to help them. That is not a criticism of the courts, the Judiciary, lawyers, gardaí or social workers. They would be the first to admit the truth of what I have said. Indeed, many of them have been to the forefront in campaigns for change and in highlighting the need to acknowledge the deficiencies in the law, and the necessity for reform so that, subject to the overriding necessity to protect the family, children in danger or at risk can be protected by our Legislature.

Against that background the Bill deserves the general welcome it has received in the House. At any one time 2,500 children in the State are in the care of health boards. There may be others who need such care. In complimenting the Minister on bringing the legislation forward I should like to state that I am glad that the responsibility for this matter rests with his Department. It would have been a pity if, in view of the fact that the courts some times have an involvement in this area, the Department of Justice would have been given a paramount role. In giving the Department of Health the central role in this debate the Government are giving concrete expression to the modern viewpoint that child care is an area for concern, for care, for protection, for preventive measures and for remedial action rather than for sanctions and punishment.

I welcome this kind of forward thinking. I would like to underline the positive nature of the provisions of the Bill, particularly the statutory duties now being imposed on health boards to promote the welfare of children in their areas who are not receiving adequate care and attention. This very broad provision in the initial part of the Bill has tremendous possibilities of wide interpretation in the future development of child care services.

Debate adjourned.