Child Care Bill, 1988: Report Stage.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"WHEREAS the child shall enjoy a special protection, shall be given opportunites and facilities by law and other means to enable it to develop physically, mentally, and socially in a healthy and normal manner in the conditions of freedom and dignity.

WHEREAS in the enactment of laws for this purpose the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration. The child wherever possible will grow up in the care and under the responsibility of its parents. Society and the Public Authorities shall have the duty to extend particular care to children without a family and to those without adequate means of support: the child is entitled to receive education which will promote its general culture and enable it on the basis of an equal opportunity to develop its abilities.

WHEREAS the best interests of the child should be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance: the child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief: the child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation."

This amendment seeks to insert in our law part of the United Nations Charter which declares clear legal rights for children. It is aspirational in tone but it is also detailed. We have discussed this proposal in the select committee. At that time the Minister of State said there was an updated United Nations Convention which went further and that consultations were taking place which would lead us to ratify that Convention. The Minister can correct me but my understanding is that that Convention has not been ratified. Therefore, the purpose of this amendment still stands, that somewhere in our legal code there should be a clear assertion that we acknowledge the primacy of the need for the protection of children and the need to ensure that positive discrimination is given to the protection of children, and that in all aspects of our laws the best interests of the child should be served. That should be a guiding principle for those who are responsible for the care and education of our children. It would be a serious omission not to insert a preamble of this nature in the legislation. In view of the fact that the Minister's commitment to ratifying the Convention has not been adhered to, the arguments made on Committee Stage still stand. On this historic occasion — given that the last time we had a major children's Act was 1908 and that it may well be 100 years before we have another — I ask that the Minister accept this amendment as an aspiration and a statement from all the House as to our best intentions for children.

Those of us who were involved in this Bill feel almost like a family as we have been working for so long on this legislation. It is the intention of all sides of the House and all shades of opinion that we seek to have this comprehensive and very good Bill enacted as speedily as possible. We had a long debate on Committee Stage on the merits of inserting the amendment now proposed by Deputy Yates into the Bill. As I understand it, the only line of opposition from the Minister at that time was, first, that it was not usual to have such a preamble and, second, it had no legal force as it would not be an integral part of the Bill. Basically, we have an agreed view that this is not normal legislation. It is, as Deputy Yates has indicated, the first major legislation updating the legal framework as regards children's welfare since 1908. For that reason it should be dealt with separately and a statement of principle, as embodied in the amendment before us, which is a worthwhile one, would be the right signal to set for all that follows and all the work that has been put in by all sides of the House, by the officials of the Minister's Department and by the Minister himself in bringing forward, at the close of this century, a legal framework which is closer to what the children of this country deserve. On behalf of the Labour Party, I support the amendment.

I support this amendment, on which I recall we had a lengthy debate at the end of our Committee exercise earlier in the year. While I share my colleague's relief that at last we are on the final stages of this important Bill, I would like to remind the last speaker that we did have major legislation called the Status of Children Bill which dealt with the care and welfare of children, a Bill which I had the great honour of introducing in the Seanad.

I share the concern of everybody to get this legislation through as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. I am concerned at legislation of this nature which comes in just before the Christmas recess and tends to be rushed through. I hope that will not be the case. When the Bill goes to the Seanad I hope it will have the same care, time and attention given to it as on Committee Stage in this House. Many comments made by the Minister during Committee Stage gave me great hope. I believe we will see fundamentally changed legislation given that we have the Law Reform Commission report on child sexual abuse, in which a number of recommendations were made for this legislation. I am depressed by what I have seen in the Minister's amendments in specific areas. That does not mean that I and the people on this side of the House will cease trying to have amendments included and to have the Bill further amended at this stage.

I ask the Minister to think back on the goodwill and the care with which he dealt with the Committee Stage debate and to look at what Deputy Yates is attempting to bring in — a credible aspiration or statement to indicate the importance and status of this Bill. A two line title does not achieve that. It would be regrettable if the Minister did not understand what we are seeking. Anything that is said from this side of the House is meant well and should not be seen as threatening. Ideal legislation is legislation which is amended by the whole House. The people who take legislation such as this seriously and who spend much time and trouble in consultations and come back with the views of those people who are working in child care should have their views taken on board. On this point it has yet to be proved that the important issues brought up during Committee Stage have been taken seriously by the Minister. I do not want to talk for the sake of talking because I, too, want to get this Bill through the Dáil; I ask the Minister to go back to the pleasant and co-operative attitude he adopted on Committee Stage and to bring it into this House.

I concur with the other Deputies who expressed their appreciation of the fact that this Bill has now reached Report Stage. There are a large number of amendments for Report Stage. As The Workers' Party spokesman on Health I insist that this legislation, which is so important, be enacted as quickly as possible because many agencies out there are crying out for legislation at this time. We in The Workers' Party limited the number of amendments which were tabled, and I hope the amendments put down will be dealt with in a manner which will enable the Bill to be enacted.

I have studied the amendment proposed by Deputy Yates. One would find it difficult to object to its inclusion as a Preamble to the Bill, and I am supporting it.

I welcome the introduction of Report Stage and I hope we will be able to get through it as efficiently and as effectively as possible without having to rush through some of the more important sections.

Like my colleagues, I want to express my gratitude to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Noel Treacy, for the attitude he adopted to the points raised by us on Committee Stage and for the way he responded to them. I look forward to the same kind of constructive debate on Report Stage and hope the Minister will be open to including in the Bill the provisions we believe are important.

I do not believe any more constructive provision could be included in the Bill than the preamble proposed in Deputy Yates's amendment. I know it was pointed out on Committee Stage that it was unnecessary, unusual and almost impossible to include such a preamble in the Bill but all Members, in particular those who were on the Committee, are aware that this is one of the most fundamental Bills to be brought before this House. We have been constantly made aware that this Bill will have to protect the most vulnerable section of our society, children, who do not have the maturity to proclaim and demand their rights. We, as legislators, have a responsibility to protect those children in as comprehensive a Bill as possible. I do not believe there could be a more comprehensive, guiding or fundamental provision than this preamble.

The purpose of the Bill is contained in this preamble which states "... in the enactment of laws for this purpose the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration". It also provides that the child is entitled to receive education which will promote its general culture and enable it, on the basis of an equal opportunity, to develop its abilities. We have never achieved this and we owe it to children to include this provision in the Bill. The preamble further provides that the child shall, in all circumstances, be among the first to receive protection and relief. I would like to think that every section of the Bill would take into account the provisions proposed in this amendment.

The Taoiseach and his Government recognise the importance of the UN Convention from which this preamble has been taken. Indeed, the Taoiseach travelled to the United Nations to support the Convention on behalf of this nation. I hope that when this Bill and the other small pieces of legislation which are still outstanding are passed we will be able to ratify the Convention on children's rights. We will be a disgrace until we do that. I believe this preamble focuses on what this Bill will have to achieve. The Bill will stand by itself and, regardless of precedent, the preamble proposed in amendment No. 1 should be included in the Bill to remind us all of its importance.

I and my team from my Department are delighted to be back here for the Report Stage of this very important and historic Bill. I sincerely thank the previous speakers for the very generous and warm statements they made here this morning. I gave a number of commitments on Committee Stage and I will do what I can to honour those commitments and be as fair and generous as possible throughout this Report Stage debate.

The amendment before us was already debated in detail on Committee Stage. It is based on the declarations of the rights of the child adopted by the United Nations some years ago. However, the matter has progressed a good deal since then and the United Nations has now adopted a convention on the rights of the child which goes further than the original declaration from which this amendment is taken.

This convention was recently signed by the Taoiseach at the United Nations Headquarters in New York with a view to its early ratification by the State. It has been examined by the Department of Foreign Affairs in consultation with other relevant Departments with a view to establishing what legislative and other steps may be necessary to enable the State to ratify the convention.

The convention itself goes much further than the old declaration. For example, it refers to the child's need for appropriate legal protection before as well as after birth. It also provides specifically that in all actions concerning children, whether by public or private social welfare agencies, courts, administrative bodies or legislatures, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Among the rights of the child recognised by the convention are the right to life itself; the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to privacy; the right to protection from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse; the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to rest and leisure. Section 3 of this Bill provides that we will regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. I think that provision encompasses and embraces much of what is in the convention and covers what it stands for.

I could go on but I think what I have outlined makes the point that the convention is a much more substantial and far-reaching document than the old declaration and that it would be a mistake to enshrine the declaration in law when the Government are actively pursuing the question of the ratification of the new convention. We have signed that convention and are examining the legal consequences pertaining to its ratification. This will be done in due course and in view of this I sincerely ask Deputy Yates to withdraw his amendment.

May I take it that Deputy Yates is now replying to the debate on his amendment No. 1? If no other Member wants to intervene that is fine.

My colleagues and I tabled some 200 amendments on Committee Stage and only 10 per cent in my name were pressed to a vote. It is not something I intend to do often on Report Stage — although we have over 25 hours' debate on this Bill time is scarce — but I will do so on this occasion.

The type of language used in the Bill is important. My amendment provides that the child shall enjoy a special protection; the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration; it will be the duty of public authorities to extend particular care to children; a child is entitled to receive education and the child shall in all circumstances be among the first to receive protection and relief. I believe the language used in the amendment encapsulates all the important aspects in the protection of the child.

On Committee Stage, the Minister used the convention in his argument. We all know human rights conventions are easily signed, but it takes a very long time, perhaps a decade, to ratify them. I believe we have an opportunity this morning to deal with this important issue — I feel very strongly about this. The Minister also said on Committee Stage that he relied upon the Constitution and natural law to give children these rights. It is questionable whether the primacy of children's rights is endorsed in our existing law and in our Constitution, given the conflicting rights of others. I will be withdrawing some amendments and appealing to the Minister to accept others, but I believe the question should be put on this amendment, first, to ascertain numbers, and, second, as a further attempt to enact this important statement.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(3) Not later than 12 months from the date of the enactment of this Act, and at the end of each subsequent 12 months period until the entire Act has been brought into effect, the Minister shall lay before each House of the Oireachtas a report detailing the progress made in bringing the Act into effect."

In my opening remarks I stressed the importance of the legislation that the Dáil is about to enact. The reason I attach so much importance to it — I am sure everyone else recognises this fact — is that many changes have taken place in society during the past decade and will continue to occur, not all for the best. Very often these changes have resulted in family problems and where such problems arise the children can be the first to be affected. We cannot deny this fact. We see this happening all over the place and we have received various reports from the health agencies and so on. As I pointed out, there is a necessity to enact legislation to deal with this.

Once we have decided there is a need to enact legislation to deal with this, it is only reasonable to request that we incorporate an amendment into that Bill which reads:

Not later than 12 months from the date of the enactment of this Act, and at the end of each subsequent 12 months period until the entire Act has been brought into effect, the Minister shall lay before each House of the Oireachtas a report detailing the progress made in bringing the Act into effect.

We debated a similar amendment on Committee Stage but I have amended that amendment and changed the figure to 12 months. That is very reasonable.

The question which must be asked is what good reason could be put forward for not agreeing to an amendment which would result in a report being laid before the House on the progress made implementing the law to be enacted. Having regard to the fact that many pious platitudes have been advanced concerning the need for this legislation, my one fear is that it could be left to gather dust on the shelves in the Minister's office. I fear that is what is going to happen. Quite recently we noticed that there will be no significant increase in the amount of funding to be allocated to the health services over and above the rate of inflation. How, therefore, can we expect the personnel involved, who are already overburdened, to implement this legislation? The Workers' Party have considered this matter very carefully and attach great importance to the need for a report detailing the progress made in implementing the Bill before the House.

I support the amendment which we debated on Committee Stage. I would like to restate my position. The House is in agreement that this Bill has been a long time gestating and has its genesis in the task force on child care established by my distinguished predecessor as a Deputy for Wexford, Mr. Brendan Corish. Various forms of this Bill have appeared before this House either in the name of a Government Minister or, in one case, in the name of a Private Member. Quite frankly, I think it is a reasonable request that once this Bill is enacted by the Oireachtas — I hope within the next couple of months — we will not forget about it. Given that it has taken so long to frame, draft and put in place the legislative framework we desire, it is only reasonable that we be given the opportunity annually to see how far we have progressed in turning our aspirations into reality.

The section which will allow the Minister to bring in either a portion or the whole Bill, as he deems appropriate, should have a counter-balancing mechanism which would enable the Dáil to monitor the progress made by the Minister and give us the opportunity, annually, to address the issues which have occupied so much of our time during the past few years. This is a reasonable and sensible amendment and I hope that on Report Stage there will be evidence of the Minister's goodwill, which we enjoyed on Committee Stage, and his willingness to accept an amendment which would allow proper monitoring of very important legislation.

I supported this amendment on Committee Stage and I support it now as many new rules, structures and provisions will flow from this legislation once enacted. To allow those of us in Leinster House and child care agencies outside to monitor and understand what is happening, there is a necessity to adopt this amendment, which is both credible and necessary. During the Committee Stage debate the Minister said that since this had never been done and was unheard of, it would not be done. I suggest that we should consider doing things that have never been done before. There is a need for us to reform the way we do our work here to make sure that our legislation is working because, having prepared and enacted legislation, it is both futile and expasperating to find that no one knows what happened to it or that it has not been put into force. This amendment is well worth thinking about and I hope the Minister will either accept it or give a commitment to bring in something in keeping with the intention of the amendment.

I, too, support the amendment and wish to remind the Minister that in responding to our first amendment to the preamble he stated that it should not be included because we have advanced beyond that point. Taking him at his word and recongnising the advance being made in the area of child care, I ask the Minister to take this progressive step and to make sure that a report is laid before the House. I am well aware of the fact that not alone would such a report be of importance to the legislators, as it would allow them to monitor continuing needs, but would also be of importance to the health boards, child care agencies and the alliance of child care workers as it would acknowledge and put down markers regarding that work being done and comments made by them. I presume that if such a report were to be laid before the House we would be in a position to welcome public comment from interest groups. To effectively monitor the implementation of this very important Bill it will be necessary to adopt this amendment. Bearing in mind the Minister's progressive ideas on this Bill, I now rely on him to respond positively.

I can understand the reasons Deputy Sherlock introduced this amendment, but I am afraid it would take away from the need to probe and ask questions on the Order of Business on the progress made implementing the Bill. From a practical point of view, I foresee a difficulty in this proposal, in that the Minister of State, his officials and Department could spend the entirety of their time reporting to the Oireachtas without being able to implement the regulations or whatever other measures need to be implemented. I foresee that this would lead to another fall-back position in which the Department would be strangled into having to spend most of their time on paperwork and less time in implementing the provisions of the Bill. It would be my hope that once this Bill is enacted the health boards would take it upon themselves to ensure that progress is made, that within the health board and their community care structures those committees would report to the members of the health boards or to whoever is involved in the care of children within those structures. I would suggest that would be a progressive step, as opposed to reporting to the Oireachtas, which would really only add another layer of administration to a Department rather than implementing regulations or parts of the Bill which may not have been implemented and which may take somewhat longer to do.

Amendment No. 2 in the name of Deputy Sherlock seeks to reopen in a slightly different way the question discussed and decided by the full House when we debated this Bill here on 1 November 1989, 13 months ago. On that occasion Deputy Sherlock and his colleague, Deputy McCartan, tabled an amendment which sought to compel the Minister to bring all sections of the Bill into force within 12 months of its passage. As I explained then, and confirm today, it is the intention of the Government to have the Bill fully implemented and operational as soon as possible. It will be possible to implement many of its sections within the next 12 months but other provisions may require more time before being properly implemented. That is why the Government are opposed to a fixed implementation date; that is consistent with all legislation.

For example, all of the new legal procedures in relation to placing children in care will necessitate the drawing up of new and expanded rules of court. These rules are not drawn up by the Minister for Health but by the relevant rules of court committee, comprised largely of members of the Judiciary. It may take some time for that committee to complete their deliberations, given the complexity of the issues involved and the need to ensure that the rules are watertight.

It will also be necessary for the Minister and my Department to prepare detailed regulations in relation to the placement of children in foster care, the inspection of residential facilities for children and the provision of pre-school services. These will take some time to prepare, particularly if we are to allow for consultation with the various voluntary bodies and staff groups. All of these steps will take some time but I can assure the House that the Bill will be implemented as quickly as possible.

I note that Deputy Fennell has left the House. She spoke about reform and reforming. We are here reforming child legislation that has been on the Statute Book for almost 100 years. As Deputy Barnes said, we are making great advances. The officials of my Department eagerly await the passage of this Bill, as do the officials of the health boards, professionals in child care right across the board and professional voluntary organisations involved with child care nationwide. We as a Government and the Department of Health collectively will do what we can to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are fully implemented as soon as possible. Nonetheless, we must take into account the legal constraints on us and the complexities of the Bill. We must ensure there is nothing left to chance, that when rules and regulations are laid down they are watertight, operable, will withstand the test of law and will be fair and equitable right across the board.

Against that background, I do not think there is anything to be gained by requiring the Minister for Health to produce regular reports on progress in implementing the provisions of this Bill. The opportunity is there for the Opposition at any time to table a Private Members' motion, to question the Minister at Question Time, to raise matters under any system available to us in this House for airing matters such as these.

As my colleague, Deputy Coughlan, has said, were we to deploy our existing qualified staff and place additional responsibilities on them to produce reports for these Houses in respect of this or any other Bill, we would not be serving the country well or indeed getting value for money. The opportunity is there at any time for the House to decide whether that needs to be done. As we have now aired this issue for the third time in the House, in November 1989, in the Special Committee earlier this year and again today, I would respectfully suggest to Deputy Sherlock that he withdraw this amendment.

I support Deputy Sherlock's amendment No. 2. The Minister would appear to be endeavouring to put forward a smokescreen here. Indeed, his arguments and those advanced by Deputy Coughlan are totally bogus.

Clearly the level of commitment on the part of this Government to child care services will be very questionable once the provisions of this Bill will have been enacted. Even a cursory glance at the 1991 Book of Estimates would indicate that there is no increased provision for child care services, no programme management structure to be established for child care services, no new structures within the Department of Health to liaise on child care services with the eight health boards. There is no new development by way of the provision of centres for the referral of deprived children. There are no new family support mechanisms to deal with the problems of abused children, nor are there any structures being put in place to rectify the under-reporting of child abuse in certain parts of the country.

Therefore, when we rip away the veneer of the Minister's public relations exercisevis-à-vis this reforming legislation we see that once he is no longer accountable to this House, once the Bill is passed, there will be no mechanism available to use whereby we can bring him or his Department to heel——

I am always accountable here.

——or indeed the Minister's successors, in respect of whom the same would apply. For example, we might have future Ministers or Ministers of State who might have a total disregard for or interest in this area. We are not just personalising this issue; we are talking about future decades of child care. It is a farce and a disgrace for Deputy Coughlan and the Minister of State to assert here this morning that it would be too much trouble for departmental officials to produce a report on the services once a year, that that would strangle them with paperwork. These people are accountable to the public and to this House. This House has never insisted on adequate accountability.

If we look at section 8 (1), as amended by the Special Committee, we see it reads:

A health board shall, as soon as may be after the commencement of this Part and thereafter annually or as may be directed by the Minister, have a report prepared on the adequacy of the child care and family support services available in its area.

It is all right for the eight health boards to produce a report but it is not all right for the Department to give an overview of the position. It must be borne in mind that the Minister has also rejected a national children's council, which would oversee the work being done in an independent way. This means that what the Minister is saying is that not only can he not ensure that a year is a reasonable period within which to have all the regulations drawn up but he is also ensuring there will be no annual accountability to this House, to the country, for the national child care services and, furthermore, no independent watchdog put in place.

Arising out of the debate we had in this House in November 1989 and the further debate in May of this year, the need for acceptance of this amendment was never greater. The Minister says that because we have rehashed the arguments, the arguments advanced by Deputy Sherlock and my colleagues are not valid. I contend they were never more valid because they have been totally ignored. It is not unreasonable to say that the rules of court, the regulations in relation to foster care, those in relation to residential homes should be made available within a year. A year is an adequate period within which those rules can be put together. The Minister has referred to people eagerly awaiting the passage of this Bill. We do not want circumstances to arise in two or three years' time in which these people still eagerly await the regulations to be made under this Bill.

That will not happen.

Yet we have absolutely no say in or control over the matter. The more we examine this, the greater the need for this amendment to be accepted. A year is a reasonable period and I feel it is essential, because no other structures are being put in place and I understand some of those structures we are proposing are now going to be ruled out of order. The need for this was never greater and we will be supporting the amendment.

Three times the Minister replies and says, "As soon as possible but there are these problems. They have to refer to certain sections, the Judiciary and so on". I am now convinced that the Minister and his Government have no notion of implementing this legislation. Beyond any doubt I am convinced and I will say why. There is no shortage today of advisers to the Minister in the Dáil. Deputy Coughlan talks about adding another layer of bureacucracy to this. I tell Deputy Coughlan that all this is asking is that a report be prepared on the progress of implementing the legislation which this Dáil will very shortly enact. Because there are so many different agencies dealing with child care services, it is natural that there could be problems about co-ordination of effort, consequently it will be necessary to have a progress report. What are we talking about? We are talking about little children being deprived because there is no legislation at present to provide against that. We know thoroughly well there are people out there willing and able to do this job and they belong to the statutory bodies or voluntary bodies. We are told that because it is so complicated the Minister might not be able to come in here with a report and that it would put a burden on the officials of his Department to prepare such a report. That is ludicrous in such important legislation as this. All that is being sought is that a report be prepared detailing the progress in bringing the Bill into effect.

I ask the Minister to reconsider this, otherwise it will be taken by all those people who are waiting patiently for this legislation to be enacted that the Minister and his Government do not serously intend to bring it into effect at all. I have to say that much because I see quite clearly there is no valid reason that a report should not be prepared, whatever progress is made within 12 months. There may not be much progress but there ought to be progress because of the urgency of the situation. Surely it is reasonable to ask for a report on that progress, and that is all this amendment is doing. I ask the Minister to accept it.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 44; Níl, 53.

  • Ahearn, Therese.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Gerry.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Garland, Roger.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Lee, Pat.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Mattie.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cullimore, Séamus.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Kelly, Laurence.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
  • O'Connell, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Toole, Martin Joe.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Byrne and McCartan: Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Hyland.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 3 not moved.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

"foster-parent" means a person other than the child's natural parents who undertakes the care and maintenance of the child,".

First, I would like to say that I am very disappointed amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order because it is at the core of what was in the Kennedy Report. I will come back to that matter later. Throughout the summer there was shuffling between the Departments of Health, Education and Justice on child care services and juvenile justice, and that was most unsatisfactory. In relation to the comments made by the Minister of State and the Minister for Health last May, that one Department would take overall responsibility for all aspects of child care, and that the matter would go before Cabinet for a final decision, I would like to know the outcome of that process.

In regard to amendment No. 4, I believe foster parents deserve greater recognition and it is important that they are defined in the legislation. This is a legal definition — I got some legal advice on this — and I would ask the House to accept may amendment.

Before I call another Deputy I observe that amendments Nos. 143 and 150 are related. We may discuss amendments Nos. 4, 143 and 150 together if that is satisfactory. Agreed.

They are in the Minister's name.

Amendment No. 4 from Deputy Yates is grouped with amendments Nos. 143 and 150. Deputy Yates's proposal to insert a definition of "foster parents" is designed to facilitate later amendments from him in relation to section 34, removal from foster care or residential care. I have put down a number of amendments in relation to section 34 and I would like to refer to them now.

Deputies will be aware that section 34 provoked widespread opposition from foster parents, who feared the arbitrary removal of foster children by health boards. It was discused at great length at the special committee on 1 May last and I gave an undertaking to review the matter for Report Stage. Without reopening that discussion, I would like to remind the House that the purpose of section 34 is to enable a health board to remove a child whom it has placed in foster care or residential care. There are many reasons why a health board might need to remove a child. It might be to reunite the child with his parents; to move him to a more appropriate placement; it might be that the child himself wishes to move; it could even be that there are allegations that the child is not being properly cared for in his current placement.

I do not think anyone would disagree that the health board should have the right to remove a child where necessary. I accept, however, that we must guard against arbitrary, unplanned or inappropriate removals. Foster parents, in particular, need to have some sense of security that their fostering placement will not be abruptly ended without very good reason.

Given all the different situations that can arise, it would not be practicable to set out in the Bill the precise circumstances in which a health board should be entitled to remove a child. I propose that these should be spelled out in regulations which would be made by the Minister for Health under the proposed new subsection (1) to be inserted by amendment No. 143.

My other three amendments, Nos. 148, 149 and 150, are consequential on the proposed deletion of existing subsections (1) and (2) and the insertion of the new subsection (1). These changes go a long way towards meeting the concerns of fostering parents for security in relation to their situation. In view of my amendment, I would ask Deputies to consider withdrawing their amendments to section 34. As regards amendment No. 4, I suggest to Deputy Yates that there is no need to insert such a definition and that he might consider withdrawing that amendment also.

It is very difficult to follow this. All we are discussing is the legal definition of the term "adoption".

On a point of order, are we now talking about section 34 of the Bill as amended in Committee? Is it the case that all these amendments mentioned will not be allowed to be debated again because they are being taken with No. 4? Will we get a chance to debate them again?

That is the point I want to raise. We are on the definition section of the Bill and we are discussing amendment No. 4, which deals with the definition of "foster parent", a two line definition. It certainly would not be logical to assume that we will have a broadranging debate on section 34 under this definition, and I hope that is not the Minister's intention.

I find it hard to hear the Deputy. Will Deputy Howlin repeat the point?

Certainly, I will try to be heard at least. I understand that all we are addressing in amendment No. 4 in the name of Deputy Yates is a definition of foster parent. We are dealing with the definition section of the Bill. I do not think it would be appropriate, and it would be very difficult for us to follow, if we were to deal with section 34 out of sequence in conjunction with this amendment. It is quite appropriate that reference be made to the section but presumably we will have a full scale debate on that section when we arrive at it. As of this moment, the only matter to be addressed fundamentally is a definition of foster parent.

In my view, we are dealing with amendment No. 4, and that is the only amendment before us. Amendment No. 4 can be taken on its own.

That is what we wanted to know.

Perhaps the Minister will give his views are on the definition.

As far as I am concerned, the term "foster parent" does not appear in the Bill. Consequently, Deputy Yates proposes to insert and define it.

The Minister is not proposing to insert it too.

We are not proposing to insert it. We are proposing a alternative composite group of amendments to take account of what the Deputy desires but in a different way.

Section 2, the interpretation section, states that a child is a person under the age of 18. It describes what a "child" is. Deputy Yates is suggesting that we describe what a "foster parent" is. That might not be a definition but it is an interpretation.

This is an important amendment which illustrates something of some importance. This Bill has been around this House for two years and its intent is to tackle a number of problems relating to children and their welfare. It is designed to provide for a form of care for children by way of statutory mechanisms other than residential care, and to get away from the old terminology of the Children's Act, 1908.

During the last ten years we have sought to encourage people to become foster parents of children whose parents were unable to care for them, either in the context of long-term or short-term foster care. Throughout the course of this debate — I have been involved in debates at various stages of the Bill — there has been a remarkable reluctance on the part of the Department, and the Minister for Health, to recognise that people called foster-parents exist, and to set out in clear legal terms the position of foster-parents. I welcomed the Minister's opening remarks. A number of us on this side of the House raised the problems that could arise if health boards were given an arbitrary power to remove foster-children from the care of foster-parents. I welcome the fact that the Minister has started to address this; whether it would be more appropriately addressed in substantive statutory measures and regulations we will deal with at a later stage.

There is something extremely odd about a Bill designed to set up a new legal structure for foster care which does not at any stage appear to recognise the existence of people called foster-parents who are caring for children out of concern for their welfare. This amendment highlights one of the many defects in the Bill. The definition of a foster-parent, as tabled by my colleague, Deputy Yates, is relatively simple and straightforward and could interlink with some of his later amendments. It is extraordinary that nowhere in the Bill is the Minister prepared to acknowledge the fact that, in that terminology, foster-parents exist. In fairness to the Minister, the Bill is seeking to make new provisions with regard to the care of children outside of residential institutions. That is a mutual objective on all sides of the House. We have had the Bill for two years. The association of foster-parents are doing a super job and they have made an input into the amendments required to ensure that the Bill is workable. People are encouraged to become foster-parents. It would seem to be a natural corollary that this Bill would define who is a foster-parent and what is meant by that term.

I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong but there are regulations in being which refer to the "boarding out" of children. For example, under the Health Act, 1953, there are boarding out regulations. This Bill is designed for the year 2000, not just 1990. It is reasonable to expect that the rights of foster-parents, the role they play in caring for the children and who we mean by the term "foster-parent", should be clearly defined and set out in this legislation.

Amendment No. 4 stands on a firm foundation in its own right. I want to reinforce what has been said. As a result of the kind of language referred to by Deputy Shatter, boarding out of children etc., there has been a negative image of foster-parents and fostering. This has led to a reluctance on the part of couples who dearly want to raise children in their own homes to take on that kind of responsibility. They feel fostering is not legally recognised or acknowledged. They are fearful that by acting as foster-parents they will not have the same rights or be given the same recognition or support for their parenting as is given to natural parents. They feel they could lose out and that the children could be removed from them.

A positive affirmative attitude towards fostering must be encouraged. Foster-parents give love, care and personal attention to the children they foster. The protection and support of the child is paramount and, as a result, we must define the term "foster-parent" in this Bill. I was amazed to hear the Minister say in reply to Deputy Yates that the legislation does not include foster-parents at all. When we are talking about parenting and the care of children they must be one of the first groups to be recognised and defined in the Bill. I hope the Minister recognises that and responds positively and urgently to it.

I support the amendment and wonder why should there be any debate on the question. Section 2 of the Bill defines "child" and also "health board". It is imperative that the Minister define the term "foster-parent". That is all he is being asked to do. People might have recourse to law and it is imperative that the term be defined.

The reason Deputy Yates wants to have the definition of foster-parents included in the Bill is that he is anxious to have children who are in foster care covered by the Bill. The Minister did not take this into account. The only children dealt with in the Bill are those of natural parents who are taken into care by the health board. If they are later placed in foster care the Minister has no interest in them.

The Minister has tabled an amendment to section 34 suggesting that the health board may in accordance with regulations made by the Minister remove a child in its care from the custody of any person with whom he has been placed by the board under section 30. That refers to a child going into foster care. If that is so, we must address the question of the rights of foster-parents. Is it possible for children to be suddenly taken from foster-parents for whatever reason? In such a case foster-parents should be able to make a case for themselves because there is maternal love between the mother and the foster-child. I have had many foster-parents contact me when health boards want to take the children back. Sometimes it is for a good reason, for example, the natural parents are in position to take care of the children. However, we should not disregard the excellent service given by foster-parents or their feelings for the children. In the interests of the child we must have regard to all those who look after him. The Minister should reconsider the matter.

Foster-parent means a person other than the child's natural parents who undertakes the care and maintenance of the child. In my non-legal opinion, if I were a brother or sister and looked after a child I would not be a foster-parent. I do not want the Opposition to hijack the trust and admiration I have for a foster-parent. It is one of the most difficult jobs anyone could undertake because it is uncertain and requires a lot of commitment, not only from the mother and father but from other siblings. Foster-parents have often been neglected in that they have not been commended for the great work they have done for our young people and the health boards. They have been an excellent follow-through for any kind of problem in relation to child care. I am fully committed to promoting fostering and foster-parents and helping them in the best way possible.

In defining foster-children, I do not know if Deputy Yates's amendment is as concise as it should be because other people — who would not be deemed foster-parents — undertake the care and maintenance of children. I refer to grandparents. I do not disagree with the view that we should recognise foster-parents in the Bill because they do not get due recognition, but I do not know if the amendment would solve the problem.

Fostering is one of the oldest and most natural ways of dealing with children who are at risk or disadvantaged in any country. In Irish life when there was a problem with too many children in a family or if a mother was too ill to care for them, someone in the community would take a child and, very often, fostered it for life. I see the extended family in the context of foster-parents and have had inquiries from constituents related to children in extreme difficulties. I am thinking of one in particular, an aunt who fostered a child but who had no rights to maintenance or any of the benefits which would have been given to her if she had not been a family member.

We need to redefine the whole notion of fostering in terms of care for children at risk, disadvantaged or in trouble. The way ahead is not to put them into institutions, however wonderful, attractive and modern they are. As someone who was reared in a family and who in turn, reared a family, it is clear that we should be thinking of a family structure in fostering and every possible support and help should be given to develop this type of care. Is it the Minister's intention to bring in a definition — and regulations — in relation to fostering in some other Bill? Is this one of the follow-on provisions for which we can hope or is he saying that if the definition is not accepted in this Bill, it is the end of the debate as far as foster-parents are concerned? The Bill is silent in this regard and I am sure it is not something about which the Minister wants to boast.

I would not have minded so much if the Minister had pursued Deputy Coughlan's line that my definition was inadequate or limited, but for the Minister to say——

Is Deputy Yates concluding on this amendment?

That is the usual procedure.

Will the Chair allow me to try to be of help before Deputy Yates concludes?

On a point of order, there seems to be some confusion because, at the beginning, it was suggested that we take amendments together but I do not think we went ahead with that.

Acting Chairman

We are discussing amendment No. 4.

Perhaps we could be told in advance what amendments will be taken together?

Acting Chairman

Is it agreed that the Minister may say a few words? Agreed.

We seem to have reverted to discussing amendment No. 4 even though I had proposed we would group them. However, to avoid confusion, we will stick rigidly to this amendment. I do not have any difficulty in regard to the definition of "foster-parent". The Bill does not define "foster-parents" but, as far as I am concerned, "foster-parent" means a person with whom a child has been placed in foster care by a health board under section 30 (1) (a).

Amendment No. 4, tabled by Deputy Yates, seeks to insert a definition of "foster-parent". My point is that the expression "foster-parent" does not appear anywhere in the Bill and, therefore, there is no need to define it. The expression "foster-parent" appears in amendments Nos. 146 and 147 tabled by Deputy Yates but, unless we assume that these will be accepted, there is no need to accept the definition. As I explained, amendment No. 143 in my name renders Deputy Yates' amendments unnecessary.

His amendment No. 3 is defective because he says that "foster-parent" means a person other than the child's natural parents who undertakes the care and maintenance of the child. It does not refer to a health board or to the fact that a health board would place that child with those people. It also does not take into account that brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts or direct blood relations? may care for children. Is a child to be removed from the care of such relations? The amendment is vague and indefinite and does not cover the health board placing of children. I suggest that Deputy Yates' amendment is ineffective and that he withdraw it.

Most of what the Minister said is totally inaccurate.

The Minister was quite wrong in intimating that he would be helpful, as his remarks were most unhelpful in a number of respects and certainly did not signal — as he implied — that he would accept the point at issue. Perhaps we should stick to correct procedure if the Minister does not intend to be helpful.

I thank the Opposition Members for their support. As I was saying before the Minister intervened, for the Minister to imply that foster-parents are not required in legal terms and are, therefore, not referred to, clearly means that he has not read the particular page of his brief or the Bill because Part VI of the Bill goes into some detail about foster care. Section 30 states that the most preferable form of care in which children should be placed is that most akin to the family type setting, which is by placing him or her in foster care.

Deputy Yates was not listening to me.

Section 32 (1) says that the Minister shall make regulations in relation to the placing of children in foster care by health boards. Without reference to this House, we will have a whole series of regulations but they cannot mention "foster-parent" because there is no such being in our legal language. Surely it is of the utmost assistance to the Minister and foster-parents — and the notion of promoting fosterage and foster care — that we should have a definition of "foster-parent" in our legal code? It is quite baffling that the Minister should seek to deliberately exclude any reference to foster-parent. The Minister has not put forward his own alternative but has sought to dodge the issue. We cannot have regulations without having a definition of foster-parent.

In relation to the Minister and Deputy Coughlan's point as to this definition being incorrect, I got legal advice on it. It is true to say that from judicial pronouncements, the health board is a legal person when it comes to the care and maintenance of children. How can we differentiate between the health board being a person, and a foster-parent, because they are separate entities? We have entered as usual into a potential legal minefield in which the High Court and the Supreme Court will be appealed to by foster-parents opposing regulations introduced by the Minister. We will have a legal abyss in trying to deal with this because the Minister has not confronted the issue. I regret this and I intend to press the issue. Time will show that the Minister should accept this definition or should have brought forward his own definition.

Acting Chairman

I am putting the amendment.

In order to be helpful, if Deputy Yates is prepared to agree not to force this issue to a vote I am prepared to have further consultations on it and to come back and put a final amendment if necessary to the section at the end of the Bill.

On which stage?

At the end of the Bill, if the House is agreeable.

On that basis, I will facilitate such an amendment. I am eager to hear what the Minister intends to do.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
(Interruptions.)

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 have been ruled out of order as they would involve a potential charge on the Revenue. Amendment No. 8 is in the name of Deputy Yates.

For those of us who have worked so long on this, it is quite appalling that the ambition of extending the duties of the health board to include all children is being thwarted. I do not know how the board can decide what children are in need without having regard to the needs of all children. It is appalling that these amendments are ruled out of order on the basis that they would constitute a charge on the State. It is a very spurious ground for the Minister to put forward to the Ceann Comhairle's office for not allowing debate on what is a fundamental issue.

Acting Chairman

Deputy, you are really out of order at this stage.

(Interruptions.)

Acting Chairman

Deputy Yates, should move amendment No. 8.

Does this mean that we cannot afford our Constitution, because the Constitution says that we should——

Acting Chairman

I have ruled that amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 are out of order. The House must accept that ruling.

We were quite in order in the last debate. Let us be a little more flexible.

Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 not moved.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 6, line 16, after "shall" to insert "be under a statutory duty to".

Having put down two of the three amendments which have been shot down, I share the sentiments of the last two speakers.

This amendment deals with section 3 (2), which relates to the core of the health boards' duty. This issue was dealt with before and the Minister was not sympathetic. However, it is important to place a statutory obligation on the health board to carry out the functions set out in this Bill. Under the Health Act, 1970, a health board shall do lots of things such as provide a dental service, an optical service, hospital services, primary care services and general medical services. As we know, in a lot of respects they are not providing those services because of financial constraints. The financial picture for 1991 clearly indicates that finance is not being made available to implement the provisions of this Bill. The Minister has not referred to that at all this morning. The Minister has not even sought to deny that there will not be enough money in 1991 or in future years. Perhaps the Minister will say how much he intends to allocate in the future to fulfil these provisions.

This is a core issue. We are seeking to place upon health boards a statutory duty to provide child care facilities and care services. A chief executive officer at the annual estimates meeting should not have to say that under the Health Act, 1970, he is obliged to observe a financial stringency so as not to go into deficit or that he will be obliged to take certain action. We all know that in the late eighties chief executive officers were forced to take certain action. If we leave it as weak as "shall" or in some instances "may" provide functions, in effect the juggernaut of the Department of Finance will bulldoze through the good intentions of this Bill and will ensure that it is neutered to the extent that the extra services envisaged will not be provided. I would ask the House to agree with me that this is of much importance to children but that it may not be of such importance to health boards who have to provide a wide range of services under financial pressure. Those health boards have been a depository for every extra health facility introduced, without any reform, in 20 years. We know that our present structures are overburdened in terms of how much health boards can discuss at a monthly meeting. I do not want child care to come under "any other business" on the agenda. We mean to put it at the top of the agenda. Therefore, section 3 should place health boards under statutory obligations rather than whimsical notions that may be rejected by chief executive officers.

Does the Deputy not agree that the word "shall" is quite adequate? Legal opinion stated that the word "shall" did impose a statutory obligation. I cannot understand how Deputy Yates' concerns would be met by the inclusion of this formula of words. I understand from the legal people that the word "shall" would stand up in court and it would be proved that there was a clear unambiguous statutory obligation imposed. I accept that the Deputy has concerns but not that the inclusion of the formula of words he is proposing would do away with those concerns.

If the Department of Finance want to wave their big wand to prevent the implementation of certain sections of the Bill they will do so anyway. If that attitude was adopted the inclusion of five or six words would not make any difference. If we accept that the Bill is a meaningful Bill imposing statutory duties on the health boards we should go ahead with it. How did Deputy Yates come to the conclusion that this formula of words would improve the Bill?

I understand the argument made by Deputy Fitzgerald in that we normally assume that where a legislative provision says "shall", it is binding. Those of us who have been charged with monitoring the implementation of health legislation in recent times can be forgiven for having our confidence eroded somewhat, when we have regard to the Health Act, 1970, and the impositions laid down by that Act of the Oireachtas on health boards to provide a range of services which clearly they do not provide. Deputy Yates can hardly be faulted for trying to underscore the importance of this section by putting in a different form of words from those which have clearly been ignored by health boards up to now.

I share Deputy Fitzgerald's concern that the extra few words do not amount to much but they amount to this much: they are a signalling by this House and the Oireachtas that we are serious. Whatever about the provision of dental services, which the Oireachtas was serious about in 1970 and seems to be less serious about enforcing now, when it comes to this Bill we are serious and we want to signal clearly to health boards that this duty is to be taken seriously, acted upon seriously and as a matter of urgency. For those reasons, there is some merit in taking a line which many would argue as being superfluous but it is a clear underscoring of the importance of this section by the Oireachtas, and for that reason I support it.

For the reasons as stated, I, too, support the amendment. It is inevitable that it should be included.

In section 3 (3) reference is made to section 57 of this Bill. Section 57 (1) states:

The Minister may give general directions to a health board in relation to the performance of the functions assigned to it by or under this Act and the health board shall comply with any such direction.

Section 57 on its own is very vague and gives the Minister power to direct the board. The section we are referring to sets out the duties of the health board. All we are seeking is that it be made a statutory duty. I support the amendment.

I can understand why the Deputy is trying to underscore and if possible reinforce the word "shall". I take the point made by Deputy Liam Fitzgerald that it carries the same legal interpretation. However, it is a matter of concern to all of us, as we go through this Bill, that it is not in word only but that we must have the back-up to ensure the strength of the word "shall", which, in legal terms, is presumably the same as a statutory duty, and that the health boards are equipped to carry out such a statutory duty whether it be described as "shall" or "be under statutory duty to". On this side of the House we share a common concern that "shall" may not be supported by the resources that are needed to make it a reality and to allow the health boards and other agencies to carry out such statutory "duties" as are implied in that word. I am particularly concerned about subsection (3) which states:

A health board shall, in addition to any other function assigned to it under this Act or any other enactment, provide child care and family support services, and may provide and maintain premises and make such other provision as it considers necessary or desirable for such purposes,...

I put it to the Minister that we have no infrastructure of child care and family support services throughout the country under the health boards at present. We have a skeleton service for children most at risk but not any national concerted, cohesive structure to the extent that in a recent published report on child care in the European Community Ireland came last. We as legislators must ensure, as we go through the final stages of this Bill, that the resources to make these a reality must be involved as well. The child care and family support services, as cited in the Bill, are totally and completely missing. We do not have child care and family support services. In order that the full legal statutory duty of the health boards be implemented, what will the Minister, the Department of Health and this year's budget do regarding subsection (3)?

Amendment No. 8 from Deputy Yates is unnecessary. Section 3 (2) provides that the board shall do certain things. The word "shall" when used in the Bill means that something must be done. In this case the health board must take the steps and comply with the conditions set out in subsection (2). The board does not have any discretion in the matter. The insertion of the phrase "be under a statutory duty to" does not alter this in any way. A board is under a legal obligation to act in accordance with this subsection regardless of whether this phrase is contained in the Bill. I clearly recall the debate on this issue on Committee Stage and I was pleased that Deputy Howlin concured with me on that occasion. If we were to insert these words in this section it could cast doubts on other sections where the word "shall" is used without the addition of the same words again. Deputy Barnes referred to a European Commission report. I suggest she is referring to a report relating to the day care provision for the children of working parents. That is the only report I know of that was published recently.

It was proof on all pre-school child care facilities, not just for working parents.

So far as I am aware the situation did not impinge on what we are discussing here. We are talking about a different and more serious situation. As far as Deputy Yates and the House are concerned, we debated this matter on Committee Stage. This is the exact same debate again and the situation has not changed. Adding these words would not make one iota of difference to the Bill or improve it in any way. If I were to accept the amendment we would have to put in several other amendments which would have no effect on the legal status of the Bill or on the implementation of the Bill by the health boards. Therefore, I appeal to Deputy Yates to withdraw this amendment.

I am disappointed with the Minister's reasons for not adding the additional obligatory sentence required. In the normal course of events all of us who are involved in legislation, in either of the two Houses, have always been happy with the word "shall". Arising from our experience of the 1970 Act and all the obligations thereby placed on health boards, I have found that by resolution at health board meetings they plead inability to provide a service which the 1970 Act said they "shall provide". They pleaded inability to do so because of a lack of finance and because of cutbacks. I read the Health Estimate which was published the other day. No commitment is given by the Government to provide adequate funding to ensure that health boards can and shall by law, legislation, statute or regulation carry out their functions. Will there be a specific budgetary allocation for the health boards so that they will have to put the provisions in this Bill into operation and be kept with no discretion in the matter, they will be required by this House to carry out their functions in the Bill? I do not want health boards to plead inability to carry out their functions afterwards if a budgetary allocation in the Estimates would enable them to do so. The Estimate takes into account inflation and special increases for staff but there is no provision for improved services through the health agencies. This is the only point which concerns me. Normally I would accept that the word "shall" would make it obligatory for them to carry out certain functions but in the past they have pleaded inability to carry out their obligations——

Is the Deputy saying that the inclusion of these words would not enable them to plead inability to carry out their functions in the same way as they could under the word "shall"?

That is right.

There will be no more of a legal binding force on them under these words——

Acting Chairman

Please, Deputy Fitzgerald, you have already contributed.

I could accept that argument but, as my colleague, Deputy Howlin, said, this is an additional signal that we will not put up with short cuts in this area. That is our only concern. If the inclusion of these words in other sections will improve the Bill and the health boards and the Government know we are serious about this issue then so be it— both the legislation and the position of children at risk will be improved.

I thank my colleagues for their support for this amendment. Out of a passing curiosity, may I ask the Minister of State if he is a member of a health board?

Acting Chairman

The Deputy should not encourage other Deputies to interrupt.

Is the Minister a member of a health board?

The Deputy can be assured I am not.

The Minister is lucky. I am not a member of a health board, either, but I have been told not only by health board members but also by chief executive officers——

I have not had that honour conferred on me yet.

——that "shall" does not mean "must". I think the Minister said that "shall" does mean "must". However, it certainly does not mean "will". Child care does not come on the cheap——

Nor do we expect it to come on the cheap.

When the Government do not provide money one must assume they do.

The Deputy may be surprised.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy should not be encouraging interruptions.

I welcome these provocations. When I referred to different sections in the 1970 Health Act, some chief executive officers said to me — this answers Deputy Fitzgerald's point—that the word "shall" does not equal the word "will" and that to put someone under a statutory duty would extend this provision. In the interests of time, I will allow the question to be put on this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 6, line 18, after "protection" to insert "and co-ordinate information from all relevant sources relating to children in its area".

Amendment No. 9 relates to section 3, which sets out the functions of health boards. My amendment provides that not alone shall a health board take such steps as it considers requisite to identify children who are not receiving adequate care and attention but that they should also co-ordinate the information which is available. One of the problems in this area is the lack of co-ordination between school attendance officers, juvenile liaison officers and voluntary organisations such as the ISPCC who run the Childline service. A wide range of people — interested neighbours, parents and relatives — have a fund of information about children who are at risk and who need to be identified. I believe it is important that we insert in the Bill the additional clause proposed in my amendment so that not alone would there be an obligation on the health board to take such steps as they consider necessary once they have identified the children but, in order to identify such children, they would be in a position to co-ordinate the information from all the sources to which I have referred. I ask the Minister to reconsider this point. It is not a major issue but a provision in regard to the co-ordination of information needs to be included in the Bill.

Is the Deputy referring to all children in the area? If he is, there is a little bit of insensitivity——

Section 3 (2) (a) clearly refers to children who are not receiving adequate care and protection and my amendment refers only to such children. My amendment proposes the inclusion of the words "and co-ordinate information from all relevant sources relating to children in its area" after the word "protection".

When I worked as a social worker it was standard practice in case work that one should do that oneself. It is puzzling that this amendment should be included in the Bill because the normal practice in case work is that the social worker who would normally make a case for a child would get in touch with a juvenile liaison officer and if someone is in trouble with the Garda or a child is missing from school the social worker would get in touch with either the school principal or the school attendance officer. I do not see the relevance of including this provision which is normal practice for social workers.

I have very strong views on this amendment because I recently discovered from discussions with officers of a health board that in one day three social workers called to the same family. There is need for an amendment to co-ordinate the information available in this area. For example, a social worker from the health board could visit a family early in the day, a psychiatric social worker could visit them later and if there were a housing problem a social worker from the county council could also visit them. That has happened. I saw straight away the merit in this amendment, which merely seeks to co-ordinate the information available. The inclusion of this amendment in the Bill would be very worthwhile and I support it.

I also support this amendment because there is a deep concern among the child care workers to whom I have spoken that there is either a total famine in care and monitoring of children at risk or there is a feast where several agencies are monitoring the one family, particularly if they receive any kind of publicity.

In this context I should like to remind the Minister that the Law Reform Commission report on child sexual abuse and their consultation paper dealt with the need for the director of community care or the medical health officer to be under a general legal duty to hold a case conference in cases of suspected child sexual abuse which would not have been rejected as unfounded. When I asked a social worker about this he said it is a problem and that there is a reluctance by the director of community care or the officer in charge to hold a case conference.

The inclusion of this amendment in the Bill would be one way of ensuring that all those involved in a particular case are brought in to share their experiences or information so that they can make a decision on the treatment or resolution of the problem. I believe that recommendation is made on page 87 of the Law Reform Commission report.

Surely social workers looking after children in need or in danger would be negligent if they did not co-ordinate information from all relevant sources relating to children in their area. I would have thought that that need not be stated. However, if Deputy Yates means to advertise — I use the word advisedly — and educate the public on the services available, we could take that on board but I would have thought that social workers — I have no doubt that they do — would do this automatically.

We would all like to think, as Deputy Fitzpatrick said, that this is being done but, first, I should say in relation to the need for co-ordination and case conferences to which Deputy Coughlan referred and about which Deputy Sherlock gave details from his own experience, we may end up with duplication with the people involved wasting their time and effort. With that in mind, it is both wise and sensible to have co-ordination. Judicial and public inquiries on children at risk were set up in Britain — I instance the child sexual abuse cases in Cleveland. One of the greatest failings of those inquiries, and it was a human failing, was that they could not attribute blame to anyone.

We are dealing with people who are under pressure and who may not be able to avail of a communications system which would make it easy for them to co-ordinate their efforts. The greatest lesson learned from those public inquiries was that there was a lack of co-ordination when it came to the sharing of information between the people concerned — the police in some cases and school attendance officers in others. The most remarkable feature of those inquiries, and perhaps the most upsetting, was that there was a lack of co-ordination when it came to the sharing of information and the case conferences. This led ultimately not just to child abuse but to tremendous trauma being experienced by parents and social workers.

It is unfair where discretion and sensitivity is called for on the part of certain workers not to share the responsibility. It is also unfair to ask only some workers, without making some attempt at co-ordination, to make very grave decisions which could rebound on them not only in terms of their careers but also in human terms. To be fair to the children, parents and workers involved, responsibility should be shared as this could prevent mistakes being made.

The best argument in favour of the amendment has been made by speakers on the other side of the House. I respect the view expressed by Deputy Coughlan, who said that this happens. Indeed many of us believe that it happens automatically and this should convince the Minister that there should be no problem about inserting this amendment, which seeks to ensure that it happens. It is our experience that even though information is sought and received by different agencies and people the lack of co-ordination has led to problems. In an effort to be helpful we could send so many people to investigate that people will be turned off giving the required information. If the information received from all sources could be co-ordinated this would be to the betterment of all.

Deputies on the Government side have convinced us that this does happen and, if this is so, why not ensure that it does happen by including this provision in the Bill? If information is to have any value it must be co-ordinated and used for the betterment of all children at risk.

I have listened with great interest to the contributions which have been made on this amendment and I am convinced from what he has said that Deputy Yates has tightened up the amendment somewhat. We debated a similar amendment on Committee Stage and it a seemed to refer to all children. It is my interpretation that the amendment now refers only to children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. Deputy Coughlan spoke about professional ethics in the performance of duties by social workers and others. She said that they do co-ordinate information in their case work. Having listened to the very detailed contributions made, and in view of the clear commitment by Deputy Yates, I will accept the amendment.

I thank the Minister and I should add that I am somewhat surprised and pleased.

He is not all bad.

Amendment agreed to.

We now come to amendment No. 10. Shall we discuss amendments Nos. 10 and 11 together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 6, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"(d) inform children of their right to be consulted prior to any action or change in their circumstances and allow for a child to initiate a review of their circumstances.".

I wish to point out that despite all the rhetoric and verbiage we all say that the rights of children should come first. On this amendment we are dealing with the criteria within which health boards operate. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 give practical effect to all our good intentions in relation to children. They propose that any child in care should be informed of what decision has been taken about the type of care, that there should be prior consultation and, most important — I will certainly be pressing amendment No. 11 but I am open to negotiation on amendment No. 10 — if a child, and we are dealing with children up to the age of 18, makes a request not to be sent to a particular home, wishes to leave a particular foster parent or wishes to be left with a grandmother, this request should be documented. In years to come they should be able to look back and see that they did state they were very unhappy at that time. It is very important that they be given this opportunity.

What I am looking for is a procedural matter. I realise this may not be possible and on Committee Stage it was stated that we could have children of four or five years of age who are a bit daft or whose imaginations could run wild and might not know what is good for them. We can rest assured that, even if it is harmless, a request should be documented.

I am not saying they should be given a veto. We have received submissions from the Child Care Coalition in relation to the statutory review procedure. It is very important that requests from children should be documented and put on the record. I ask the Minister to get this matter right. It may be dealt with by way of regulation but it is absolutely vital that this is stitched into the Bill and is not left to the chief executive officer, or any other person, to act in a single-minded fashion. Often social workers feel that they have a monopoly of wisdom in relation to what is in the best interests of the child but they just might be wrong. It is because of that that it is important when a child makes a request for a change of circumstances or change in care that it is documented so that, in a year or two's time, when it comes up for review under the review procedure, that will be clearly imprinted in such a way that there would be consistency and the best interests of the child served.

I would ask the House to accept these amendments, particularly No. 11.

Perhaps Deputy Sherlock would move the adjournment of the debate.

Before doing so, may I respectfully ask if, as there is such a large number of amendments to be dealt with, as on Committee Stage we had a system of grouping of amendments at a certain time, it is intended to have such an arrangement in respect of these Report Stage amendments?

We are now discussing amendments Nos. 10 and 11 together.

We will be grouping several amendments later.

As we go along, yes.

On a point of order, may I ask whether the Minister, where he has grouped amendments to respond in a collective way and he is in possession of that documentation now, might circulate it to the relevant spokespersons so that we might be prepared?

The grouping is done through the office; we will liaise.

Debate adjourned.