Written Answers. - Child Care Act.

Michael Ring

Question:

119 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health when the Child Health Act will be fully operational with particular reference to the provision of adequate staffing to meet the requirements laid down in the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. - Michael Ring. [976/94]

Alan Shatter

Question:

224 Mr. Shatter asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in bringing into force parts 3, 4 and 5 of the Child Care Act, 1991; when he intends to make the statutory orders necessary to bring each of the said Parts into operation; and the date on which each part will come into operation. [387/94]

Liz McManus

Question:

227 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health if he has satisfied himself with progress to date in the implementation of the Child Care Act, 1991; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [652/94]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119, 224 and 227 together.

At the publication of the Kilkenny Incest Report I announced that the Child Care Act, 1991, would be brought into operation in its entirety by the end of 1996. This remains my intention and I am determined that it will be achieved. Since making that announcement, I have approved a wide range of new child care and family support services, the full year cost of which is in the region of £20 million. The scale of these developments is unprecedented and demonstrates in the most concrete way possible my determination to ensure that the Child Care Act is not simply implemented on paper but is backed up by a sustained programme of investment that will enable the health boards to respond effectively to the needs of those children and families whom the legislation is designed to assist.

Among the important new measures that I have approved are the creation of over 370 new posts for the child care services around the country, including child psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and child care workers; the provision of additional hostel places for homeless children; the establishment of new family resource centres and community support projects to assist disadvantaged children; the expansion of the homemaker and home help services to help families in difficulty and the establishment of community mothers programmes in a number of health board areas; increased financial support to pre-school services in areas of social deprivation and the provision of additional places; the development of foster care and other alternative family placement services.

These initiatives are laying the ground work for the assignment of additional statutory responsibilities to the health boards under the Act. It is my firm intention that significant further progress will be made next year in expanding the range and quality of child care and family support services in each region.
The next phase in the programme for the implementation of the Act involves the commencement of Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6 which deal respectively with the protection of children in emergencies, care proceedings and the powers and duties of health boards in relation to children in their care. These provisions will strengthen the powers of the health boards, the gardaí and the courts to intervene in cases of child abuse and neglect.
These are the most complex provisions of the Act. Various sets of new regulations, as well as rules of court, are required to be made in order to give full effect to them. The provisions in question are inter-related and must therefore be brought into force at the same time.
I am committed to bringing Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6 into operation next year. To this end, extensive preparatory work is currently under way in my Department. Two working groups were established to assist my Department in the preparation of the initial drafts of the new regulations relating to foster care and residential care. The foster care working group has completed its task and the residential care working group is at an advanced stage in its deliberations.
When the legislation was being processed through the Houses of the Oireachtas a commitment was given on behalf of the Government that the relevant interest groups would be consulted in relation to the preparation of the new regulations. I intend to honour that commitment by circulating the draft regulations to the various interested parties before they are finalised.