My primary concern as Minister of State with special responsibility for child care is to ensure that the legislative and service infrastructure is adequate to protect the welfare of children. On my taking office only 17 sections of the Child Care Act had been implemented. An additional 44 sections have now been implemented. The remaining 18 sections of the Child Care Act, providing for the registration of residential centres and the regulation and inspection of preschool services, will be implemented this year. Since 1993 additional funding of the order of £35 million on an annualised basis has been provided to develop child care and family support services. These developments included the creation of over 900 new posts for child care services.
While there have been substantial improvements in child care services in recent years, further improvements need to be made. It is my firm intention to ensure that the legislative infrastructure is adequate to provide protection and promote the welfare of children; services continue to develop and fulfil the legal obligations on health boards to protect children and promote their welfare under the Child Care Act, 1991; and professional standards in child care continue to improve and there is ongoing monitoring and review of these standards.
I am currently preparing proposals for Government for the financing of a new child care programme for the period 1997 to 1999. These proposals will be brought to Government shortly.
I am aware of the difficulties that have been encountered by health boards in the recruitment of qualified social workers. Students in Ireland who commenced training for social work after 1990 are eligible for the award of national qualification in social work. There are a number of recognised university courses leading to this qualification. My Department arranged the funding of 20 extra training places in Trinity College and UCD last year. It is expected that 86 social workers will qualify from the three colleges providing social work training in 1996 and that approximately 300 additional social workers will qualify from Irish colleges between 1997 and 1999.
In addition, the National Validation Body on Social Work Qualifications and Training recently issued a report outlining the criteria governing the validation of non-national qualifications in social work. This report was accepted by the Minister for Health on 27 March 1996. The National Validation Body is now proceeding to deal with applications for the validation of non-national qualifications. I understand that 55 applications from many parts of the world have been processed and recently ratified by the validation body. The combination of increased training places in Irish colleges together with a system for recognising equivalent non-national qualifications will provide health boards with a large pool for the recruitment of highly qualified, professional social workers.
The chief executive officers of the health boards are preparing a joint response to help victims of past abuse. The health boards intend to take a positive, helpful and co-ordinating role in this area, in consultation and co-operation with relevant voluntary organisations. It is intended that a full counselling and therapeutic service will be provided by the health boards in response to the needs of those who have been abused in the past. These services will be provided by the adult health care services and will respond to the problems which may emerge such as depression, guilt, addiction, personality disorders and relationship problems. The health boards are currently finalising the range of measures to be taken in this regard and an announcement in relation to the details of a support and therapeutic service for victims of past abuse will be made in the near future.