Children Bill, 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I said on the last occasion that, in some urban areas, joyriding, drug and alcohol abuse, vandalism, the torturing of animals, the stoning of Garda cars and fire brigades are very common. There is poor community leadership and many dysfunctional families in some areas. This Bill tries to deal with those problems and that asks a lot. Things are improving. The partnerships to tackle long-term unemployment, the drug task forces, the community Garda scheme and more lottery funding and resources for voluntary, community and sporting organisations are having an impact. This Bill will also have an impact. I hope it is implemented speedily and backed up with adequate resources.

I welcome the provision in the Bill allowing for a family welfare conference. Requests for a care order, a supervision order or a special care order can also be considered. Such orders are significant and far-reaching but they should only be used in exceptional circumstances. Parents are the best people to rear their children and to protect their welfare. However, I recognise that in some cases such orders are necessary in the interest of the child and in the overall interest of society.

The Minister must be applauded for raising the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12. When this Bill is passed, children under 12 will not be considered to have committed a crime. It was appalling that up to now a child between the ages of seven and 12 paid for a once-off incident in childhood for the rest of his or her adult life by having a criminal record. Intervention by the health board in such cases is preferable.

Much of the media interest in the 1996 Bill concerned the issue of parents paying for the crimes of their children. However, such media concern was narrowly focused at the time. Nevertheless, parental responsibility is an important concept. In this Bill parents can be bound over to exercise proper and adequate control over their child. The court can also make a parental supervision order and parents can be ordered to pay compensation. This is a popular idea. The question is often asked if parents should be made financially liable for the misdeeds of their children. The answer is "yes" if it is feasible and appropriate in the case. There are good and bad parents, regardless of social circumstances and the courts must get involved in the case of bad parents.

This raises the issue of parenting skills. With the breakdown of the extended family and the reduction in family size, many parents are not trained to rear children. Some churches insist on pre-marriage guidance courses. However, rearing children is the last thing on the mind of any young couple getting married. We must encourage parenting skills. Existing grant schemes could be further expanded to ensure adequate parenting skills for those who need them most.

I welcome the establishment of the Garda diversion programme on a statutory basis. This provides for a family conference which in practice will be convened by a juvenile liaison officer or a community garda. An action plan can be put in place following such a family conference and the victim can also attend. I welcome the emphasis on the victim. The victim is being given a status for the first time and will be involved in the process through the family conference. The Minister has struck the right balance between a person who has committed an offence or been involved in an incident and the victim who often wants to become involved for various reasons. No one would disagree with the philosophy of this Bill that children do not belong in courts or prisons.

There are serious problems in many areas of this city and in urban centres throughout the country. Tonight on Private Members' business we will discuss joyriding. This issue needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way. I have seen drug and alcohol abuse, vandalism and the brutal torture of horses, donkeys, dogs and other animals in many areas of this city. We must target the children involved in such activities.

The partnerships to tackle long-term unemployment have been a welcome development. They have helped to set up community support structures and to target those most at risk. We must continue to encourage them in their work. Huge resources are being targeted at special areas to provide alternatives for young people. New activities are being created and new facilities, such as treatment centres, are being provided in areas which need them. The drug task forces are co-ordinating these activities in an effort to deal with the drugs problem.

Many communities have sporting organisations organised by volunteers. As a society, we are indebted to these people who organise sporting activities, such as football and boxing matches, every day and every weekend without reward. They are the salt of the earth because they provide an invaluable service to our young people. We are all better off as a result of such activities. That is why lottery funding for such organisations is extremely important. I welcome the fact that many activities come under the umbrella of the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. I also welcome the fact that lottery funding is targeted at small organisations which do invaluable work in keeping our young people out of prison.

I welcome the Bill. People's quality of life will improve if the mechanisms outlined in the Bill help to deal with children at a vulnerable age. No one could disagree that children do not belong in courts or prisons. I also welcome the fact that adequate resources have been promised by the Minister to back up all the Bill's provisions, particularly those relating to the activities of health boards, child and social workers and so on. We will have done a good day's work when this Bill is enacted.

I welcome this important legislation. The main purpose of the Bill is to replace the remaining provisions of the Children Act, 1908, which has remained on the Statute Book for 92 years. The Bill has three main objectives: it provides the framework for the development of a juvenile justice system, it re-enacts and updates the provisions in the 1908 Act protecting children against persons who have custody, charge or care of them and it provides for a family welfare conference and other new provisions for dealing with out of control and non-offending children.

Children inevitably suffer when their parents decide to live apart. The continued absence of one parent is a major source of anguish in a child's life which can be exacerbated by the competition between parents caused by custody and other access inequalities. Sole custody is the most frequent outcome when parents separate whereby children spend the majority of their time with one parent. The parent who gets sole physical custody effectively gains control of the children and commands a strong position in negotiations with the non-custodial parent for the relationship with the family.

Shared parenting has been highly successful in other western countries over the past two decades. It has been shown to improve the welfare of children, reduce arguing between parents and improve the cohesion of the two parent family unit. Children would do better if they were able to maintain an ongoing relationship with both parents, unless violence and abuse are involved.

In recognising the importance of putting children's needs first, a growing number of countries are looking towards shared parenting as a legal objective so that children caught up in a change of family circumstance are not deprived of either parent. Shared parenting is based on the notion that if divorce or separation is inevitable, both parents should be able to continue to share in the parenting of the children. We should put procedures in place which would provide children with frequent and continuing access to both parents. This is a difficult and sensitive issue which should be properly addressed.

There is a significant problem with children who lose contact with a parent when couples separate. It is a tragedy that present legislation pits one parent against the other when a marriage breaks down. Inevitably one parent is the winner and gains custody of the children while the other parent is the loser and becomes nothing more than a visitor in their child's life.

Shared parenting would prevent the tragedy of children walking into the family court with two parents and walking out with only one. Every year thousands of innocent children end up with only one parent due to separation and divorce. This is due in no small part to the anger and hostility the system causes, supports and encourages between divorcing couples. By the time people have finished with the incredible ordeal of litigation they cannot possibly function as parents. Mutual love and respect are turned into conflict and resentment, placing a strain on the once mutual commitment to ensuring that the needs and interests of the children were put before those of the parents. Everyone loses as a result of court proceedings. The biggest losers are children who must go through life with one parent. This is not acceptable and we must address this problem. We need a new initiative to save children and families from such situations even though family courts can be very sensitive to the needs of children. We should examine this situation.

We need to advance the education of the public, politicians, teachers, members of the medical and legal professions, social workers and mediators by heightening public awareness of the area of child care, parenting and the importance of the full and active involvement of both parents and extended families in the rearing of children. We also need to support all parents by seeking to equally involve mothers and fathers in the shared parenting of their children within relationships and marriage and through the promotion of joint custody as the norm in cases of separation and relationship breakdown.

There is also a need to establish the equality and dignity of mothers and fathers in the parenting of children and to promote and emphasise the importance of mothers and fathers as parents, guardians, carers and custodians of their children. The State must reflect this position in every aspect of parental and child legislation.

The welfare of children should be of paramount consideration at all times. It is important to promote shared responsibility in parenting, both within and outside marriage, and to bring about the expectation that, in the event of marital breakdown, joint custody and continued shared parenting are considered the norm. We also need to promote research and continued education on the effects on children and parents of shared parenting. We must also increase public awareness of shared parenting through education and highlight the interchangeable role played by mothers and fathers. In addition, it is important to remain totally impartial and non-judgmental in situations of broken relationships.

We must highlight the damaging effects of the adversarial family law court system on parents, children and extended families in terms of future animosity and mutual mistrust. Instead we must promote the increased involvement of trained personnel with appropriate educational, psychological, social and negotiating skills to build a consensus towards agreed solutions in the event of the breakdown of relationships. This is particularly important given the changing nature of society.

We must also highlight the need for education and regular in-service training to update the skills in family law matters and social behaviour trends. Funds should be made available towards education and back-up support for members of the public and State services to enable the group to function and pursue its objectives. It will also be necessary to promote parenting courses to educate mothers and fathers in the concept of shared parenting.

There is a need to implement a divorced parent and child education programme to help reduce the anger, hostility and anxiety caused by separation, particularly in cases of divorce, and the dramatic changes in the lives of parents and children. The main focus of such a programme should be to help parents diffuse their anger and hostility towards each other and to put aside their differences to enable the children to cope with the trauma and changes brought about by separation and divorce.

We must also encourage all agencies involved to adopt the mandatory educational programme and a system of mediation, conciliation and arbitration which would replace the current adversarial system of dispute resolution. The current system has been found to do nothing but heighten and exacerbate parent anger and hostility rather than reduce or diffuse it. The end product of anger is the intense hurt and needless suffering of children which could be easily avoided by a new system.

Article 42 of the Constitution acknowledges that the primary natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees respect for the inalienable right and duty of the parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious, moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. This is an inescapable duty for each parent. The article, without equivocation, guarantees that the State will respect that right and duty. All parents have the right to expect that the Government will facilitate them in a pro-active, substantial and respectful manner in fulfilling this inalienable constitutional obligation to their children.

A first step in such facilitation would be to create a new concept of fairness and acceptability by using the phrase "shared parenting" in cases of separation and divorce and eliminating the words "custody" and "access to children". Children need more than emotional support, they need financial support. That is what shared parenting means – shared emotional and financial support. Financially, both parents have an equal duty to provide whatever support they can based on the ultimate best interests of the children. If one parent cannot work, the other parent must carry the load. If both parents work, they both must share the load, just as they did before they decided to separate. Both are involved in their children's lives and must put aside their own interests to provide everything they can for their children. A minimum standard should be set.

Family welfare conferences, as provided for in this Bill, are an important mechanism for early intervention when children are at risk. Section 7 establishes the circumstances in which a family welfare group conference may be convened. The health board will convene such a conference and chair it. Section 8 sets out the functions of that conference. It can decide if a child needs special care or protection and may make recommendations to the health board on the care and protection of the child. Section 13 sets out how the health board can give effect to the recommendations of the family welfare conference. It can apply for a special care order, which is important in exceptional circumstances.

Part 3 deals with children in need of special care or protection. It amends the Child Care Act, 1991, by inserting new provisions for additional powers for health boards to ensure that non-offending children who are out of control receive special care, education and treatment. Also, the age limit for such treatment has been increased from seven years to 12 years.

Section 23(c) enables a court to make an internal special care order where there is reason to believe grounds exist for making such an order and that it is in the interests of a child that he or she be detained in a special care unit. The application can be made notwithstanding the fact that a family welfare conference is being arranged or an application for a special care order is based on it. Section 23(f) provides for the variation or discharge of a special care order by the court on its own motion following a person's application.

This Bill deals comprehensively with many issues. It updates legislation which has existed since 1901. Schools and community groups must be able to support children. Recreational facilities must be funded. Interaction with the community is vital for young children and teenagers. Involvement with sport is of great importance. I salute teachers and parents who show such dedication in athletics, football and other sports.

I welcome the establishment of resource groups which identify the needs of communities. There are often few playground facilities in large housing estates but now there is a growing awareness of the need for funding for such facilities. A major difficulty for children in the seven to 12 year old group is that they have nothing to do. For years community leaders did all of the work. The objective now is to get parents involved in the supervision of their children.

The court system can cause trauma for both children and parents, although family courts play a vital role. Increasing the powers of health boards in child care, and integrating those powers with those of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in child care are welcome innovations.

Investment in children, through community sports grants or grants for amenities, is money well spent. Lottery funding has been well targeted in this area. Schools also must be given adequate funding for sports facilities. There is a huge amount of money available now that was not previously available and we must invest it in the protection and education of children. The aspects I dealt with may be provided for in the Bill at a later Stage. Joint parenting will be an important issue in the future. The position that prevails when one parent gets custody of the children and the other parent is restricted to seeing the children for only an hour or two a week cannot be good for any member of the family. We have legislated for separation and divorce and it would be good if family feuds surrounding such issues could be avoided.

We must ensure children do not suffer as a result of new relationships that develop. I know of one case where a father can visit his three year old son for only an hour and a half a week and the child's mother leaves when he arrives. While the situation is difficult, the arrangements are unsatisfactory for the father and the situation is disturbing for the son. If couples decide to separate, it would be good if such hostility could be avoided. It is regrettable that children suffer in such cases. While it is difficult to introduce legislation to address these problems, funds could be made available in the interests of children to provide for an agreement on joint parenting to enable both parents to spend equal time with their children, if that is what each parent wishes.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I compliment Deputy Neville who has worked extensively on it since he was elected to the Dáil.

Irish people, as is the case in most countries, cherish the role of children in society. It is incumbent on parents and guardians right through to Government agencies to ensure that children receive all the opportunities possible to ensure they can participate in society actively and with enjoyment.

This Bill seeks to fundamentally amend the Children Act, 1908. It is long overdue. It must be supported because it introduces many innovative provisions to develop our modern juvenile justice system.

It introduces creative solutions and options to help young people who are in trouble. While any system for dealing with young offenders must retain the ultimate sanction of incarceration, the provisions of this Bill start from the premise that this option should be brought into play only when a range of what are essentially community based measures have been exhausted.

It is incumbent on the Government to guaran tee that all measures possible to divert young people away from a life of crime are introduced. A clear philosophy underpins the Bill. It provides a framework that will prevent offending by young people and, where offending has taken place, will prevent further offending.

In formulating the position on which the Bill is based, we have had to strike a fair balance between the needs and interests of the child offender with the protection of the community and what is generally good for society.

The new powers that will be given to the courts and the array of new community sanctions that will be available to them are designed for rehabilitation purposes in a non-custodial environment. Detention will be a last resort, but where it is essential the emphasis will be on the successful reintegration of the child offender into society.

I strongly believe that the Government is facing up to its responsibility in this. It is well recognised that there has been widespread co-operation between key Government Departments and State agencies in devising this legislation. The Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Education and Science were centrally involved in drafting these provisions.

Part 2 deals with the mechanism to set up family welfare conferences. This will provide a mechanism for early intervention at an inter-agency level for children at risk. The conference can be triggered in two ways, on the direction of the court where it considers that a child before it on a criminal charge may be in need of special care or protection, or where it appears to a health board that a child in its area may require special care or protection.

Section 8 states that the family welfare conference can decide if a child is in need of special care or protection and it can make recommendations to the health board relating to the care and protection of the child. Attendance at this conference will be by the child, the parents or guardian of the child or the relatives of the child where appropriate.

The health boards will have responsibility to provide the necessary administrative services for holding family conferences. They will have the power to give effect to the recommendations of a family welfare conference. Essentially, they can apply for a special care order or any other order, where appropriate, under the Child Care Act, 1991.

Part 4 deals with the future administration of the Garda diversion programme. The primary purpose of this provision is to place the Garda diversion programme on a statutory footing. At present, it operates on an administrative level only. A unique feature of this diversion programme will be the introduction of restorative cautioning. This will be a type of mini conference which may apply in cases where a full Garda convened conference is not warranted. It means that where a formal caution is being administered to a child offender who has been admitted to the diversion programme, the victim may be present. This will provide an opportunity to confront the child with the consequences of his or her offending in the presence of the victim and for the child to be invited to offer an apology or make reparation to the victim. As a matter of policy, the intention is that as many children as possible who commit offences will be admitted to the diversion programme.

Section 25 deals with the administration of a caution, whether informal or formal. An informal caution can be administered where no previous caution has been administered or where any previous caution or cautions have also been informal.

Section 29 establishes that a convened conference may be held in respect of a child who has been formally cautioned and is being supervised by a juvenile officer. This is an integral part of the diversion programme. It also sets out the functions of the conference. The conference will have a wide remit to examine the child's problems, reasons for offending, etc., and will be able to discuss how, through family support and community involvement, the child might be diverted from crime. Attendance at the conference will consist of the child, his or her parents or guardian and or other members of the child's family and the facilitator who may be a member of the Garda Síochána.

The conference will also be able to formulate an action plan for the child. This plan may provide for such things as an apology and reparation to the victim, participation by the child in appropriate sporting and recreational activities, attendance at school or work or participation in other training or educational courses that do not interfere with school or work.

Part 5 deals with the issue of criminal responsibility. Section 52 raises the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years. This section also states that there is a rebuttable presumption that a child between the age of responsibility and 14 years is incapable of committing an offence by reason of the fact that the child did not have the capacity to know that the act or omission was wrong. The age of 12 will mean that our age of criminal responsibility will be one of the highest in common law jurisdictions. That is the age recommended in the first report of the former Dáil Select Committee on Crime. The UN committee on the rights of the child had, in fact, criticised our age limit in the context of the proposal to raise it to ten years in the 1996 Children Bill. This provision, by way of raising the age or criminal responsibility to 12, will address these criticisms.

Part 9 deals with the powers of courts in relation to child offenders. In most cases, the court will be obliged to request a probation officer's report. The courts will also have the power to request any other report they consider appropriate in addition to the probation officer's report. Any fines the courts impose on children can only be half that imposed on adults. The court must have regard to the ability of the child to pay such a fine.

Sections 111 and 112 give the courts the power to make a parental supervision order. This can be imposed where the court is satisfied that a wilful failure on the part of the parents of a child before the court to take care of or control the child contributed towards the behaviour which resulted in the child being found guilty of an offence. The effect of the order can include obliging the parents to undergo treatment for alcohol or other substance abuse or to participate in a parenting skills training course. The courts will also have power to order the parent or guardian of a child offender to enter into a recognisance to exercise proper or adequate control over the child.

The court is empowered to refer the child to a health board where it considers that the child's real problem is the need of care and protection, in other words, the offending, usually like petty larceny, may be a cry for help. The health board will investigate the child's circumstances and report back to court. Where the court proceeds to a finding, and that finding is one of guilt, it will have many new options at its disposal when deciding how best to deal with the child. These options are essential features of the Bill as they allow effect to be given to the principle that detention for young offenders will be a matter of last resort. For instance, there will be a choice of ten community sanctions, two of which are already in existence. These, along with the eight new sanctions, should ensure an appropriate and suitable community sanction will be available for each child on whom such a sanction is imposed. These community sanctions include the following – probation order, community service order, day centre order, training or activities order, intensive supervision order, residential supervision order, suitable person order, mentor order, restriction on movement order and dual order.

There is one important new change to the child protection provision which needs to be highlighted. The offence of cruelty to children has been updated and the penalty substantially raised. Effect is being given to a recommendation of the report of the Select Committee on Social Affairs on non-fatal offences against the person in respect of children so as to expand the meaning of cruelty. In future, such cruelty will include mental and emotional cruelty as well as physical cruelty.

Provision is included in the Bill for the setting up of a special residential services board to ensure the efficient, effective and co-ordinated delivery of services to children on whom children detention orders have been imposed or in respect of whom special care orders have been made. This will entail a provision for the deletion of a provision in the 1996 Bill for a single board of management to manage all the children detention schools. Statutory boards of management will be appointed to each children detention school or group of schools and some of the functions earmarked for the board proposed in the original 1996 Bill will be assumed by the special residential services board.

In conclusion, the Children Bill provides an exceptional opportunity to turn young people away from crime. This is a Bill that is premised on introducing a system based on restorative justice. The advantages of restorative justice are well documented. If successful, there will be no finding of guilt, with all that entails. The child offender and his or her family will be involved in arriving at an equitable solution and the offender will be made aware of the effects of his or her criminal behaviour on the victim and will possibly have to do so in the presence of the victim.

I wish to take this opportunity to pose a few questions to the Minister. Following the enactment of the Bill, will children be any better off or will it just mean more rules and regulations which will not be implemented? The complaint of many organisations is that legislation is passed in this House but the funding or staffing is not made available to implement it. There is not much point enacting legislation if we do not put the resources in place to implement it. I pose another question to the Minister. Are children better off now than they were 30 years ago? I believe not because there are more pressures on children nowadays. If one travels throughout the country, one does not see children out playing or enjoying themselves anymore. However, if one goes into any household or bar at this time of the evening, one will see children watching television. Would we not be better off introducing legislation to control some of the filth and dirt on television at any hour of the day? Children get up at 7 o'clock in the morning, switch on the television and they do not turn it off until five minutes before their parents bring them to school. If children come home for their lunch, they put on the television and they switch it on when they arrive home at 4 p.m. This is not a good influence on children. Perhaps we should consider the violence on television up until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. when children are watching. Some of the soap operas from Australia and other countries are not suitable for young children, yet they are not monitored. RTE will say it does the best it can and that it must compete with the BBC, Sky television and so on. I do not think we have progressed in the past 20 or 30 years. Will children be better off following the enactment of the Bill?

I am annoyed that more children are disadvantaged and are begging on the streets. If we, as legislators, did our job correctly that would not happen. It is sad that any child has to beg and that children have to work out of necessity. We have only to listen to the PR people, commentators and the media to hear how well this country is doing. People are ashamed to say they are not doing so well and that they are unable to live on low wages or on social welfare. Some children go to school hungry.

During the budget speech each year the Mini ster for Finance announces an increase in child benefit for the first and second child and a greater increase for the third and subsequent children. There should not be discrimination in the social welfare code. All children should be treated equally and the higher rate should be paid to all children. Will the Minister do something about that in consultation with the Government?

As one who holds clinics on a regular basis it upsets me to see parents who cannot live, manage or control their children. Recently a woman on social welfare came into my clinic. Her child who was in sixth class could neither read nor write. She had to pay to have her child assessed. It was discovered that the child is dyslexic. How is it that a child can go through the education system from first to sixth classes and yet can neither read nor write? Why had a parent on social welfare to pay to have the child assessed? I tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister for Education and Science asking what he would do for that child who is about to start secondary school and cannot read or write. Parents on low incomes cannot pay for grinds. I am not criticising the teaching profession. However, if we, as legislators, did our job correctly we would not be discussing this Bill but various Acts and systems to ensure no child would leave the education system without being able to read or write and that parents on social welfare would not have to pay to have their child assessed. Two or three years down the road what benefit will this Bill be to that child, parent or family? The second child in that family has a similar problem. The mother also had the same problem. What will the education system do for those children?

I have listened on many occasions to people who say we must love, protect and look after our children. Yet parents ask politicians why their child has to wait four, and sometimes five, years for orthodontic treatment. One may ask what this has got to do with the Bill. However, a self-conscious child with a teeth problem may be made fun of or taken advantage of at school. Children can be cruel. What will the Bill do for these children? What will it do for the family that was told there was a two-year waiting list, a few months later they are told the waiting list was two-and-a-half years and last week they were told it was three-and-a-half years? I ask the Government what will happen to the families waiting for that service? What will the Bill do for the disadvantaged child? What will it do for the child who hates getting up and going to school because she knows when she enters the school yard somebody will make fun of her because she has prominent teeth? That is the single most important issue for that child and her family. The parents on social welfare cannot afford to get the treatment from the private sector.

The guidelines on the clothing and footwear scheme state each year that the scheme is to benefit parents and children, yet every regulation and obstacle that can be put in place by the health board is put in place. If some people are on social welfare and on a FÁS scheme they do not qualify. That is not helping the children. If people have these problems where should they go to have them redressed? I am upset that this happens and that children suffer due to insufficient resources coming into the house.

There should be greater emphasis on children's health because it is a serious issue. In this Celtic tiger economy many young parents starting off find it difficult to control their children because they expect so much. That well-off children come to school in different outfits every day puts pressure on less well off parents. I had a case of a husband and wife, both working in a factory, taking home £230 per week. They have two children and are not eligible for a medical card. The two children have asthma. They hear local and national politicians in the Dáil and on local radio before elections say what they will do for families and children. Yet this family with two asthmatic children does not qualify for the health board scheme whereby one can claim a certain sum each month. Many parents cannot afford to take their children to a doctor. When children get asthmatic attacks parents hope it will pass off and that nothing will happen them. Where in the Bill is that matter dealt with? Will parents who have a genuine case and genuine sickness in the house be catered for in the Bill?

I could continue to speak about promises given by Governments in relation to children. If the Government and all political parties were serious, children up to 14 years of age, irrespective of means, would have medical cards. If one parent is working and getting some form of social welfare, they should be eligible for a medical card for children.

What can be done to help disadvantaged children on the street and those who commit crime? Bringing them before the courts and sending them to jail is not the answer. The best thing we can do is provide them with an education. What is being done about children in the education system whose disadvantage is not identified? How can this be dealt with? How can we deal with those on low incomes who have nobody to speak for them? How can we ensure that every child's progress in the education system is assessed? A recent study found that 165,000 children in the country have learning difficulties. If these children were identified and helped in good time, these difficulties would not develop. Young people who are educationally disadvantaged are often drawn to a life of crime in order to get money. This causes many problems for families who cannot deal with such young people. Where do we go from here? Will the children of the country be better off as a result of this Bill or is this simply legislation from which no action will follow?

I have received many complaints from constituents regarding difficult children. This problem is a difficult one for the health boards, the Garda Síochána and other authorities. Gardaí and health board officials are often afraid to act for fear of being sued. Extra powers for dealing with children should be given to gardaí and health board workers so that they are not slow to move. It is right that gardaí should be slow to bring children to court but action in the early stages can prevent children coming to court. It should be possible for the authorities to assess a home situation before a young person falls foul of the law.

More resources are needed. There is a shortage of social workers. When one makes a representation to a health board one is often told that personnel are not available to deal with the problem. Public representatives are told to go back to Government and get more resources. Health boards should be given increased powers to assess and monitor situations so that children with difficulties do not come to court unnecessarily.

It saddens me to see the condition of children in the new millennium. Are children better off now than they were 30 years ago? They are not because they are no happier. There are great social and economic pressures on families. Frequently both parents are obliged to work and children do not receive the care and love they need. As politicians we find it difficult to spend time with our own families and later in life we may regret not giving our children more time.

The weak and disadvantaged must be looked after. It should be our objective that no child will be seen begging on the streets in the future. Such children and their families must be given a comfortable home and access to educational resources. The people of Ireland do not want more tax breaks. They have a social conscience and wish to see more resources being put into education and into helping the disadvantaged, particularly disadvantaged children.

We have seen how vulnerable children were abused in the past by people who were supposed to be looking after them. I hope those days are gone, that children are protected and that people who are entrusted with the care of children will not betray that trust. Nevertheless, when ones sees childen roaming the streets one wonders if things have improved since those days.

We do not do enough for disadvantaged children. Simple actions could be taken to help mothers and fathers to rear their children. I would like to see the Government challenging the power of television. I would like to see children playing football on an evening such as this rather than watching "Home and Away" or "Neighbours". Children who know all the characters in these television programmes would not know the name of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. They know who is playing for Manchester United but they do not know what is happening in their schools.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I have an interest and some expertise in this area but there is a danger that I may try to say everything and say nothing at the same time. I compliment the Minister on introducing the Bill and I have spoken within our party on the need for legislation of this kind. I spent 30 years teaching and a large part of my life outside school working in youth clubs. I have also served on the boards of Trinity House and similar places so my comments are informed by that experience.

The Minister has taken account of important principles in the context of the body of legislation which has emanated from this and previous Governments. The Child Care Act, 1991, was a seminal piece of legislation, the Education Act has made significant advances in restructuring education and the Education (Welfare) Bill which is before the Select Committee on Education and Science is also an important provision. This Bill is acutely important. It puts children at the centre. Even the famous Children Act, 1908, with all its faults, bore in mind the importance of the child. It says much for its value that the 1908 Act has stood the test of time. It had its faults and it was modified and reinterpreted until it was substantially replaced by the Child Care Act, 1991. I am glad to see that this Bill contains provisions to update the legislation so that the 1908 Children Act will become part of history.

It is proposed in Part 4 of the Bill to set up a crime diversion programme on a statutory basis. I remember when gardaí gave their free time to youth clubs and other activities and did what is now professionally called crime diversion. When I came to work in Finglas in the 1960s, Inspector O'Meara was involved in building a youth club where a range of activities was provided for young people who were in danger of being on the wrong side of the law. Activities such as woodwork, physical education and swimming were provided. Tom Casey was the first official juvenile liaison officer in the Garda Síochána and worked in the inner city of Dublin. He was a big, strong, burly policeman but a very kindly man who was very interested in young people. He provided night tours of Dublin. All of us who were involved in youth clubs at that time availed of his night tours. We were taken to RTE, Tara Street fire station, the meteorological office, the casualty department of St. Vincent's Hospital and so on. He organised a very good programme. A huge amount of very good voluntary work was and is being done by gardaí. The appointment of community gardaí in recent times has led to greater interaction with the local community. Some of them are well cut out for this work; others are not.

It is now proposed to place the programme on a statutory basis. There are a number of very good projects throughout the city, including Ronanstown in Clondalkin, Cherry Orchard, Blanchardstown and Finglas, all of which are closely knitted to the youth service. They represent positive alternatives and devote much time to activities such as horsemanship, personal development, motorbikes and cars. While I support everything in Part 4 of the Bill, I have reservations about placing every aspect of the programme on a statutory basis. The danger is that services will be pro vided only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday with few services available at weekends.

Conferences will be convened by a member of the Garda Síochána and reports submitted to the director who shall be a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of superintendent. This will give the programme status. I am anxious that the Minister takes steps by way of regulation or amendment to ensure other community services are seen as part of this provision.

I praise the Minister sincerely for giving victims an opportunity to confront the young person who has hurt them in some way, in many cases severely. Last Friday afternoon in my constituency a gang of marauding youths ranging in age from ten to 20 years, who were drunk out of their minds from about 4 p.m., rammed the gates of a lovely neighbourhood park in three cars, two of which were stolen – the other was a company car owned by a member of the gang – and mowed down 25 to 30 trees planted by Dublin Corporation. They burned the cars several hours later, having terrorised the local community, some of whom did not get to bed until 5 a.m.

Fortunately, the young people who engage in such activity are in the minority but they are increasingly becoming a vicious minority and need to be confronted. The conferences to be organised under the programme will need to be well structured and provide for the attendance of victims. Often an entire area is brought down by the offences of the young people concerned who will have to be prepared to involve themselves in restitution and reparation. The youths to whom I referred should be made replant the trees, paint over the graffiti and rehang the gates. Those who work should be made pay for their misdeeds. This is provided for in the Bill. What does one say to children as young as eight, nine and ten years caught in the slipstream of this misbehaviour?

There is a need for an integrated approach to the delivery of services. On Saturday afternoon, just before the rugby match started, in the park to which I referred six to eight of my past pupils walked past me, one of whom is at serious risk. I doubt if she has left sixth class yet. Whatever we do, there is a need to ensure the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform deliver a programme together. I am concerned at the variety of professionals involved, from juvenile liaison officers who are doing exceptionally good work, to home-school-community liaison teachers and social workers, all of whom are dealing with different aspects of a young person's life. Only rarely do they manage to come together to co-ordinate a programme. The Bill holds out this possibility, whether through family welfare conferences or case conferences under the diversion programme.

The juvenile liaison officer scheme needs to be expanded. The gardaí concerned are visionary and continue to do pioneering work in a small number of disadvantaged areas. If the necessary support services are to be provided we will have to bite the bullet and resource the appointment of many more juvenile liaison officers.

I welcome the raising of the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years. Everybody agrees that this is the way forward. I am glad it is being done in one go rather than by way of regulation as envisaged by the previous Bill.

I wish to deal briefly with the sanctions to be applied to children on reaching court. Judges of the Children's Court have had a great deal of success in working with the Garda Síochána and teachers in keeping young people out of prison. I do not agree with those who say we are more inclined than ever to put young people in prison. The majority of judges of the Children's Court are very enlightened. I think in particular of former judges O'Sullivan and Kennedy who lent their support to families in suburban areas by attending baptisms, weddings and funerals. They were real friends of families at risk, of which there are many. I am glad the sanctions envisaged are community based.

Under sections 108 to 110 the courts will have the power to impose fines on children. While this will not be done lightly, it has to be done. In many instances we are talking about 15 and 16 year olds, many of whom have incomes of their own.

In what I have to say on parental responsibility I am in a minority of one, even within my own party. The sanctions which apply to parents when children are allowed to run riot ought to include the payment of a fine by way of deductions at source, even where they are in receipt of social welfare income. The Bill states that cognisance will be taken of the ability of parents to pay. Unfortunately a minority of parents will get the money to pay the fine from the community welfare officer rather than paying it themselves. The sanction must hurt and, for some, that will happen only when it hurts their pockets.

Many support programmes for parents who have difficulty organising their lives are run by the health boards and in schools. Speaking from my experience as a teacher, in many cases those who avail of them do not need to do so. I am glad there is a mechanism in the Bill whereby a parental supervision order can be introduced. As I understand it, a parent can be sent on a variety of programmes, a course on budgeting, home management, addiction counselling, etc. I welcome that. Sections 133 to 136 deal with restriction on movement orders for child offenders. I call that a curfew. A small number of youngsters will have to be contained in their homes, by order. Certain courts in Dublin apply such orders with some success. Under the Bill the restriction order will apply from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. However, it should apply from 5 p.m., particularly in winter time, until later in the morning.

Sections 118 to 123 deal with day centres. As the Minister knows, one of these is envisaged for my constituency under the aegis of the probation and welfare service. I welcome that and the reassurances and guidelines given in regard to its operation. Young people need to be treated in their own community. In the case of day centres they will be collected from their homes and will pursue a structured programme. They will be guided, counselled and given an educational opportunity. Hopefully they will progress into further education or training and employment.

I welcome section 259 which provides for a "clean slate". It is long past time this was adopted. The Minister is to be praised for introducing it. A former pupil, now in his thirties, at the age of 14 had the misfortune to foolishly buy a pair of runners at his door. He was brought to the Garda station and the offence was put on his record. He was unable to apply for a PSB licence in another local authority as a result.

I welcome the Bill. There is a great programme of development in residential centres. I compliment the management and staff in St. Laurence's and St. Michael's in Finglas on the work they are doing, particularly in getting young people to the stage of independent living. There is an exciting experiment being conducted there and long may it continue. The Bill contains many important wide-ranging provisions. It will change the justice system as it applies to children and will reassure local communities who may feel there is no way out for them regarding young people who may be vicious. I would like to see services for young people integrated and the various Departments working more closely together.

I welcome the Bill which will be a relief to those who read media reports of the comments made by Mr. Justice Peter Kelly regarding the problem of finding a suitable place of detention for a 17 year old girl. We felt his frustration that there was nowhere for this girl to go, the State had let her down. There are many such cases. We hear a constant plea from the Judiciary to the State to do something about these children who are out of control and a danger to themselves and others.

Many aspects of the Bill are refreshing. It is a modern approach that will complement the Childcare Act, 1991. It has three main aspirations, developing the juvenile justice system, updating the provisions of the 1908 Act and providing for family welfare conferences to deal with children who are out of control and are non-offenders. Society has undergone many changes since 1908 and it is high time legislation was updated. However, from listening to media comment and speaking to people who work in the field I have reservations about these aspirations. Will the necessary resources be made available? There is need for regulations and guidelines. There must be a change in the attitude of officials who work with children and their families.

There is need to look at the extra demands that will be placed on already overstretched services such as the health boards, Garda and juvenile liaison services. There seems to be an onus on these agencies to intervene at an earlier stage in the development of the offending child profile, thus placing an extra strain and burden on their resources. The Minister must secure the necessary financial resources to ensure full implementation of the Bill. We should implement existing legislation to meet current needs before establishing a series of new legislative requirements.

The Childcare Act, 1991 failed to make a full impact due to lack of resources. It was successful in putting in place a management system that ensured all the "t's" were crossed and the "i's" dotted but it failed children because of the lack of social workers, psychologists and foster parents. From speaking to those who work in the field, the difficulty experienced by health boards in acquiring foster parents will prove an obstacle to the successful implementation of this Bill. Many instances of child sexual abuse were validated but in the majority of cases the relevant health boards were unable to offer immediate or even short-term counselling or support because of a lack of resources. There is a need to channel available resources into validation as directed by the Act. The Childcare Act also gave the Garda and the health boards new authority to intervene in cases where children were at risk. However, limited extra resources were made available for the provision of specialist residential centres or fostering arrangements for these children. Frequently, children end up being returned to the abusive environment or less than ideal care arrangements.

Family welfare conferences will be an important aspect of the legislation. A health board will have the authority to call such conferences either by direct order of the court or because it believes a child who resides in the area may require special care or protection which the child is unlikely to receive unless the court makes such an order.

The part of the Bill that deals with privilege states that no evidence shall be admissible in court regarding any information, statement or admission disclosed in the course of the conference. I have some queries about this provision. The rights of children and their parents to access files under the Freedom of Information Act needs to be addressed in that context. Could such a provision be challenged?

There does not appear to be an onus on health boards to accept the full recommendations of the family conference. The recommendations may require additional resources, which will have implications for the health boards, but should there be a responsibility on the health board to accept such recommendations or, at a minimum, to offer a written explanation as to what resources it requires to implement the recommendations of the family conference? A stronger provision should be included to ensure the health boards will be obliged to accept the full recommendations of a family conference. In many cases of which I am aware, the health board ignores its responsibilities because of a lack of resources. There should be strict and clear guidelines regarding the conducting and recording of con ferences because these meetings are detailed and important. The reference to the role of the co-ordinator should be more explicit. There may be a need to consider a designated key worker system with statutory responsibility.

Regarding special care orders, the Bill provides that children can be detained for their own good, even if they have not committed a criminal offence, because they cannot be helped otherwise. Such children will be detained in a place from which they cannot escape. We all accept that some children need this type of attention. I was asked to visit a couple recently who were most concerned about their 14 year old grandson. His mother is separated and is living with four children and another partner. The young boy is on the streets. He does not sleep at home because he does not like the family situation and he is mixing with highly undesirable people. The health board cannot do anything for him and the Garda is powerless because he has not committed a crime. However, unless something is done, undoubtedly he will do harm to himself or others.

I mentioned my relief at the introduction of the Bill because it will help in such circumstances. The Garda will be able to intervene and the health boards will be in a position to put such children into care regardless of whether they have committed an offence. This is a welcome provision because it means there can be early intervention to stop a bad situation becoming much worse. The Bill will help many children in such circumstances.

The case of the young boy I mentioned is probably an extreme example but many Deputies are aware of similar cases. We read about such cases but we are unaware of the backgrounds of many of the children who are homeless and sleeping on our streets. However, under the Bill, the Garda, health boards and the relevant authorities will now be able to intervene at an early stage, consider the child's circumstances, understand the circumstances and establish a detention system.

I attended an interesting conference two weeks ago in Cork on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD. This successful conference was organised by a group in Cork and was launched by the Minister for Health and Children. More than 500 people attended the conference, including teachers and others who work with children such as social workers, psychologists and many parents. The opening speaker was an expert in the area and he spoke to a silent audience for an hour about ADHD which is an illness that affects children. I do not suggest that every child who is sleeping on our streets or has shown criminal tendencies suffers from ADHD but it may be a contributory factor in many problem cases.

ADHD is caused because of a missing chemical which operates the front part of the brain. However, it can be solved. Children who suffer from the condition are impulsive and act immediately without thinking. They can be violent and disturbed. In many cases, such children are repeatedly expelled from schools and their par ents do not know what to do with them. The children are disruptive in school. They cannot sit still and they do not obey simple orders. Little intervention is required to help these children. However, most children are not diagnosed with the condition until they are 12 or 13 years.

I spoke to parents of children whose problems have been identified. Many of the parents said they forced the issue and insisted there was something wrong with their children. Many of them had to go to London for a clinical diagnosis because they found it difficult to have the problem assessed in Ireland. However, since they got a diagnosis, there has been a vast improvement in their children. Many of them are on the drug, Ritalin. Family life is much easier and children are not wandering the streets or climbing out bedroom windows at night. They have peace. control and stability. They have at last solved the puzzle with which nobody was able to help them.

I also spoke to teachers working in the field. They recognise the problem but they find it difficult to address. They see a five or six year old who is disruptive and will not sit down. He or she causes noise and back answers in class. The teacher may recognise the condition at an early stage but he or she is continually frustrated because there is little he or she can do in terms of intervention. This area needs to be addressed. The Minister for Health and Children also attended the conference and one interesting speaker was Mr. John Lonergan, the Governor of Mountjoy Prison, who deals with the end results of the condition.

He recognises the problem but he considers that it can be solved through early intervention. It was inspiring to see a person such as Mr. Lonergan taking an interest in the conference and recognising that he is dealing with 18 year olds at the other end of the system. Something could be done for such children at the age of two, three, four or five years. They can be helped to deal with their problems.

Many concerns arise in relation to the granting of special care orders. In granting such an order, consideration must be given to the behaviour of the child and the availability of services. Given the current absence of continual child care and family support services, there is a real fear that children's behaviour may be defined in terms which allow only for the granting of the order so that the services which are needed can be accessed.

Orders will be granted for a period of six to 12 months. Children who are the subject of such orders will not be party to the proceedings and will have no automatic right to legal representation. It will be important to monitor the circumstances in which orders are granted and to ensure consistency among judges in this regard.

Special care orders shall cease to have effect at the age of 18 – the Bill deals with children between the ages of 12 and 18 years – but what additional supports will be put in place for children whose families receive them after that date? Will there be any intervention on behalf of or support for children after they reach that age or will there be a cut-off point? It is important that intervention and supervision should take place beyond 18 years of age.

A great deal of responsibility will be placed on the Garda Síochána. There is a need to provide additional resources so that members of the force can be trained in areas such as children's health and psychological development. If gardaí are to hand such children over to the health boards, there is a need to stipulate the time which should elapse between their being handed over and the arrangement of a family welfare conference.

The duration of the certificate of approval for the detention centre is to be three years. Does that mean inspections will occur only every three years? Given that most children will be detained for six to 12 months, more frequent inspections of units is warranted. In that context, there is a need to appoint further inspectors to make inspections more meaningful.

The diversion programme places what is known as the juvenile liaison scheme on a statutory footing and renames it. Such diversions may involve a caution – formal or informal – to the child and their being placed under the supervision of a juvenile liaison officer and convening a conference to be attended by the child, its family members and other concerned persons, including the victim. It is good that these children should be obliged to confront their victims. Children must take responsibility for their acts before being admitted to this scheme. However, what will happen if the director of the scheme refuses a child admission?

Juvenile liaison officers will have quite an amount of discretionary power as to whether to request a conference in respect of a child. Will these conferences be convened only where there is a perception they are likely to succeed? These are some of the potential flaws in the legislation and they must be highlighted. There is a need for an acknowledgement of the amount of time that is necessary to prepare for such conferences and one of the key elements of successful conferences is an independent co-ordinator. To increase the likelihood of successful conference outcomes, this consideration needs to be built into the programme.

I question the appointment of a juvenile officer as the convenor and, possibly, the chairperson of such conferences. A person who could be perceived to be more neutral would be more appropriate. In addition, juvenile liaison officers will require further training if they are to take on these extra roles. It is essential that the programme should be independently evaluated.

The provisions in the Bill are welcome for those of us who feel uncomfortable or who believe we are neglecting our duties as legislators by not taking action in respect of these children. An intervention would probably save these children's lives, set their families' minds at rest and, I hope, allow everyone to enjoy a better quality of life.

Successive media reports about St. Patrick's institution have recommended that it be closed because it is not a suitable place to detain children. The Bill provides that those between 16 and 18 years of age can be detained. Without evidence to the contrary, I must assume they will be detained in St. Patrick's. That is a shame. We must recognise that St. Patrick's is an old, outdated building which does not suit the purpose for which it is being used.

I hope the necessary resources will be provided to implement the varied and welcome provisions contained in the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Children Bill. As many speakers have already stated, this Bill has been long awaited but it will prove worth the wait. It has had the benefit of many additions in terms of research, experience and knowledge over the years from within the country and internationally.

When one focuses on the Bill's title – the Children Bill – one thinks of it in positive terms. When one hears words such as "offences", "compensation", "courts" and "care orders", one may change one's initial response and assume a negative approach is being taken to children. However, on further investigation, the Bill's positive message is that a child's place should be with its family and that children who come under its remit will be dealt with in terms of their rehabilitation.

The majority of children are good. This is borne out by my experience not only in life but also as a teacher. Sometimes the fact that such a majority of young people are good, fun-loving and decent is missed by the emphasis we place on those children who get into bother and attract headlines.

Today we are dealing with children who got into difficulty, who are in danger of getting into trouble or who have behavioural problems. The Bill balances the needs of children who have offended with the protection of individuals or society in general. Therefore, the Bill addresses two aspects on one issue – some people may refer to these as the "two victims"– the child and, the most obvious victim, the person whose rights they have impinged upon.

It is unfortunate that, for a number of reasons, a percentage of children are increasingly getting into trouble. In the past that may have meant a group stole apples from an orchard. Now, however, the traditional badness has escalated in severity. Not to be parochial but in an effort to provide a concrete and recent example of such behaviour, live entertainment was laid on in my home town three weeks ago which everyone enjoyed. However, more than 600 children – many of whom had not attained their teenage years – took over the town green and drank their carry-outs from 11 a.m. until such time as they were not able to drink any more. They became abusive and violent early in the day and, subsequently, some of them varied or alternated being sick with being very vocal.

The state of these children is a reflection of the extremes which obtain in modern society. While we hope this was very much a once-off incident, it is not a once-off in terms of what smaller groups of children are doing at night or at weekends. The people of our town wondered how these children were allowed to travel 20 miles on their own without adult supervision and how, when they returned home, their parents did not notice their state. For many of these children, it may have been their first time to drink alcohol. However, others among their number were more hardened to the activity in which they were engaged.

Unfortunately, the issue of under-age drinking is not merely a problem for the individual on a particular day. More importantly, long range consequences can arise for the people involved, particularly young girls, and for those with whom they come into contact. Both parties may be victims, but until now neither has had a chance of justice or support commensurate with what I trust is contained in the Bill. In conjunction with the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, which was recently published and will soon be introduced, this legislation will offer solutions to this problem. I commend the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the action he has taken on both fronts.

To return to the 600 children to whom I referred earlier, I am sure they come from different backgrounds. Many of their parents will not yet know their children are involved in anti-social behaviour. Others, while responsible parents, will realise their children are difficult or, for one reason or another, out of control but they will feel at a loss as to which way to turn. Others, however, will not worry that their children are out of control as they have no sense of responsibility for these young people. In all cases, the effect of the young people on victims is the same but the type of solution for the children varies.

The Bill raises the child's age of responsibility from seven to 12 years and provides that parents become more accountable for the actions of their children. They can be bound to exercise proper and adequate control over their child where the child has been found guilty of an offence. They can also be ordered to pay compensation if it is seen that there was wilful neglect on the part of the parents to look after and control the child. I am glad the compensation order takes into account the parents' ability to pay. All children want to be loved. Parents' wilful neglect will lead to a child seeking attention, usually through destructive means. Wilful neglect, therefore, often directly contributes to the child's behaviour and it is only right that the parents are reminded in this manner of their responsibilities as parents.

In the long run, this must be a significant step in developing the concept of the family. It is unfortunate that one almost has to coerce parents into a situation where they are made conscious of their children, the children's needs and, often, their mere existence. In some cases the carrot and stick approach employed in the Bill will work. In other cases the parents may not be in a position to help themselves. These are the people who truly need assistance. It is not good enough for society to point the finger, blame the parents and walk away. Help and support must be forthcoming.

I am pleased this reality is being dealt with in the Bill through the potential use of a parental supervision order should wilful neglect of a child be seen to lead the child to criminal behaviour. In this instance, parents can be ordered by the court to undergo a parenting course if they are deemed not to have adequate personal skills and resources to look after the child or, if the problem is one of substance abuse, they can be ordered to go for treatment of the abuse. In the current climate where the abuse of alcohol is almost a norm in society, this is an important development in the Bill. The Minister said this response would probably be suitable for only a minority of cases. I disagree and I trust adequate resources will be allocated to parenting courses and places on rehabilitation courses. Even moderate cases should be given the option of availing of support.

Too often parents are at a loss as to how to deal with their children. This can be due to the parents being young themselves. It can be due to medical, financial or social hardships and if the parents do not feel they have somebody to turn to when times got rough. They are unable to ask for help and the situation in the family gradually deteriorates until some member gets into trouble. While the Bill cannot be the answer to all ills, it must be resourced to address as many people as possible who, with a little intervention, could experience a dramatic improvement in their ability to cope.

If the Bill is to be effective, there must be a co-ordinated input from various Departments. The 600 plus children to whom I referred earlier felt the only excitement in which they could engage was drinking themselves to oblivion. It is a sad reflection on society that this is what such a large number of young people believe to be their only option. One must look at the facilities being provided for young people. Many responsible adults spend many hours helping young people to engage in music, sport and other forms of recreation. These allow children to express themselves and engage with others in a positive manner.

While I commend my constituency colleague, Deputy McDaid, on his work in the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, rural Ireland still has far to go with regard to the provision of proper facilities and resources. The concept of having one overall development that encompasses all groups in a town is a good approach. However, in many instances if there is no significant increase in the level of funding, many young people will be without adequate facilities for many years to come. Without decent resources, the adults who are trying to do their bit in the community are left with an uphill struggle. I call on the Minister, Deputy McDaid, to assist the objectives of this Bill and to ensure as many children as possible are given an alternative to the trouble into which idleness leads them. This approach is underlined in sections 30 to 50.

When a number of children gather in a threatening manner little can be done about it. However, there are measures in the Bill which could offer a victim support if the child is challenged by the law and brought to court. To let children have regular "free-for-alls" is only asking for trouble in the future. We need an appropriate number of law enforcers in towns to deal with the children who are usually known to the Garda and local community as troublemakers, for want of a better term. The number of gardaí must be worked out on the basis of not only the size of the town or village but also its proximity to larger towns and cities and its use as a social and recreational centre. There must also be garda visibility.

I note that responsibility for establishing a family conference relies on the groundwork of the JLO, the juvenile liaison officers responsible for the delivery of reports and the supervision of the child. This sounds great on a one to one basis but in Donegal there are three juvenile liaison officers to cover a huge county. Unless the Bill is accompanied by serious delivery of Garda personnel specifically trained and geared for this single issue, the Bill cannot be effective. Each Garda station needs a JLO or a garda with special responsibility for young people. The Minister will be anxious to create something that not only looks good on paper but is capable of being implemented. Too often we give lip service to the concept of nurturing the young to create a confident, competent and dynamic new generation. Now is the time to match these words with the resources they deserve to make them reality.

A number of parents do not worry about the whereabouts of their children. If these children have no constructive option as to how to spend their time and the law enforcers believe they are not sufficiently numerous to deal with those children when they become unruly, we are heading into anarchy. This scenario, while logical, might give the impression that all children are "Lord of the Flies" style evil but I do not believe that. However, the point must be made that everybody has a role to play in the positive development of young people.

There must be community support for families and the strength and discipline to back up the community when such support fails. Perhaps there is a role within the local authorities' new special policy committee structures to convene the community support in a practical manner, bringing together elected representatives, health boards, vocational education committees, the Garda Síochána, sporting and voluntary groups and young people to look at the role modelling or mentoring needs of future adults. Too often we omit that important group, the young people, when dealing with issues pertaining to them. This is a serious mistake.

The Department of Health and Children is not being allowed to deal properly with its brief. When we discuss issues such as underage drinking and its health and social effects, we are directed to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, not the Department of Health and Children. This is either an abdication of responsibility or a flaw in the system. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, which has carried out significant work on the issue of tobacco addiction and the targeting of young people by the tobacco industry. The committee should also be able to examine alcohol addiction and its effect on young people. I am pressing to have this matter prioritised in the committee's work programme but responsibility for it still rests with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I praise the role of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, particularly with regard to the recently published intoxicating liquor Bill. However, there should be a more direct link between the Department of Health and Children and the welfare of all children. That Department should strive to take real responsibility for the child's welfare and health. This responsibility currently falls between stools.

I welcome the establishment of the family welfare conferences on a statutory basis. This will enable health boards and other agencies to intervene at an early stage with regard to a child who requires special care and protection following a direction by the court and in other circumstances. The presence of the children at these conferences is a most important development. As the Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, said, we talk too often about children and on their behalf. Often the person with most to offer is the person most involved, the child. Similarly, the amendment of the Child Care Act, 1991, which imposes a duty on the health board to apply for a special or interim special care order to protect children is important. This will ensure children with behavioural difficulties who are not necessarily committing offences can get protection, care and education through the board's additional range of powers. I echo Deputy Ring's comment on the latter aspect. Children with behavioural difficulties need support within the educational sphere. County Donegal currently shares an educational psychologist with another county. The provision of one educational psychologist between two counties is inadequate and until there is increased provision in this area there will be difficulty in implementing this legislation.

I am pleased the first port of call is not detention. The majority of children are not so extreme as to need secure units. The Minister indicated that while the Bill will give the health boards the power to detain children on receipt of a court order, it is a measure of last resort and will be used only in the interest of the child.

Ultimately, prevention is better than cure and I trust the early intervention programme will be the most used of the measures. However, when children have committed offences, the environment in which they are detained should be such as to ensure that it is constructive and that children will develop in a positive manner. Too often we have images of young children who get into minor trouble finding themselves in an institution where they are taught more inventive ways of getting into trouble by more serious offenders. Surely this defeats the purpose of rehabilitation and will now be relegated to history.

I welcome the fact that the Department of Education and Science will have a role in the rehabilitation of 12 to 16 year olds. It may have been better to extend the provision to 18 year olds, given that 16 to 18 year olds are so often treated as adults for punishment but not for adult privileges. Section 67 changes from 17 to 18 years the age at which a person is regarded as a child. Will the Minister outline his views on this aspect?

I welcome the Bill. All children will react to something positive. The planned adult conference has great potential. I recently visited a school on adult literacy or world book day. Some of the children told me they were not interested in books, but when I produced a small book on Manchester United they were surprised and said they would read it. They asked me to leave it with them so they could take it home for the weekend. All children, good, bad and indifferent, are good at something. Approached with a proper plan even the worst child can be brought along and can be included more in society.

The Bill has at its core the importance not only of individual children, but also the parents. It pulls together support structures on an inter-agency basis. These include the child in their remit. These structures will work on behalf of all children and in the interests of individual children.

We all know that while all children are different they have many similar tendencies. They all want to be loved and they all need care and protection, whether they are special needs children, children with behavioural difficulties, children on the edge of the law or those who have broken the law. The Bill provides that the family conferences will make an early start at intervention, not in an attempt to condemn the family but to offer services and assistance to not only the child but to the family.

Even when the intervention of the courts is required, the Bill provides for continued efforts to be made to maintain family links and positive efforts to reintegrate and rehabilitate, and not to rely solely on detention. The Bill provides that a victim may attend the family conference. Section 26 provides for restorative measures, where the child confronts the effects of his or her behaviour in the presence of the victim and is given the opportunity to apologise and make reparation. The intentions here are very good and with proper resourcing and continued cross-departmental implementation, it will be a historic advance for children. I look forward to the day it encompasses my 600 children who were from outside the jurisdiction. I trust that at some stage these provisions will have an affect on my Border county and on all children who enter this jurisdiction.

I welcome the Bill. It has had a long gestation process. It was understandable that my colleague, Deputy Currie, made numerous requests about the publication of the Bill, because he was a pioneer in this area. When he published the Children Bill in 1996 the Minister, who was then his party's Opposition spokesperson on Justice, was very critical of it, despite the fact that this Bill does not appear to differ significantly from the original. It is worth reminding the House of what the Minister said at that time:

The Bill seeks to create the illusion of reform while maintaining thestatus quo. It represents a policy of acceptance and resignation rather than a vision for the future. It makes a clear statement that this is the best we can do. It is inadequate and its publication has been rushed to create a semblance of activity in an election year. A Government that is serious about juvenile justice would withdraw the Bill and acknowledge it for what it is – a shallow attempt at parliamentary scrabble to create the illusion of activity.

Some of the Minster's statements at that time were very irresponsible. I always attempt to be constructive about legislation and there are many good elements in the Bill, especially the provisions regarding juvenile liaison officers. Other speakers have referred to the lack of resources in this area, despite the buoyancy of the Celtic tiger, which appears to be creating many problems in the area of children and for the child welfare services.

I welcome the provisions that make child begging the responsibility of parents. There has been an increase in begging in all parts of the country, especially by the Romanians. Many come from the gypsy population of Romania and appear to resort to begging on a professional basis.

The provisions to put the Garda juvenile liaison officer on a sounder statutory footing and to enhance the profile of the service is very desirable. It will be used widely. In addition, the concept of the family welfare conference is well worthwhile. It refers in many instances to the victimes of crime and allows them to appear in a conference situation to point out to the children at first hand the error of their ways.

On the question of the delay in publishing the Bill, Shakespeare's words "procrastination is the thief of time" is apt. There is a crisis in the child welfare service largely because of antiquated legislation. Legislation is improving and this Bill and the Education (Welfare) Bill, dealing with truancy, are good examples. It is farcical that a young person should get a custodial sentence for truancy. Legislation is required to improve that. It is not a long-term solution to the welfare of young people to send them to prison for that because, given the difficulties with the prison system, they may end up with hardened criminals.

The child care industry will absorb huge resources in the future. At a recent health board conference, I had the benefit of listening to a professional in the child care service, Ger Crowley, who works with the Mid-Western Health Board. People who work in this area operate in a difficult environment, especially in the health services, because of the cases reported to them with which they must deal. The delicacy of the situation and the sensitivity of the work they do was brought home forcefully to me by the changes which have taken place in society recently. These changes are the result of people breaking the shame barrier and exposing some of the deficiencies of institutions in the past and the media driving this agenda forcefully. Those who work in the service must now accept huge responsibilities because of the sensitivity of what they do.

There is a serious lack of manpower in the service at present. Even before the Bill was published, it was recognised that 90 additional probation and welfare staff were required. The Probation and Welfare Service had to go on strike in May 1999 to get the Government to agree to provide the staff. Some 90 additional officers are required and 42 posts were approved last year, yet I understand only one post has been filled, although I stand to be corrected on that if I am wrong. An additional 91 staff are required to complement the existing 63.

We as legislators have often passed legislation without putting in place the staff or finance to make it work. There is no point demanding legislation if we are not prepared to provide the staff to work it. Legislation alone will not solve the problem. It is of paramount importance that recruitment take place at an early stage to the Probation and Welfare Service and that it does not wait until the Bill is passed. The legislation will place greater responsibility on the service and on professionals in the health service involved in the care of children so it is imperative we provide staff now. I hope there is a commitment to do that. It is desirable and worthwhile that the diversion programme is being placed on a statutory footing and I look forward to developments in that area.

We have all seen or read about how Ireland is progressing as an economy, yet in the past ten years, increasing numbers of people have been placed in care, either with foster parents or in residential institutions. That is not symptomatic of a progressive economy but of the malaise which exists. There has been a huge increase in the number of cases reported to the different health board services. The statistics are interesting. It is recognised by professionals that, in many instances, cases of physical and sexual abuse are not reported to the health boards. I examined the number of child abuse cases reported in 1998. Of these, 1,970 were physical, 2,388 were sexual, 884 were emotional and 4,407 were neglect. It has been proved statistically that, within that cohort of figures, many come under the lone parent category.

An expert recently described us as evolving into a latchkey society with more people, especially wives, going out to work because of the buoyant economy and children coming home in the afternoon, eating fast food dinners and not having anyone to talk to or counsel them. Will this manner in which society is evolving and the direction in which it is moving create within its slipstream disaffected young people? I am concerned about what is evolving in that regard.

In percentage terms, neglect accounts for 46%, physical for 20%, sexual for 25% and emotional for 9% of reported child abuse cases. Those are intimidating figures. In 1988, which is not that long ago, 2,614 young people were in care. In 1998, despite our having advanced and despite all the talk about the Celtic tiger and the buoyancy of the economy, the number of people in care had increased to almost 4,000. That is a 52% increase in ten years. That encapsulates the intimidating situation we face in caring for vulnerable young people in future.

The education system often impacts on vulnerable young people. While we are all delighted when a remedial teacher is appointed to four or five schools, we know it is farcical because we are not truly addressing the problems. We have only recently come to grips with attention deficit disorder and young people who suffer from it have often ended up involved in criminal activity. This is often due to neglect and the disorder not being identified. People who suffered from dyslexia were punished in many cases because the problem was not recognised. We should examine these matters, even, it is only within the remedial service, to see if we are pinpointing problems.

How can 25% of the adults in this country, which is probably recognised as one of the most progressive in the OECD in economic terms, have literacy problems? That is a shocking indictment of the system. If the hard core of unemployed which remains is analysed, it will be seen that many of them suffer from illiteracy. Such people are placed on FÁS training programmes to remove them from the live register. If a training programme were put in place to give such people basic literacy skills and they were paid for the period of the course, it might do more long-term good for the their job prospects than what prevails at present. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is trying to reduce the numbers on community employment programmes because she believes many of them are on the programmes year after year. However, if people leave CE after a maximum of three years or whatever, in most cases they will revert to being unemployed. I know I have digressed in discussing the adult situation in what is a Bill dealing with children, but they all have a bearing on the difficulties which exist.

This is worthwhile legislation but it will succeed only if the required manpower resources are provided. There is a major problem with recruiting sufficient numbers of people to adequately staff and manage the intent of the legislation. I hope the powers that be will be forthcoming in providing the resources required to fully implement the legislation.

Debate adjourned.