Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 Instruction to Committee: Motion (Resumed)

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Francis Fitzgerald):
That, pursuant to Standing Order 131, it be an instruction to the Committee to which the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 may be recommitted in respect of certain amendments, that it has power to make provision in the Bill to amend Part 7A of the Health Act 2004 to provide for the powers under that Act to require the Health Service Executive to furnish, in the public interest, information and documents to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and consequent amendments to the Long Title to reflect the content of the Bill and to section 1 to amend the citations as required.

I thank the Deputies for their support for the motion to give the Department the legal right to request and receive information and documents from the HSE. That is important in the context of the establishing the Department. I also thank Members for supporting motion because it allows us to proceed to discuss the four relevant amendments.

Deputy Ó Caoláin quoted some of the advice I have received. As he will be aware, it states that section 45 is legally sound and it allows for the provision of aftercare, which is not discretionary. The HSE has an obligation to provide such care where there is a need for assistance. I have emphasised the importance of this in my contacts with the executive. I agree with him that the provision of an aftercare service is a vital element in seeking to achieve positive outcomes for young people leaving care.

I am determined to oversee the successful development of a national aftercare service. That is being reflected in the national aftercare policy being developed by the HSE. It is being developed in association with key stakeholders, including Focus Ireland, which was mentioned by Deputy McGrath, the voluntary sector and other interested groups. I accept there is a need to develop policy but we will have a national aftercare service. It will be formalised, as we need more consistent practice around the country in this regard. When they leave care, their needs do not end in a similar manner to children in ordinary families. When a child reaches the age of 18, there is not an immediate cut off. Every family knows that and it is no different for young people who have been in care. They need support and help, which varies from person to person.

There is an aftercare implementation group within the HSE, which includes a representative of EPIC, the organisation that works with young people who have been in care. Its experience is invaluable in informing the group's work, as it decides on what support services are needed. It is important to recognise that ten additional aftercare worker posts are being filled and their contracts will reflect a need for flexible working hours. This additional resource will, hopefully, make a difference as we seek to roll out a national after service. The HSE has been informed that the provision of such services is not discretionary. If a discretionary approach is adopted in some areas, the clear legal advice is the provision of aftercare under section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 provides that where there is a need for assistance, such services should be provided.

I acknowledge there are resource implications for all the services the HSE provides. All State services are subject to resource availability but, clearly, the State has an obligation to young people who have been in care to provide ongoing support when they leave care. I will ask the HSE to carefully monitor the implementation of the provision. I am intent on ensuring there is a much improved aftercare service. There is much greater understanding now about the need for such a service and that is in no small part due to the work of the young people who have been in care and who are involved in EPIC and other organisations. They were willing to come forward and speak about their experiences in care and call for and demand such a service. They have created a debate on the need for aftercare that has received more and more attention. They are getting a response now from the statutory services that was not the case previously.

I note that in the North more detailed regulations on aftercare have been built into statute. That is something I wish to examine to see whether there is a need to have further legislation on aftercare. The advice currently is that section 45 of the Child Care Act does imply the statutory right to aftercare where an assessment of need has been made. However, I wish to examine that. We are talking about people who are more than 18 years of age so we are dealing with adults. In terms of legislation there are different requirements than under child care legislation such as we are discussing today. I hope Deputy Ó Caoláin understands that.

Question put and agreed to.