Priority Questions

Commissions of Inquiry

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

1 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will establish a State commission to inquire into child protection practices in church dioceses in order to give a voice to the victims of child abuse that the church and State failed over the years in order to deal with the issue comprehensively and provide closure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40762/11]

The HSE, which has statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection, has been conducting a national audit of all Catholic dioceses and religious orders. It expects to be in a position in the spring of 2012 to furnish a report to me on the diocesan element of this audit. I have stated that the need for follow-up action will be informed by the findings of the national audit. It is my intention to publish the HSE's report when I receive it.

The HSE's national director for children and family services, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, is also at my request engaging directly with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church on a programme of action designed to ensure that the Catholic Church is responding properly and comprehensively to all child protection concerns, and that it has in place the necessary safeguarding structures and practices to fully protect children who come into contact with the church.

As Deputies will be aware, as a Government, we are committed to strengthening the arrangements for the reporting of concerns of abuse by putting the Children First national guidance on a statutory basis. The necessary legislation is being worked on by my Department as a priority. This legislation will not only bring forward statutory requirements on organisations and individuals to report, but I believe it will also support all of civil society in understanding what to do when they have concerns about a child. The roll-out of Children First will require all sectors and organisations working with children, including the faith sector, to put in place and demonstrate that they have robust safeguarding arrangements. I very much welcome the work undertaken to date by the national board to strengthen child protection practices in the Catholic Church in line with this objective.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

We must also recognise that child abuse takes many forms and occurs in many settings. Anyone with child abuse concerns or information should not hesitate to come forward and assist the HSE and An Garda Síochána in their respective roles in carrying out their work to protect children.

Reports such as those published over the last number of years by various State-commissioned inquiries in respect of the dioceses of Ferns, Cloyne, Dublin and the report of the Ryan commission serve to remind us all that the abuse of a child is a crime which is to be abhorred and that those involved must be subject to the full rigour of the law. I fully recognise that these inquiries have provided an important opportunity for victims to have their voices heard and for the dreadful crimes committed against them to be exposed publicly.

Due to the number of clerics against whom complaints and allegations were made, in certain instances for practical purposes it has been necessary to investigate a representative sample of cases. In Dublin a representative sample of 46 priests were investigated out of a total number of 102 falling within the commission's remit. In addition, other priests or religious against whom allegations were made may have fallen outside the time period covered by a statutory inquiry or, while operating in the relevant geographic area, may not have been working on behalf of the diocese concerned. Therefore, while the investigations conducted to date have shed light on the abuse perpetrated on many victims, for practical purposes they cannot relate the individual suffering of all of those who were abused, even in the three dioceses already examined.

I want to acknowledge those victims of clerical abuse who have shown great courage in coming forward to the authorities and thereby helped to expose a culture of secrecy that was endemic within some church dioceses and religious orders. I recognise this has been a very painful experience for many individuals who have had to battle to have their experiences heard and believed, and to have their suffering recognised. We must ensure that victims are supported in these circumstances. In this context, the HSE's national counselling service provides services to adult victims of past abuse and their families. The national counselling service is a professional, confidential counselling and psychotherapy service available free of charge in all regions of the Health Service Executive. Since 2000, the national counselling service has received over 20,000 referrals. The client group of the national counselling service includes adults who have experienced trauma and abuse in childhood, with priority given to adult survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland.

The HSE's audit will provide a comprehensive picture of current practice across all dioceses and will provide an overview of the handling of allegations up to November 2011. Taken with the work already completed, it will provide a fuller basis on which to determine the most appropriate next steps and will inform the Government's decisions in regard to this matter.

I thank the Minister for her response on this matter. The six reports published by the National Board for Safeguarding Children two weeks ago outlined once again the abuse that many children had to suffer in this country in recent years. In regard to the six dioceses, that abuse was within the Catholic Church. The national board's report and work is commendable and welcome in the sense that it is ensuring that practices within the church at present are what they should be, identifying that the proper procedure and practice is in place and making recommendations to ensure that, where there are still some weaknesses, they are remedied immediately.

That board carries out its particular purpose. However, it does not go back over the failures of the church over the years, nor, indeed, does it take into account or examine how the State would have failed those victims at the same time. For those——

A question, please.

For those victims who were failed and let down by both the church and the State, whenever the abuse took place, it is critical that their voices are heard and that they can be given closure by an assessment of how they were let down at the time, so that this can be properly examined. The Minister's response to the publication of the six reports, of which the Raphoe report particularly stood out in terms of the practices that took place there, has been too vague and too weak.

I call on the Minister to reply.

I urge the Minister to consider setting up a commission which will, from the State's point of view, look into what happened and how the State failed those children, as they were at the time, and allow their voice to be heard, so we are not failing them once again.

I appreciate the fact the recent publication of the six diocesan reviews has served as a very painful reminder to many victims of the abuse and cover-ups they suffered. However, in responding to the publication of these reviews, it is my view that it would be rash and ill-considered to immediately establish a new commission of inquiry, as the Deputy suggests, when we know an audit of all 24 dioceses is imminent, which will undoubtedly inform us how better to proceed. While I am not ruling out further investigations, I would make the point that, here in Ireland, 1,000 victims have told their story very poignantly to the confidential committee of the Ryan report, the most extensive listening exercise done within Europe, I would suggest, in regard to victims of abuse. That has been very important. I believe there is scope in the church and elsewhere to consider further how the experiences and the voices of victims can be heard, as they should be heard.

I acknowledge the great courage that victims of clerical abuse have shown in coming forward. If the Deputy's Government had published the reports and the audit, when it was done, the current audit which the HSE has done would have been available and up to date. It is delayed until the spring because it is important, when the report is published, that it gives an accurate, up-to-date picture, not an historical picture, of what the current situation is in regard to the audit of dioceses. For that reason, the HSE will extend its report to the spring to ensure it is not just an historical report but an up-to-date report. When I receive that, we will have a comprehensive picture of all of the dioceses. I will also be receiving, I hope, the work of other dioceses. The publication of reports on dioceses should not stop merely with the six dioceses; it should be comprehensive.

We will deal with the HSE in a further question coming down the line. In fact, we have been waiting for that for six years.

However, I disagree entirely with the Minister that we should be waiting any longer and that those victims, who were abused and who were outlined in the reports we received in the past few weeks, should have to wait. The public, members of the church and, in particular, victims are tired of this drip feed of reports. We need a comprehensive way that will deal with it, once and for all. That demands nothing less than a State commission which can, from the State's point of view, assess where these victims were failed.

I thank Deputy McConalogue.

In particular, the report on Raphoe shows how victims were failed in the past. Those people should not have to wait for other reports on which we have been waiting already for years. It demands immediate action.

I call the Minister to reply.

I ask that the Minister set up a commission which can deal with and take on board the HSE audit when it comes out and also further reports from the national board.

I call on the Minister to reply.

I do not consider that an appropriate response to what is happening at present. It is important to realise that there have been quite a number of investigations. There have been the Cloyne report, the Murphy report and other reports. There has been a series of four reports. There have been the 1,000 victims who had their cases heard. It is important for me to point out to the House that, due to the number of clerics against whom complaints and allegations were made, in certain instances, for practical purposes, it has been necessary to investigate a representative sample of cases. In Dublin, for example, a representative sample of 46 priests were investigated out of a total of 102 falling within the commission's remit. Other allegations may have fallen outside the time period. While the investigations conducted to date have shed light on the abuse perpetrated on many victims, for practical purposes they cannot relate to the individual suffering of all those who were abused, even in those dioceses already examined. That is a point that Deputy McConalogue must take on board and understand. I think the public understands that.

We must look at other methods as well. While I am not ruling out that in some circumstances a commission of investigation may be necessary when the cross-referencing is done and when the HSE report comes out, it is important, as I stated, that, for example, the church and indeed the safe-guarding board could examine some of the material gathered which may address some of the points Deputy McConalogue raises. I intend to have further discussions. I have invited Mr. Ian Elliott and Mr. Gordon Jeyes to discuss with me these points to see how we might take further action to ensure victims' needs are further addressed. The church could also examine what it might do to meet the needs Deputy McConalogue outlined.

Children in Care

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

2 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the recommendations set out in the most recent Health Information Quality Authority report of the Gleann Álainn Special Care Unit, County Cork; if she will publish an implementation plan for these recommendations; and the timeframe during which each of these recommendations will be fulfilled. [40760/11]

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

4 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans for providing special care services for vulnerable children within the State in view of recent Health Information Quality Authority reports into the Gleann Álainn Special Care Unit and previous HIQA reports into Coovagh House and Ballydowd Special Care units; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40763/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 4 together.

Young people in all care settings are deserving of the highest standard of care. Regrettably, this was not the case in Gleann Álainn. In view of the serious nature of the report, I have written to Mr. Gordon Jeyes, National Director of Children and Family Services, HSE, underlining my concerns as to the report's findings and asking him for details of the actions being taken immediately to ensure the standard of care in Gleann Álainn is improved to a safe and acceptable level in line with HIQA's recommendations.

I thank HIQA for its report. It was an unannounced inspection. I am very disturbed by the findings within the report. I have been informed that a range of measures are being taken to address the issues of concern highlighted by the inspection. An action plan has been developed to ensure that all issues identified are addressed. The Deputies will be pleased to hear that progress on the action plan is being measured on a daily basis and reported on fortnightly. Pending evidence of improvement in line with the action plan, the HSE has decided there will be no further admissions to Gleann Álainn. In addition, the HSE, at national level, is taking steps to improve overall management and governance of the special care unit and the high support services. This includes the important appointment, in recent months, of a national manager for the service. The HSE has also undertaken a review of the current model of care with reference to international best practice and the findings of this review will inform decisions on the future configuration of these services.

HIQA has indicated that it will carry out another full inspection of Gleann Álainn in January 2012. Progress on implementing the recommendations made will be assessed at that time and HIQA's findings will be communicated immediately to me. In fact, I have invited HIQA to come in as soon as that inspection has been completed to discuss with me the findings of the report following its return to Gleann Álainn in January. The ongoing work by HIQA is important in ensuring the provision of a high standard of care across the special care sector.

The HSE has a four-year plan to develop the national special care service. In January 2011, for the first time, the service came under a national director. From January 2012, there will be 20 places available nationally, with an additional 14 places to be added within the next period, bringing the total number to 34 places. The new places will be on the same campus as the two high support units — Monaghan and north Dublin. This plan will enable children detained in special care to move from a special care unit to a high support unit.

We have not really had such services and this is what is needed. If children are in special care, which is a particular sort of situation where their liberty is taken from them and where they need high support services, what is really important is that they are able to move on from those services to high support units and be reintegrated back into the community. That, certainly, is the plan in the future.

As the two questions are being taken together, I presume the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is giving the additional time, including for the Minister.

The Minister's response was important and I hope we are not missing out on some of the detail.

I very much welcome the fact HIQA carried out this unannounced inspection in October last. I lay emphasis on the word "unannounced" because that is critical if we are to have the degree of oversight that is necessary to establish best standards and best practice in all situations.

I was disappointed with the HSE response which, in an effort to make excuses, stated that temporary management arrangements were place and that this had contributed to the situation in Gleann Álainn — an unfortunately named place in this situation. One must remember that the HIQA inspection was carried out within a week of reports being received on two of the residents having absconded having secured keys that belonged to one of the support staff. If that was a single incident, one might be able to wear the notion of temporary management arrangements, but there were 25 recorded incidents in the year preceding the inspection in October and a similar incident to that which gave rise to this unannounced inspection in October had taken place in September 2008. Had we temporary management arrangements in place then too? When does temporary management become an excuse? It is no excuse and no excuses are acceptable in this situation.

This is a facility that caters for up to seven girls. It is critical that we get it right in the interest of those girls who find themselves in this situation.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin.

In my question, I asked particularly if the Minister will publish an implementation plan. That is critically important. It is not only about the issues highlighted by HIQA and that there have been repeat abscondments. There are also reports that some of the girls in the facility fear others because of bullying and intimidation. The capacity to contend with difficult circumstances that present themselves will vary. At all times, we must be able to ensure that children in such circumstances can live without fear of any kind. I am particularly interested to know the Minister's plans and whether she will publish them.

I can only agree with most of the Deputy's points. What happened is unacceptable, as is the standard of management in the unit. However, the report found evidence of good relationships and warmth between the staff and children. The children told inspectors that their being placed in the unit was of benefit to them. They stated they had built positive relationships with individual members of the staff team. While we should not lose sight of that, we should certainly not underestimate in any way the seriousness of what has happened and the need to address it.

I have a lot of detail on the actions that are being taken to improve circumstances, including allowing for more immediate access to a psychologist for the children; very detailed management actions; new management in the centre; much more national oversight; the assignment of a senior manager to undertake the role of quality improvement and an implementation manager; reducing the number of young people being placed in the centre; and an independent review to investigate the incident with the keys and the absconding of the young people. Very detailed oversight is sought at present, which is absolutely correct.

If it helps the Deputy regarding the implementation plan, I will send him a detailed note on what is happening. When I receive the report from HIQA in January, I will be very happy to share it with the Deputies.

Unfortunately, the events in the report by HIQA into Gleann Álainn are not isolated. The report is consistent with other HIQA reports into the State's other two special care units. Just last week, HIQA published the report on Gleann Álainn finding it in a state of crisis. HIQA declared Ballydowd special care unit unfit for purpose in 2009. The HSE committed to closing it down, yet it remains open due to the increase in the number of children requiring access to special care units over the past year. HIQA found that Coovagh House in Limerick was in a state of crisis. What is the position in the State's special care units? The position is stark and, unfortunately, is a very poor reflection on how the State is dealing with vulnerable children. The record has not been good.

As a result of the passage of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill earlier this year, it is likely that pressures on the special care units and the number of people needing to access them will increase. Has there been an assessment by the Department of the likely increase in numbers? While I totally understand the need to be able to move on to high support units, I believe there will always be, unfortunately, a requirement for strong special care units and an effective service. Does the Minister intend to continue sending children abroad to gain access to special care units and services? How many children will be in this category in the coming year? It is not acceptable.

It is unfortunate that the previous Government neglected special care. There is a great deal of work to be done to address the deficits I have inherited; that is the reality. I am determined to address the deficits, however, because the needy group of young people in question deserves the very best the State can offer.

A recommendation was made to close the unit in Ballydowd. I visited the unit and the decision was reversed. Considerable improvements have been made in the unit, which currently has nine children. HIQA has inspected it recently and this will result in many improvements and good standards.

Gleann Álainn has five children. Therefore, 14 children are in the care of the State. That is the maximum number of places at present. We need approximately 34 places. There will be another five when Coovagh House reopens in January 2012. While there should not be a waiting list for special care, there is. This cannot be dealt with overnight.

A number of children are abroad in care placements. The number supplied to the Deputy previously, 31, is incorrect. The correct number, which I gave to the Deputy, was 15. This has risen to 17. Of those, eight are in a secure care placement under court order. The rest are in need of care.

The shortage of places in Ireland must be addressed, and I have outlined how this will be done. Some of the children in question require very specialist placement. We simply do not have the sorts of therapeutic inpatient units that some of the children need given their range of sexual, behavioural and developmental problems. This is being dealt with.

It is reported that many of the children are doing extremely well in their placements. Eight of the 17 children abroad are in secure care placements and the others are in care placements. The total is 17, not 31. There are 14 places in Ireland at present but there is a need for approximately 34. An assessment has been carried out and there is a national plan to move towards 34 places. I am working on that and will be paying special attention to ensuring we have those places for children in Ireland. There will probably be a need for some placements in the near future for children with very specialist needs whom we simply do not have the resources to cater for.

Unfortunately, over the past ten years of the Celtic tiger, inpatient facilities were not made available for young people with mental health difficulties. They should have been. We are witnessing the deficit in this area and it affects children negatively.

May I ask another question on this important matter?

We have greatly exceeded the time allowed.

If the Deputy would like to communicate with me on the matter, I will respond to him.

Foster Care

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

3 Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she is satisfied that there are adequate resources to implement the recommendations in the reports on Health Service Executive fostering services for HSE Dublin north central area to ensure the children in foster care are receiving the best protection. [40765/11]

In March 2011, the social services inspectorate of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, carried out an announced follow-up inspection of the foster care service provided by the Health Service Executive, HSE, in the Dublin North-Central local health area. The inspection was carried out under section 69(2) of the Child Care Act 1991 and was done to assess progress in implementing the recommendations of the full original inspection report, which was published by HIQA in July 2010. The findings of the first inspection identified significant shortcomings in the HSE's compliance with national standards and regulations pertaining to foster care services, and a series of local and national recommendations was made by the authority. In 2010, the HSE provided HIQA with an action plan against the local recommendations that related to the Dublin north-central area.

A follow-up inspection found that good progress had been made in the implementation of most of the recommendations in the original inspection report. The positive changes that had taken place included an increase in the number of social worker posts in the area, a reduction in the number of unallocated cases and improved local systems of gathering and maintaining information and care records. Seventeen new social worker posts had been allocated and all of the posts were filled. The inspection found that the provision of supervision to social workers had improved. Other positive changes were related to improved governance of this service and the considerable efforts to ensure social workers carried out their duties in accordance with foster care standards and regulations. However there continued to be children in foster care and foster carers in the area who did not have an assigned social worker. Delays in the assessment and approval of relative foster carers continued, and the Children First guidelines were not being complied with totally. These findings were of particular concern.

However, the HSE is working to address the deficits in Dublin central. The 17 additional social worker posts that have been filled will help us to complete the assessments that are outstanding. Further work must be done to ensure all children in foster care are assessed and have a foster care plan. The HSE will be closely monitoring this work at local and national level and will report back to my Department on it.

Children deserve to be protected in an environment where they feel wanted, secure and comfortable. Such an environment is not available to many children in the north inner city because of the area's drugs problems. Some of them have seen their parents die, sometimes through suicide, or continue in addiction. Many of them are being cared for by their grandparents, who have taken them in with an heart and a half despite the additional strains involved. I accept the Minister's assurances on the overall report but these grandparents need support.

I acknowledge the tireless efforts of family support workers, many of whom come from the area. If the supports are not provided now there will be an increase in the numbers of children looking for places in Ballydowd or additional services when they reach adulthood. What exactly is being done to address the issue, other than the 17 additional posts? What can be done for these grandparents?

The deficiencies in the system are being addressed. We are increasing the number of cases assigned social workers beyond the 88% of cases identified in the report. The assessments are ongoing. Clearly the level of family support required cannot be determined without assessments. If the Deputy wishes to bring individual cases to my attention or discuss them directly with the local HSE office, I will be happy to facilitate her. We are funding a range of family support services at the voluntary and statutory level to provide the supports these families require.

An audit of alternative care services is being finalised at national level. This will provide valuable information about the demand for alternative care services. I pay tribute to foster parents. We are fortunate that the vast majority of the 6,000 children in care are being looked after by experienced and caring foster parents. Sometimes we forget about the good work being done when we receive reports that highlight deficiencies. I also acknowledge the work being done by children's extended families.

My concern is for those who have not yet been approached. Perhaps they will all be approved. I have been involved in the young people's facilities and services fund since its establishment in the late 1990s and I chaired the group for the north inner city. It does great work for the capital money it receives. I welcome the provision of a small grants fund this year. This funding went a long way in the north inner city.

In view of the impact of drugs, would the Minister consider engaging more directly with the existing structures of the national drugs strategy?

My Department funds a number of projects targeted at families with drug issues. That will continue in the coming year. I am reforming the funding provision for youth groups to allow greater flexibility in grant applications.

Question No. 4 answered with Question No. 2.

Departmental Expenditure

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

5 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has prepared an impact assessment of budgetary cutbacks on the establishment of the proposed child and family support agency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40761/11]

The Government has completed and published the results of a detailed comprehensive review of expenditure. This review examined all areas of Government expenditure in order to meet the Government's overall fiscal consolidation objectives and realign spending with the priorities set out in the programme for Government. Central to the review process has been the need to consider new ways of achieving Government objectives in the context of public sector reform.

My Department participated fully in this review process, which involved detailed analysis of all areas of relevant expenditure, identification of additional costs associated with programme for Government commitments and other spending pressures and the formulation of options for savings. Detailed interactions took place with relevant agencies, including the HSE and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

My Department's input to the comprehensive review of expenditure process was fully aligned with the Government's reform objectives for children's services and encompassed the child protection and welfare services currently operated by the HSE which are going to transfer to the new agency. In addition, the Government's public service reform announcements on 17 November signalled my decision to merge the Family Support Agency into the child and family support agency following the latter's establishment. This is consistent with the approach taken by my Department in the process of considering more effective ways to use resources to achieve the Government's key objective to improve services for children and families.

Last week, I announced a dedicated new budget subhead which was established for the first time in the HSEVote in preparation for the planned establishment of the child and family support agency. Provision of €568 million has been made for 2012. Traditionally the budget for children has been underestimated. It is important that we do due diligence to ensure the money earmarked for child and family support services are covered by the new subhead. A process is currently underway in conjunction with the HSE to review and refine the detailed components of this subhead.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The provision for the first time of a dedicated budget for children and families within the HSE Vote will pave the way for the establishment of the new Agency in 2013. This dedicated budget will be managed by the national director of children and family services and his staff in support of the process of operational improvement in child protection and welfare services which he is leading. Central to this reform is the delivery of transparent and accountable management and budgeting.

The Government's reform of child welfare and protection services is also being assisted by the task force on the child and family support agency which I established in September. The task force, which has considerable expertise, met for the eighth time earlier this week and also has a number of sub-groups undertaking particular aspects of its work. The task force is chaired by Ms Maureen Lynott and it also includes the national director of children and family services, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, and the Secretary General of my Department.

I am satisfied that the recent budgetary decisions, while taking place in a context of huge pressure on the public finances, have been fully informed by the Government's commitment to the establishment of the child and family support agency. The establishment of the new agency is part of a wider change agenda aimed at strengthening the organisational capacity, business processes and systems necessary to deliver safe and reliable child protection services. This change agenda is necessary in order utilise resources to their fullest to promote better outcomes for children and achieve Government objectives for the improvement of the child protection system. I believe, in time, this will constitute an important and demonstrable example for the public of the benefits of public service reform.

I agree with the Minister that the inclusion of the new sub-head is a positive development. She spoke about her full participation in the review process. Did she have an opportunity to discuss the impact of cuts directly with the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform? Was an analysis conducted into the curtailments that may result?

In regard to the 2% cut in the areas of mental health, disability and children's services, a footnote to the document presented by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform projected the so-called savings of €50 million. I have tabled a parliamentary question on this issue and I understand that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, may not be in a position to address the matter today. What impact will this cut have on children's services and her Department? The projected savings are not broken down according to the categories.

Every Department faced a difficult budgetary outlook. No Department was exempt. What I and my Department had to do was to examine the various spending areas. The saving to which the Deputy referred is across a range of areas and is part of the reform programme, including various budgetary controls that have been established. It relates to a number of areas, which I can correspond with the Deputy on.

I had to be clear about the areas I wanted to protect. For example, there was a requirement for an extra €12 million in the area of early childhood care and education alone in order to meet the increased number of three and four year olds participating. I was pleased that I was able to protect that service. For other services, I will have to examine the possibility of reforming how they are delivered. I have already mentioned the budget for the youth sector; I am introducing reforms in this area which I believe will create efficiencies among organisations. In addition, I will be asking a range of organisations to examine how they spend their money, to carry out due diligence on their spending and to consider how they can deliver services in a more efficient way, including by working together and perhaps sharing services. We have seen that this is beginning to happen in other areas; for example, in the early childhood area, two major organisations have come together and are working effectively as a unit. We will certainly see more of that.

To answer the Deputy's question, I took a careful approach to the budget decisions. I wanted to ensure that priority areas were protected within the budgets over which I had control, and I believe we have achieved that. I would prefer not to have to make any of these decisions but, unfortunately, the national financial and economic situation demands it.

Could the Minister give us an update on the establishment of the child and family support agency, including a timeframe? When does she expect to see the agency in situ? I know from cases presenting at my office — I am sure other Deputies have had the same experience — that the budgetary cutbacks will have negative effects, particularly on families, which will result as it sadly often does in friction, disruption and the break-up of families in many cases. Often, the result of this is young adolescent displacement, which can result in more homelessness and an increase in the number of young people seeking State care services. If the Minister does not have the exact figures, could she give us an indication of the number of children who were placed in care because their families were experiencing financial difficulties? We have talked about this before. It is a particular situation as against other issues that contribute to children needing State care. I am asking about children seeking State care as a direct consequence of their families’ financial difficulties. That is, more and more, the reality we are in, and such children will present in ever-increasing numbers in the future.

To answer the Deputy's question about the establishment of the new agency, January 2013 is the indicative date at this stage, assuming we are in a position, during the course of 2012, to disaggregate from the HSE and pass the legislation to establish the new agency.

With regard to children coming into the care system due to financial pressures on their families, it is hard to separate out one factor such as that. The main reason children are coming into care, from the information available to me, is neglect. Very high numbers of young children are coming into State care because of such situations. My information is that alcohol and drug abuse are behind many of these cases, and these are among the key factors that lead to young people coming into care. It is difficult to disaggregate precisely the impact of the financial pressures on families as a specific reason for children coming into care, but undoubtedly, financial difficulties place extra stress on families. We have a range of family support services and it is the intention, and the practice, to ensure by any means we can that children stay out of care. That must be the priority in our approach.