Other Questions

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

111. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the details of all homes and institutions that were excluded from the proposed inquiry into mother and baby homes, including the Magdalen laundries and Westbank; the grounds on which these were excluded; the measures being put in place to ensure survivors of these excluded institutions, now all in their senior years, will be heard, acknowledged and entitled to redress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2199/15]

We have moved on to Other Questions and I ask Deputies to watch the clock.

I tabled my priority question as part of the lottery system and, strange to relate, have been seeking the first position for a long time and here we are.

Is the Deputy complaining?

It allows me the opportunity to once again address the issues we addressed during the priority question moment and the focus is again, of course, on those entities and people - that is what this is about - who consider they are currently excluded from the terms of reference for the upcoming work of the commission of investigation. I would like to explore this issue further with the Minister.

The proposed terms of reference for the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters were announced on Friday, 9 January 2015. Since the announcement, there has been a general acknowledgement of the comprehensive scope of the proposed investigative framework which reflects the range of matters the Government was asked to consider by the House and is a fair and balanced response to the many requests for related issues to be included.

During the course of consultations with those most centrally affected by these issues and political colleagues across the spectrum a clear consensus emerged on the need to thoroughly examine the experiences of those who had spent time in mother and baby homes. These institutions have not been the central focus of previous statutory investigations. The approach taken, therefore, places a deliberate emphasis on the experiences of women and children who spent time in mother and baby homes in the period 1922 to 1998. Accordingly, the terms of reference focus on institutions which can be identified as having both the primary function of providing sheltered and supervised ante and post-natal facilities for single mothers and their children and an ethos which those running the institutions considered to promote a regime of work, training or education as part of an overall approach to either rehabilitating single mothers before they left the institution or giving them training to live independently. The commission will also investigate a representative sample of those county homes which had a considerable focus on these services.

On the basis of the information available, I am satisfied that the institutions included in Schedule 1 to the draft order meet the above-mentioned criteria, whereas the institutions referred to by the Deputy do not as they did not provide this specific range of services. However, it is not accurate to describe these institutions as being excluded from the commission's work. The commission is tasked with examining the extent to which other institutions were part of the entry or exit pathways for single mothers and children entering or leaving these mother and baby homes. It is certainly open to it to give consideration to the role of the institutions referred to by the Deputy as part of the pathways and, in particular, the practices and procedures for the placement of children outside mother and baby homes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This will be a significant strand of its investigations. The issues to be examined in the social history module also explicitly cite adoption societies, homes for infants or children and Magdalen laundries.

It is important to be clear and realistic as to our expectations. The commission is not intended to, nor could it, investigate every type of institution where it is considered there might have been past deficits or failings; rather, my objective is to establish a focused commission with all of the necessary powers which is capable of establishing effectively relevant facts in a reasonable timeframe. This specificity is required under the enabling legislation. It is also the case that other inquiries have examined concerns about a wide range of settings, including children's homes and Magdalen laundries. The proposed arrangements, in particular, Article 6 of the terms of reference, ensure the commission will have sufficient opportunities to identify additional matters which it considers may warrant investigation. It is specifically tasked with reporting to me recommendations necessary in this regard.

The commission will be critically important in coming to terms with our history. Some of what we learn will be painful, but the commission will establish how we, as a society, responded to single women and their children who needed support and assistance, rather than judgement. Details of the commission are available on my Department's website, including a number of explanatory documents.

I was hoping my anticipation that the Minister would give the same answer would be wrong, but there we are. Given the reference to institutions that were not the subject of previous State address, it is more than sad that the Magdalen laundries will be excluded because of the McAleese report which was a huge disappointment for those who had gone through the Magdalen laundry experience. The Minister cannot be unaware of its failings, how it failed those who had gone through that experience and the need to include the Magdalen laundries in the list of those institutions that should be in the address of the commission of investigation to get under way.

I emphasise to the Minister that there are a number of Protestant related entities that are not included and that there is great disquiet among that community and the cohort of people directly affected.

I have already spoken about Westbank Orphanage and also want to speak about the Nursery Rescue Society which was linked with the Church of Ireland Magdalen Home and Braemar House, all of which have been excluded. I use the word again and invite the Minister to give an assurance that that is not the case. Given that they are not on the list of entities, there is a great degree of concern and real, compounded hurt for those who feel they have, once again, been ignored and marginalised.

Although I do not have the full list, the Protestant Magdalen Home which was a mother and baby home is included and named. It is open to the commission to give consideration to the role of the institutions referred to by the Deputy as part of the pathways and particularly the practices and procedures for the placement of children outside mother and baby homes. This will be a significant strand of its investigations. The issues to be examined in the social history module explicitly include adoption societies, homes for infants or children and Magdalen laundries. It is important to be clear and realistic as to our expectations. The commission cannot investigate every type of institution where it is considered there might have been past deficits or failings - God knows, there were many - rather, my objective is to establish a focused commission with all of the necessary powers capable of establishing effectively the relevant facts in a reasonable timeframe. The timeframe involved is critically important to many people involved who do not want it to go on for years. That is why I have set a limit of 36 months, with an interim report to be provided at 18 months and a facility for the commission to issue earlier reports if it so desires and a right retained by the Minister to seek earlier interim reports, if desired.

The Minister will agree, as he has done previously, that this is a last opportunity for many. In his response to me, Deputies Sandra McLellan and Robert Troy who are present he was specific when he afforded us a briefing in advance of the media briefing on Friday a week ago. Those who went through the experience of being in any of the institutions or locations not listed in the terms of reference should be able to seek an opportunity to come before the commission of investigation, either through the confidential committee or any other mechanism the commission will provide. This must happen in order that they can be heard, have their pain acknowledged and, I hope, the commission can recommend to the Minister that they not be excluded from any subsequent redress scheme. Will the Minister, please, confirm that this was the answer he gave us on Friday a week ago? Having asked the question earlier about the trafficking of children throughout the country by various interests, mainly religious, how does he expect the commission of investigation to notify all potential witnesses? How widely will the net be cast? Does he expect all means of media communication and others to be employed? Will it apply across the entire island of Ireland and in all of the other international settings where the possible illegal adoption practices resulted in the placement of children?

I have just found the list of institutions to be examined and No. 6 is Denny House, Eglinton Road, Dublin 4, originally the Church of Ireland Magdalen Home, 8 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2.

I understand, but the Nursery Rescue Society linked with it is not on the list.

The issue of the trafficking of children is open to being considered by the commission which will decide how it is to be examined and how the media will be used to contact people. It will be open to the commission to recommend redress or otherwise. For me to do so now would be to prejudge the outcome of the commission's inquiries, which would be utterly wrong and would undermine it.

I take this opportunity to thank Judge Yvonne Murphy, Dr. William Duncan and Professor Mary Daly of UCD for taking up this onerous task. I am sure they will do a good job. They will have nothing but the well-being of the people concerned to the fore and I have no doubt but that they will be comprehensive and open in their dealings, except where it comes to the confidential committee where people's right to privacy will be respected. It will be important that people have the right to speak in private when obliged to relive the horrors they had to endure many years ago. Equally, it will be open to anybody from these institutions, including those mentioned by the Deputy, to approach the commission for a hearing and it will be open to the commission to hear them.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Catherine Murphy

Question:

112. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason the terms of reference for the commission of investigation into mothers and baby homes and certain related matters do not cover former Magdalen institutions and adoptions which occurred at State hospitals during the relevant periods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2201/15]

This question is on the same topic and seeks to find out why classes or categories of people were excluded. That said, there are a great number of positive aspects both to the commission that has been set up and its terms of reference. However, I my question focuses specifically on the Magdalen institutions and the adoptions that occurred in State hospitals because it is to be hoped that during this process, there will be the prospect of people being reconnected. This is an obvious aspect of the matter about which one would hope for a good outcome for some people.

As the Deputy has just come into the Chamber, I will reiterate what I have said already, even though Deputies Troy and Ó Caoláin may now have heard it twice. To put it in context, as the Deputy is aware, I announced the proposed terms of reference for the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters last week. In developing the terms of reference, due regard has been given to the emphasis on mother and baby homes in the motion approved by Dáil Éireann on 11 June 2014. I believe the terms of reference reflect the range of matters the Government was asked to consider by this House, as well by those most centrally affected by the issues, and are a fair and balanced response to the many requests for related issues to be included. In particular, the investigation will examine thoroughly the experiences of the many mothers and children who were resident in a mother and baby home over the period from 1922 to 1998.

Since the decision to establish this investigation was announced, there have been calls for the inclusion of a wide range of institutions. The approach taken to ensuring the requisite level of specificity has been to identify mother and baby homes for the purposes of this investigation. The criteria used include having the main function of providing sheltered and supervised ante and postnatal facilities to single mothers and their children, including both board and lodgings, and an ethos which those running the institutions considered to promote a regime of work, training or education as part of an overall approach to either rehabilitating single mothers or giving them training for living independently. On the basis of the available information, it would not be appropriate to consider the institutions raised by the Deputy as mother and baby homes in this same context. They did not provide this specific range of services.

However, where such institutions had a relationship or relationships with a mother and baby home, the role played by these institutions can be examined within the commission's work. In particular, the commission is tasked with examining the extent to which other institutions were part of the entry or exit pathways for single mothers and children into or leaving these homes. Linked to this examination, the commission will consider the practices and procedures relating to the placement of children outside of mother and baby homes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This will examine where there was co-operation with another person or persons in arranging this placement, including where an intermediary organisation arranged a subsequent placement. It will also examine the procedures that were in place to obtain consent from mothers in respect of adoption and whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed.

As I have outlined to the House in response to earlier questions from Deputy Ó Caoláin, the proposed arrangements also ensure the commission has sufficient opportunity to bring any additional matter which it considers may warrant investigation to my attention. I am confident that the appointment of Judge Yvonne Murphy as chair, together with historian Professor Mary Daly and international legal expert on child protection and adoption, Dr. William Duncan, to this commission will allow for a comprehensive assessment of the issues and for well-grounded reports and recommendations in due course.

Is this likely to happen in parallel or is there a sequence in which this additional work will be done? Is it likely to fall into the second part of the inquiry, where there will be an interim report? If the scope is to be extended to other institutions, how is it likely that such work will take place? The second aspect on which I wish to ask a question is that I do not believe Members would be in the Chamber talking about the inclusion of the Magdalen laundries had there been a satisfactory outcome or had it been seen to have been a satisfactory outcome to the redress scheme.

The compellability aspect of this inquiry is welcome. It is incredibly important to the people who were in Magdalen laundries given information provision, depending on who was running the laundries, has been patchy. I accept some orders of nuns have been more forthcoming than others. This deficiency of information provision forms part of what could be redressed in the context of this inquiry and its powers of compellability in relation to the giving of evidence.

In response to the Deputy's first question, much of the work will be done in parallel during the first phase. An interim report will be provided after 18 months. However, the Minister of the day can seek an interim report prior to that and it is also open to the commission to provide an earlier interim report. It is important to point out that the commission has the discretion to seek a specific change in its terms of reference. For example, it may decide that it does not need to examine further one or more of the institutions but be of the view that other institutions should form part of its examination. It is open to the commission to request of me that I bring a recommendation to Government to allow that to happen. There is a great deal of flexibility provided for.

Linked to the examination around the entry and exit pathways the commission will consider the practices and procedures relating to the placement of children outside of the mother and baby homes. This will examine where there was co-operation with another person or persons in arranging this placement, including where an intermediary organisation arranged a subsequent placement. It will also examine the procedures that were in place to obtain consent from mothers in respect of adoption and whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed. It will also look at the role of the mother in decision-making and how she might have arrived in a place like the Magdalen laundry or elsewhere.

The Minister said that it is open to the commission to come back to him for a variation or change in the terms of reference. Is such a request likely to go beyond Government and come before the Dáil? What is the process in relation to such amendment or change? I agree with the Minister that it is likely that could happen. In other words, the commission could exhaust a particular approach and there may well be a more meaningful avenue that could be explored. It is only when one gets into such matters that one can appreciate what is possible.

On that specific issue, it is important to point out that the commission would have to come back to me as Minister and I would then have to take up the matter with Cabinet. Beyond that, we are into the realms of conjecture. I believe we can afford the commission this flexibility. We do not know whether it will do that or deem that necessary. It is important to bear in mind the Dáil motion. This is about mother and baby homes and not orphanages, the Magdalen laundries or other institutions. None the less, we have done our best to be as expansive as possible to allow the commission look into these areas as part of the exit pathways and what happened to these mothers and babies.

Child and Family Agency Staff

Robert Troy

Question:

113. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the action he will take to deal with the shortage of social workers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2204/15]

We are all aware of the current high turnover of social work staff, which staff cite as arising because of high workloads and a lack of administrative supports. What is the Minister and his Department doing to deal with this high turnover and shortage of social workers?

The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, has advised there were 1,403.46 whole-time equivalent social workers employed at the end of November 2014 and it is recruiting an additional 193 social workers to meet existing vacancies. It has also advised 155 social workers have already been recruited during 2014 while 102 social workers left employment due to retirement and for other reasons such as maternity leave.

Stability, experience and capacity of staff working in the area of child protection and child welfare are extremely important. The agency is committed to producing a workforce development strategy by end of second quarter 2015. This is to ensure strategic and operational workforce development plans and processes are established as key activities in the agency. This development presents the agency with a significant opportunity to improve resource deployment, skill and grade mix, as well as staff motivation to the benefit of the children and families. The workforce development plan will consider issues around recruitment, retention and turnover of key staff. This will also include further developing supports through structured professional and career development.

While I prefer to have a zero rate of vacancies in this specialised area of work, it is important to acknowledge staffing vacancies arise for a variety of reasons, including retirements, career breaks, paid and unpaid leave, such as maternity and other family related leave, and resignations. In that context, there will always be gaps in timing around the filling of posts.

The turnover rate of social workers at the agency for 2014 is running at 6.7% which compares favourably with experience in other countries. Every effort is being made by the agency to speed up recruitment and develop a comprehensive workforce development plan in 2015 which will assist in addressing staff turnover rates and lower them further.

If the Minister compares the turnover of social workers with other health professionals such as nurses, it is quite high. One social worker recently said:

I started to feel that instead of helping these children and families I was now part of a system that was causing them further harm and stress. Every social worker I speak to has an exit strategy because it is impossible. It is not something you can stay in beyond a certain length of time.

Tomorrow, the House will debate the mother and baby homes issue and how we as a society and the State failed vulnerable people in the past. Today, we are standing over a system that was designed to help and support vulnerable families but which is failing them miserably. The Irish Association of Social Workers recently said:

It is widely acknowledged that the current numbers of social workers employed by Tusla is 30% below the recommended levels. This is causing Tusla to become a reactionary and crisis-driven service, with children at risk and their families receiving only a minimal service or no service at all, resulting in poorer outcomes for children.

That is what the new agency, Tusla, is doing today.

The Deputy made some statements that do not stand up to scrutiny. The first mistake the Deputy made was to compare the turnover in social workers and child care workers with nurses, two entirely different professions. Both of them would tell the Deputy that very clearly too.

No one doubts that social work and child care work are extremely stressful, not just in Ireland but in developed countries around the world. I already pointed out in my reply that our turnover rate last year was 6.7%. In the state of Victoria, Australia, an inquiry found that one in four entry level case-carrying child protection social workers leaves each year, a turnover rate of 25%. In the USA, while the turnover rate for child welfare employees varies significantly across each state, an average annual turnover of over 20% in front-line child care workers has been reported. In England, the reported turnover rate is 15%. It is not fair to compare the turnover or stress of social workers with nurses. Many social workers are younger people under 40. It is highly stressful work and across the world there is a significant turnover in this area. It is a credit to our social workers. I thank them on the floor of the House for the work they do, the commitment they have and the fact the turnover rate, despite the pressure they are under, is one of the lowest.

I am sure social workers will be delighted to receive the Minister’s thanks but what they actually want is support which they are not getting. If they got support, there would not be the high level of turnover there is. Neither would there be social workers saying that instead of feeling they were helping children or their families, they were part of a system that was causing further harm and stress. Respectfully, it is the Minister who has it wrong, not me. We have a ludicrous situation where the position of a social worker who gives six months notice for maternity leave will not come before the control group to see if it will be filled until the social worker actually takes leave. Then it will take another four months to fill that position. The Minister should not take my word for it but talk to those social workers who are at the coalface and front line and who are at breaking point.

Again, I have to point out to the Deputy that he is reiterating an inaccuracy. Turnover in social workers here is far better than in many other jurisdictions. I pointed to turnover rates of 25% in Victoria, 20% in the USA and 15% in England. I can quote many more.

We are in Ireland now.

I thank the Deputy for reminding me. We are all acutely aware of that. I am sure the Member beside the Deputy, Deputy Martin, is equally aware we are in Ireland.

The bottom line is much work has been done in this area. Social workers continue to be recruited. Turnover here is lower than in many other jurisdictions. Other initiatives are being put in place. A caseload management system, which is near completion, is being rolled out across the country. It will allow for temporary staff, where necessary, to cover vacancies until they are filled.

That is not true.

It is true. I am sorry the truth hurts the Deputy. Monthly performance reports on unallocated cases and other service pressures are also reported to the agency’s board and the Department. In addition, the agency works with other statutory and non-statutory agencies providing family supports to ensure the agency’s social work teams can focus on the children and families in greatest need of their specific skills.

Child Care Services Provision

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

114. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs his plans for addressing the current shortage of social workers for children in care. [2125/15]

Will the Minister indicate what percentage of children in care have a written care plan? Following on from the issues Deputy Troy raised, is it not about resources? Before Christmas when the Minister launched the Know Your Rights guide, he gave the commitment that every child in care would have a social worker. He has not delivered on that. Is that not the problem?

The Child and Family Agency publishes monthly statistics on its website which include statistics for children in care. They show the majority of children in care have an allocated social worker. Latest figures for October 2014 show that 93% of children in care had an allocated worker, 5,982 of 6,454. I am pleased to report there are several areas where all children in care have an allocated social worker including Carlow, Kilkenny, south Tipperary, Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal and Kerry. However, some areas need to do better as the statistics also showed that 78% of children in care in Dublin south west, Kildare west, Wicklow had an allocated social worker. The fact this was an improvement on 75% quoted in the monthly report for September means the agency is working to address shortfalls in this area.

It is a statutory requirement that all children in care have an allocated social worker. I must stress, however, that if a child in care does not have an allocated social worker, it does not mean there is no oversight from social work professionals. These cases are reviewed regularly by the principal social worker and are often managed by duty social work teams while waiting for a social worker to be allocated.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A rigorous system of risk analysis is in place in each area to ensure that staffing numbers do not fall to an unsafe level. The gaps that are identified through this process are addressed with the additional resources of temporary staff as required. The vacancies that are then identified are the subject of a recruitment process to ensure they are filled at the earliest opportunity.

I am advised that the fact that 93% of children in care in Ireland are in foster care, 6,001 of 6,454, compares very favourably internationally. Social work support is also provided for foster carers in the form of a link worker. The link worker is a professionally qualified social worker and meets regularly with foster carers to provide training, information and whatever other support that may be required. The very small number of children in residential care, 316 of 6,454, are also supported by residential care staff and other staff who provide specialist services as needed.

Additionally, my Department is overseeing an ongoing programme of recruitment of social workers. Since establishment 12 months ago, the agency has recruited 155 social workers and a further 193 are at various stages of recruitment. This will help the agency to meet its statutory obligation to ensure that all children in care have an allocated social worker.