Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

Before the debate adjourned, I was making the point that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is a new and important Department which has great potential and much to offer.

In 1970, the great educationalist and sociologist, Basil Bernstein, wrote that education could not compensate for society. Bernstein's main thesis was that inequality plays a major part in the lives of children before they reach the school gates. Any discussion of children in detention must consider the root causes and reasons for the detention of children.

Schools are doing great work, for example, through the school completion programme. I encourage the Minister to give this programme as much support as possible as it has great potential and tremendous work is being done under it. Having met a number of people working in the area of school completion, I am very encouraged by the results being achieved. Much more can be done under this programme, which comes within the remit of the Department and Tusla.

Last week, I attended an event at a local school, Midleton CBS Primary, to launch an active schools flag.

I was very impressed by the work that went into achieving the standard and with the engagement of the boys in doing everything required to get the flag. Schools can do a huge amount and they are doing a huge amount, but they cannot do everything. That is why I stressed the need, when I last spoke here on this, to focus on out-of-school youth programmes. I mentioned Foróige and Youth Work Ireland, and I could go on and talk about Scouting Ireland and so on. Informal education is provided out of school where trained youth workers engage with young people. There is a risk when we talk about these issues that we focus only on children at risk. Obviously, these programmes and organisations also facilitate the development of the potential of all children. I encourage the Minister to support youth cafés, youth centres and youth organisations across the country. I mentioned on the last occasion in the House my disappointment that the Youth Work Act had not been fully implemented. The national youth work development plan from 2006 still has not been brought in. There is an opportunity for the new Department to focus on this issue as has never been done before and to truly develop this area, in which the potential is enormous.

Getting back to what Bernstein said in the 1970s, my overall point is as he said: education cannot compensate for society. I came across another research report recently which was published in 2007. I spoke this morning to one of the authors, Dr. Gary O'Reilly, and it is still as relevant today. The report was co-authored by Dr. Jennifer Margaret Hayes of UCD. It sets out that young people who end up in detention centres are usually on a multi-generational journey. They often come from backgrounds and areas of social deprivation in which drugs and alcohol play a very big part. These are areas we need to focus on for prevention. I am very pleased to know the Ombudsman for Children now has the power to inspect centres and make reports under section 11(2)(a) of the Ombudsman for Children Act, which the Minister commenced by order in 2012. The number of children sent to detention centres stood at 133 in 2013 and 134 in 2012. While the numbers are quite high, the research I mentioned set out that eight of every ten boys in care at that time met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder. It spoke about high rates of co-morbidity and multiple psychiatric problems. The Minister might comment on the psychiatric conditions of the children in detention and set out the supports and services in place for them. The research also said that approximately equal numbers of detained young people with addictions reported using cocaine as reported using alcohol and cannabis. What is the situation of young people in detention with respect to the use of alcohol and other drugs? We must always remember that alcohol is a serious drug which causes a lot of problems. The results of the research suggested that the drug use can often begin in early childhood. It was stated at the time that young people with substance dependency disorders reported that they first began to use alcohol and cannabis at an average age of just nine years and cocaine at 13. That is very worrying.

Recently, a number of members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality visited Portugal, where we met a lot of people. We looked at the Portuguese model. Where young people are detected in possession of a small amount of a substance such as cannabis, cocaine or heroin for personal use and it is a first offence, it is treated as a health issue rather than a criminal justice one. The person is moved to treatment and sent to a dissuasion team. Under the model, there are 18 dissuasion commissions nationally and these commissions are well resourced. Each commission consists of a psychologist, a social worker and a person with a legal background, and they have a staff that works with them. When a young person is arrested and taken to a police station, a senior officer can make a decision not to prosecute but rather to refer the matter to a dissuasion commission. At the commission, the young person is assessed and provided with all kinds of supports. He or she can be sent back to the police station and end up in the courts, but usually the person is sent for treatment or education or told, where it was a small amount for personal use, not to do it again. What happens in Ireland is that if someone is found with a small amount of one of those substances on his or her person, he or she ends up being prosecuted and gains a criminal record. The Portuguese model is definitely worth exploring, and I understand the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, is interested in debating it. We will be bringing forward a report on the model in the joint committee, hopefully before the summer recess.

Rather than criminalising young people, we should consider other methods. That is not to say that we will go soft in any way on the dealers and the movers and shakers who profit from drugs. They have to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and, if necessary, given sentences of detention to take them out of circulation. In the Portuguese system, a ten-day supply is considered a small amount for personal use, and where it is a first offence, the person often goes to the dissuasion commission and is diverted from crime. While it is to stray a little from the topic, I note that the number of people infected with HIV has dropped substantially in Portugal as a result. Malta has adopted a similar project and it is worth looking at. The reason I raise the matter here is that many young people who end up in detention have major issues with drugs, alcohol and social deprivation, as the 2007 report pointed out. The report also maintained that young people in detention possessed a reduced capacity to accurately perceive emotions in themselves and others, a reduced ability to use emotions to prioritise thinking and a reduced ability to regulate their emotions.

We did quite a bit of work in the joint committee some time ago on penal reform and our report was published in March 2013. During that work, we received a great many written submissions and engaged with many people. I mention a number of them. Care After Prison, which is based on Aungier Street, does amazing work engaging with prisoners before they are released and supporting them after release. Up to recently, Care After Prison had a success rate of 100% non-recidivism. The former prisoners did not reoffend. We should look at that with children who come out of detention centres also. If a person comes out of prison and there is no job and nowhere to live, he or she will end up homeless and, very often, back in prison. I visited Churchfield Community Trust in Cork recently, where I was astounded at the work that was going on. I met some of the people who are engaging with the work of the trust, many of whom are former detainees of Cork Prison and other centres. Many of them have addiction issues. One of them told me he had been in care since he was 12 and that he did not know any other life. He thought that was the norm. Prison became his home and outside it was a frightening place. He could not cope. Thanks to the work of the Churchfield Community Trust, he has found that is no longer the case.

He can cope now and engage with society, although it is not easy for him, and he can start to become a constructive member of society, get a job and so on, which is what he wants to do.

The Cornmarket Project in Wexford does amazing work. The people involved work with people who have major difficulties with drug and alcohol abuse. I ask the Minister to examine that project because it is impressive. They work with people who are experiencing major difficulties, and the success rate is very high. The Etruscan Life Training & Education Centre deals with people who have anger management issues. Again, it is highly successful. If we are talking about young people in prison and in detention centres who have major psychiatric issues, we need to start to examine that, which I am sure is happening already, and work on it.

I note the publication of Tackling Youth Crime - Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018. There are many very good proposals in that plan and I urge the Minister to ensure that what is proposed happens. It references community-based responses to what is going on. It refers to "strategies and services targeted at improving parenting effectiveness; early attachment and cognitive development for young people; improvements in school performance; reductions in alcohol and drug misuse; and participation by young people in mainstream youth activities". It is all in the plan, but we want to see those actions going ahead.

It also refers to a range of community-based sanctions available to the courts. The entire thrust of Government policy has been community-based sanctions, community service orders and so on. I draw the attention of the House to the work that was done on community courts. In the United States, particularly in midtown New York, Red Hook and other areas I visited, I sat with judges on the bench and watched the courts in action. Again, it is impressive. The success rates are high, and the model seems to be the same, namely, to take somebody who is offending and vulnerable and bring them before the courts quickly. There should be no delay. If somebody offends in New York they are brought before the court the following day. Invariably, because of the types of offence we are talking about, such as shoplifting and other relatively minor offences - in New York they have other offences such as doing business on the street when one should not be doing it, and so forth - offenders go before the court and sentences are imposed. On most occasions it is a community service order. Sometimes they are sent to prison. Following that, offenders report immediately to an office on another floor in the same building, where they meet a social worker, a psychologist and so on, who ask them if they will start their community service that day. They are monitored and supported for six months, and if they have issues they are dealt with. If they stay our of trouble for six months, their record is sealed. That programme has been a huge success. The community is involved in it. The judges are specialist judges.

Tackling Youth Crime: Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018 refers to a range of community-based sanctions, which is exactly what I am talking about, but it is important that there be no delay. It needs to happen quickly in order to be effective. If somebody is charged with a relatively minor crime - I looked at some of the crimes reported, such as trespassing - and if it takes months before something is done, the plan will lose its effectiveness. It has to happen immediately, and we have to have the resources to back it up.

I note that it costs €314,000 per annum to keep a young person in detention, and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong on that. I note also that numbers in our prisons overall have fallen, but I encourage the Minister to try to keep these people out of prison if possible. We must also recognise that the behaviour of these young people can cause terrible distress to victims, residents and other people, especially older people. We must ensure that the fears of victims are also kept to the fore.

It is a good approach to have the child detention centres under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This Bill achieves a good deal in bringing all these elements together. I like the idea of, and what is contained in, the Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018 because it gives coherence to our thinking on this area. We need to ensure that what is set out in that plan happens. We need to ensure also that the important Department of Children and Youth Affairs is given support and is recognised as being one of our the most important Ministries. When it was established I wondered what it would do, but it does so much now, and this is only one area under its remit. I encourage the Minister to consider youth work and out-of-school youth services and to give them all the support, assistance and resources that he can. I am certain that if we do that we will see fewer and fewer young people getting into trouble. There is also the matter of the need for psychiatric help among some of these children, as well as the requirement to ensure that we keep victims safe, recognising that some of these young people can be quite dangerous.

The Garda diversion projects do great work. We need to keep resourcing and expanding them. The work gardaí do in that area is to be commended. We need to continue to research this area in terms of gathering data and finding out what works and how we can make it work better. That is about all I have to say on this matter. I commend the Bill to the House, and if there is anything we in the joint committee can do to support it we will.

The next speaker is Deputy Jerry Buttimer, who has 20 minutes, but we will have to adjourn the debate at 7.30 p.m. for Private Members' business.

I only need a few minutes of that time, as I know the Minister is anxious to conclude this Stage of the Bill tonight.

I commend the Bill. The Joint Committee on Health and Children, which I chair, visited Oberstown yesterday. I want to put on the record my thanks to the staff there for the work they do.

This is a very important Bill, as Deputy Stanton said, not least because it is about young people - how we view and value young people who offend, and how on one campus we can ensure that three centres are amalgamated to cater for young people. I was very impressed with the campus, the quality of the build, the Office of Public Works' attention to detail and, in particular, the staff, not only the care staff but those in the education facility, and they work that they do there. I commend the principal, Martin Treacy, and his team on the work they do, and also Pat Bergin, the campus manager in Oberstown. It is one thing to have a new modern campus and to have a fine facility, but this is about empowering young people by giving them the capacity to be educated. I was very impressed by the staff's drive and initiative in getting young people studying for the junior certificate or the leaving certificate or taking a FETAC course. In terms of the new facility, it is important that the industrial relations and human resources issues are ironed out. I am conscious that 50% of the young people there are on remand, that there has been an increase in the number of assaults on staff and that there are issues around staffing. As Deputy Stanton said, it is important that the youth justice action plan is implemented.

I very much welcome the programme for Government initiative in implementing this legislation. The cost per annum of having a young person kept in Oberstown is one we cannot ignore. This should be about restorative justice in terms of rehabilitation and early intervention. This Bill is an important step in the right direction. I have much to say, but rather than delay the passage of the Bill through he House, I want to facilitate the Minister. I commend the Bill. I thank the staff in Oberstown for the work they do and hope this legislation will mark the start of a new day for young people in detention in our country.

It will not be possible for me to answer all the questions raised in the short time remaining and to do justice to those who have raised issues. We can finish the Bill tomorrow. I thank the Members for their contributions. This Bill underpins significant initiatives and reforms that have taken place in recent years. It also has regard to the principle of equality of treatment between children in the detention schools and adults in adult prisons. I must emphasise, for the benefit of all, that a detention centre is very much a place of last resort when all other available avenues have been explored and utilised to the full in regard to community facilities and other interventions. The last place we want to see a child is in a detention centre, but sometimes that is the only action left open to the courts.

The Bill provides the necessary amendments to legislation to achieve the programme for Government commitment to end the practice of detaining children in adult facilities.

I will respond briefly to a number of points. The external recruitment process for new staff in Oberstown commenced in 2014 and is ongoing. A total of 40 care staff have been recruited and posts filled to date, with one more appointment to be made shortly. Revised offers of employment are in the process of being issued to a number of candidates at present, with a view to ensuring the maximum possible uptake and approving of staffing levels and to enable new facilities to be brought into full operation this year.

On the progress of the Children First legislation, Deputies will be aware that the Bill passed Committee Stage in May. It is my intention to bring the Bill to Report Stage in the future.

I commend the Bill to the House. On Committee Stage, I will deal with any issues which Deputies believe have not been fully addressed.

Question put and agreed to.