Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages

Section 1 agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.
Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, not moved.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
SECTION 7
Amendment No. 6 not moved.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 8, to delete lines 24 to 26.

The proposed amendment is aimed at removing what I believe to be a get-out clause on the part of the Department and the Child and Family Agency. Although I have stated that the Bill is welcome and that Sinn Féin will not be opposing it as it is a step in the right direction, it is not without its flaws. Why would one put resources into developing a plan that one does not have to implement? I am not saying that the plan should not be developed but that the resources to implement it must be there. The amendments I proposed which were ruled out of order were an attempt to tighten the legislation at, I believe, minimal cost.

A man who has spent time in care expressed his disappointment to me regarding the Bill and said it was a tick-the-box exercise with all smiles for the cameras. They are his words, not mine. He said vulnerable voices are going unheard once again. I hope the Bill will be revisited at a later date to try to strengthen it and ensure an obligation of responsibility is met by the policy makers.

I do not propose to accept the amendment. As I mentioned on Second Stage, the Bill has a particular structure to ensure an obligation on Tusla, the Child and Family Agency to prepare and draft an aftercare plan for that cohort of children and young people who meet the eligibility criteria as defined. Section 7 of the Bill, in subsection (1), states quite clearly that, "The Child and Family Agency shall, where any need is identified in an assessment of need carried out in respect of an eligible child in the care of the Agency, prepare an aftercare plan for that child." That, I believe, is unequivocal. A plan must be prepared for an eligible child. It must address the needs identified in an assessment carried out in accordance with section 6. There are no conditions or exclusions attached to the requirement to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child. The assessment of need will consider, but will not be limited to, domains such as education, financing and budgeting matters, training, employment, health and well being, and personal and social development. This is all set out in section 6. The agency will be required to record in writing the needs identified in the assessment process.

As the Deputy is aware, the Child and Family Agency may not be the appropriate body to provide services to respond to all requirements identified in the assessment, yet it is this assessment of a broad range of needs that forms the basis for the aftercare plan. The need to have due regard to resources, therefore, does not present a barrier to the preparation and drafting of the plan.

I could continue at some length but the bottom line here is that we are clearly setting out a Bill that insists an aftercare plan be produced for children in care or those who have been in care. It allows them to then measure the plan against what is delivered. That is a huge step forward. Nowhere in our budgetary system is there allowance for exceeding one's ability to provide resources. We always have competition for resources between health, education, policing, etc. I believe the Bill to be a huge step forward. It addresses something that has seriously concerned me and, I know, many Members of this House, around the fact that in the past, many people who have left care have fallen into very serious difficulties, sometimes with tragic and fatal results.

I fully agree with the Minister that it is a huge step forward. I also believe that if the agency does develop an aftercare plan, it should have the resources to implement it.

I will respond very briefly. We did get an extra €38 million this year for Tusla and I believe we are moving in the right direction in that regard.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, not moved.
Section 7 agreed to.
Section 8 agreed to.
SECTION 9

Amendment No. 11 in the name of Deputy Troy has been ruled out of order due to a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.
Section 9 agreed to.
Sections 10 to 16, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Deputies for their contributions to the Bill during its passage through both Houses. In summary, the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015 provides for an explicit requirement to prepare an aftercare plan in respect of a specified cohort of children and young people as they transition from State care. Following a needs assessment, the Child and Family Agency will prepare a plan in consultation with the young person. I believe this is critically important. It will identify their needs for aftercare supports.

The Bill puts aftercare planning on the same footing as other statutory obligations on the Child and Family Agency. The Bill attempts to take account of the need for a degree of nuance in planning for leaving care for young people at a time which is appropriate and sensitive to the young person's particular needs. Most importantly and as I mentioned previously, the child or young person must and will have a central role in the development of the aftercare plan. The involvement of young people in the planning of services for them is critical and is a positive development of recent years. It is something I wholeheartedly support.

Ireland has a poor record of caring for vulnerable children and we all know of the terrible tragedies involving some children after they left care. I hope our generation will be seen as the one that sought to address and redress this. The Bill is another step in the right direction. It builds on the significant initiatives and reforms that have taken place in recent years, including the development of a national leaving and aftercare policy in 2011, which have been developed with the goal of improving aftercare services for care leavers.

I pay tribute to this House for the manner in which the Bill has been welcomed and the constructive comments and contributions made here. A number of issues were raised, including the need for the Child and Family Agency to have regard to its resources when preparing aftercare plans. Deputies will know that this is nothing new. All State bodies are obliged to have regard to the resources made available to them in providing public services. However, I was pleased that significant extra resources have been allocated to the Child and Family Agency for 2016, which will strengthen its base funding level and give it greater capacity to respond to current risk and anticipated demand.

I also acknowledge Deputies' acceptance of the Bill at short notice, which has facilitated the progression of the Bill through the House as quickly as possible. I thank the Deputies for their contributions to the debate on the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015, which I hope will deliver better outcomes for young people leaving the care of the State. These people are our future, they deserve the best and we must deliver.

Question put and agreed to.

A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly.

Sitting suspended at 11.46 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.