I thank the Minister for attending to deal with this matter. I put down a number of questions to the Minister yesterday on related issues. In regard to a set of questions on contact centres, she stated:
My Department is committed to supporting and promoting the development, welfare and protection of children, and the effective functioning of families. We recognise that the dynamics of domestic violence and the safety needs of both children and non-abusing parents must be considered in making appropriate arrangements for children's contact with abusive parents in the case of family breakdown.
I wish to acknowledge the valuable work of the child contact centres which were set up under a pilot project operated by Barnardos and One Family ...
I understand that officials from my Department are shortly due to meet with officials from the Department of Justice and Equality to discuss the potential for establishing child contact centres on a national basis.
As I stated in correspondence with the Minister, this relates to a contact centre at Togher Family Centre, of which I am a voluntary board member, although I raise this as a public representative for the constituency. The family centre has for some time been operating a contact centre. There are very few such centres in Ireland and there is considerable desire, as noted in the Minister's parliamentary question response, to see this expanded upon and this was also referenced in the pre-budget submission of the National Women's Council of Ireland. It is important that, where such services are being provided, they are adequately funded.
Togher Family Centre began offering the service in 2012 and has gone from 76 hours of access then to 759 hours of access in 2016, and with 671 hours so far this year, it is likely to surpass that level of access. The need for this service is very clear. It has made an enormous contribution to families throughout Cork city and beyond, and has done so largely at the cost of the board and of the centre itself. While there is some staff funding from Tusla for cases of children in care, this will now be on a case-by-case basis, which is not sustainable, and there are other families who require the service.
I want to particularly dwell on that point. The Minister will be aware I have received correspondence from a number of practitioners in family law who are very concerned about the fact this service may no longer be available in regard to court referrals. Judge Con O'Leary, a prominent family law judge in Cork, who I believe has written to the Minister, is also concerned about this issue. The key point is that the service has been used productively and in a way that has been of great benefit to families who were referred following family law cases. The current situation is that funding is only available for Tusla referrals. Obviously, that may be the sharp end of the wedge but there is clearly a greater need. This excellent service can offer enormous support to families in trying to rebuild relationships, which is a core aim of what Tusla is about in terms of supporting families, and it can do so in a way that allows for supervised access in great comfort. I should add it is a beautiful facility. While I recognise there is funding for Tusla referrals, the lack of funding for court referrals is a problem and is an issue the Department should address.