Report on the Provision of Foster Care Services in Ireland: Motion

Táimid ag dul ar aghaidh go dtí an tairiscint maidir leis an tuarascáil maidir le seirbhísí cúraim altrama a sholáthar in Éirinn. Iarraim ar Chathaoirleach an chomhchoiste, Teachta Alan Farrell, an rún a bhogadh. Tá deich nóiméad aige.

Go raibh maith agat. I will proceed in English because my Irish-----

You are all right.

-----is terrible.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs entitled "Report on the Provision of Foster Care Services in Ireland", copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 9th November, 2017.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Business Committee for the opportunity to present the report on foster care, which was published by the committee which I chair last year. Foster care is critically important in all aspects of children's welfare in this State. The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs heard from many groups and organisations when discussing the issues surrounding foster care, particularly with regard to the rights and welfare of the children involved. I commend every member of the committee, particularly my predecessor, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, as well as the work of Deputy Funchion, who was rapporteur for this report. It is appropriate to mention the contribution and role that she and the former Chairman played. As part of its report into the provision of foster care services in Ireland, the joint committee made 12 recommendations to Government. These recommendations work to ensure the needs of children always come first. As Members of this House, we have an obligation to ensure children in foster care receive the foremost levels of protection, and that is exactly what the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs has sought to do in this report. The committee has recommended that comprehensive data be collated regarding the type of care settings children are placed in, and the circumstances surrounding their placement in care.

Tusla has stated that it is collating information on many aspects of children's placement in foster care and that the full implementation of the national child care information system will support reporting on children in care and the foster system. Ensuring we have all relevant information is vital to adequately address the issues leading to children entering our foster care system but also in making sure the necessary supports are in place to support these young people. I am pleased, with regard to the third recommendation in this report, that the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 commencement order has been made, as of last October. This Act is particularly important in allowing foster carers to adopt foster children who have been in their care for a period of greater than 18 months, or in a set of other prescribed circumstances, where the required conditions are met.

Most importantly, in certain cases that allows for greater stability to be provided to children in the foster care system. Recommendation 4 focuses on the extension of enforcement powers to the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, to allow it to implement recommendations made in its reports, while recommendation 5 relates to the need to establish transparent and robust governance and oversight procedures between Tusla and private foster care companies, along with the immediate use of service level agreements in that context. I note that Tusla stated that providing HIQA with enforcement powers would increase the administrative burden faced by the organisation rather than benefit front-line services. However, providing enforcement powers to HIQA would have significant benefits in ensuring children receive supports and care of the highest standard. If an administrative burden must be tackled as a result, the Government must tackle it separately.

The sixth recommendation of the committee’s report on foster care is that emergency out of hours services should be provided in all parts of the country and urgent action taken to close gaps in the service and ensure emergency out of hours services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Our seventh recommendation addressed the issues of recruitment and retention of staff in Tusla. The report states that Tusla must continue to be creative in its approach on this matter. Working in conjunction with the HSE, it is vital that Tusla is adequately staffed and retains its current staff so that it does not lose the expertise which exists within the organisation. It would be counterproductive to have a scenario whereby staff working with children and young people in the foster care system are coming and going as that would detract from Tusla’s work and have an adverse impact on the delivery of front-line services.

It is essential that all foster carers are assigned a link social worker to support them and that a dedicated social worker is provided to all children in care. As of September 2017, 90% of foster carers had a link worker and 96% of children in care had a social worker. However, it is unacceptable for even one carer or child to be without that support.

A further recommendation of the committee is the co-location of gardaí and Tusla officials in specialist child protection units to counteract the gaps in the emergency out of hours services and aid inter-agency information sharing in the best interests of vulnerable young people.

It is important that recommendations made in the audit report on section 12 of the Childcare Act 1991 are implemented within an agreed timeframe. I note that as of December 2017 Tusla had developed and submitted an action plan in that regard to the Department. In addition, the implementation of the signs of safety approach must be monitored and reviewed on an ongoing basis in order to ensure it continues to be fit for purpose. One of the most important recommendations in the committee’s report relates to the need for measures to ensure vulnerable children are not returned to homes or circumstances from which they have been repeatedly been removed under section 12 of the Childcare Act 1991. It is shocking that such recommendation needs to be made in this day and age. Such situations cannot be tolerated and are contrary to the basic principles of child protection, common sense and decency.

While discussing the committee’s report and the implementation of these recommendations it is important to address the reality of our foster care system. A HIQA report yesterday identified serious issues with a private foster care service in Kildare. Four people had filled the head role of the organisation in a 14-month period. The company failed its inspection in five of the seven standards assessed and was deemed to be non-compliant. Some 15 placements with the foster care company ended in the past year, the majority in an unplanned manner. The assessments of foster carers carried out by the company were deemed by HIQA to be poor. The situation is nothing short of disgraceful. The committee raised questions in that regard in its report. However, it should not take revelations such as that to prompt action. The failure to address issues relating to private foster care companies must no longer be tolerated because it is a monthly reporting function from HIQA and has been a very regular occurrence since my appointment as Chairman of the committee last July.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge the scandal which occurred in Galway, where three girls were failed by the HSE and our health system between 2005 and 2007 and subjected to sexual assault while in foster care, care deemed appropriate for them by the HSE at the time. No Member of this House, or anyone else in our society, could in any way justify those failings. We must not continue to allow the State and our health and foster care systems to continue to fail some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society. We must immediately address these issues.

I wish to thank my colleagues from all parties and none for their very considerable efforts in the production of the report. I acknowledge the co-operation of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Minister, Deputy Zappone, HIQA and Tusla and thank them for their contributions to the overall process. I also acknowledge the many organisations and voluntary bodies which made very valuable contributions to the Houses of the Oireachtas by taking the time to make submissions or appear before the committee.

I wish to begin by joining the Chair of the committee, Deputy Farrell, in acknowledging the shocking and disturbing child sexual abuse case related by a recent RTÉ programme. Three young girls who were in foster care and who should have been safe and protected from harm were horribly abused by the teenage son of their foster parents. Their trust was betrayed. It is essential for the victims and wider society that we establish the full facts and circumstances of that case and learn from it. To that end, this harrowing case was referred in April 2016 to the national review panel for investigation and that process is nearing completion. I updated the Taoiseach on that process this morning.

I thank Deputy Farrell and all members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs for the timely and topical report on the provision of foster care services in Ireland. The hearings of the committee provided a forum for those involved in foster care provision to highlight achievement and identify gaps in the system. I provided a detailed response to the issues raised in the report following its publication and am happy to update the House on progress since then.

In February of this year, 6,161 children could not, for a variety of reasons, live with their parents and were in the care of the State. I am proud that the vast majority of those children, 92%, live in family environments and are cared for by foster carers dedicated to their well-being. We have been at that level for several years. As indicated in my response when the report was published, improvement is needed in several key areas. I am happy to state that progress has been made in some such areas, while there are significant challenges to overcome in others.

I cannot address all the recommendations of the committee here, but I wish to address some of the more significant ones and update the House in that regard. One encouraging and significant development since the publication of the report is the appointment of a dedicated national social work manager from Tusla to work with the Garda. I understand that An Garda Síochána is in the process of establishing child protection units in each of its divisions which will provide a structure for joint working in that sensitive area. The co-location of a social work manager with the Garda is intended to strengthen inter-agency collaboration, build relationships and data sharing and mitigate against the risks posed by the gaps in the emergency out of hours service. Progress on the provision of emergency out of hours service to all areas of the country is ongoing. A 24 hour emergency phone service which provides social work consultation to the Garda is available in all areas. A 24 hour social work service is currently in operation in Cork and the greater Dublin region, where it provides services to Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. When fully operational later this year, a range of social work supports will be available and consultation and advice will be offered to An Garda Síochána. Most importantly, the service will provide a 24-7 telephone social work support service for foster carers.

As the Chairman stated, the committee was also concerned with costs and governance of the private foster care sector. A relatively small number of the children are placed with private foster carers. The latest available data relate to February this year and show that there are 390 children in private foster care placements out of a total of 5,683 children in foster care. Information from Tusla tells us that the children in care are in stable placements or as far as possible are being cared for in their local area, and the majority are in education. By and large, children in foster care do well and that is in large part due to the dedication of our foster carers.

I am aware of the criticisms of the governance and management structures, in particular of the foster care committees, that have emerged in recent Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, inspections. I agree that is not good enough and needs to be improved. The foster care committee’s role in approving foster carers, reviews, re-vetting and monitoring is essential. Tusla is taking steps to strengthen these committees and has put in place revised guidance for their operation. When HIQA representatives appeared before the committee they indicated that they would like to see increased powers to oversee Tusla’s role in foster care provision, something to which the Chairman referred in his remarks. That would most likely build on the existing regulations. My Department is in correspondence with HIQA to gain an insight into the scope of those changes, and I will keep the House informed of the outcome of those discussions.

Children may be placed in private foster care for a number of reasons. It may be in an emergency situation or because they have particular needs that cannot be met by a general foster care placement, or there may not be a Tusla foster care placement available in their locality. I should point out that the costs associated with a private foster care placement are inclusive of costs that also apply to a statutory placement. These include the recruitment and assessment of potential foster carers, the cost of a link social worker for the foster carer and also training for foster carers. All of these are essential elements of both public and private placements. Ultimately, the key to reducing the number of private placements lies in the ability to recruit foster carers in appropriate locations and with the appropriate capacity to care for the children not currently fostered within the statutory provision.

I urge anyone who is thinking of fostering to contact their local Tusla office and explore the possibilities with them. All general foster carers are fully assessed, vetted and approved before a child is placed with them. The majority of foster carers have both a link social worker and the child’s social worker visiting regularly. In a small number of cases, there may be one social worker allocated for a placement. When a child in foster care does not have an allocated social worker or a foster carer does not have a link worker, measures are put in place to provide a social work service to both. The local duty social work team provide support to children in care and to foster carers. Children in foster care are prioritised to ensure that those in unstable placements, those about to enter aftercare or children who are in care less than six months are not left without social work support. At a local area level, the fostering teams respond to unallocated foster carers as issues or queries arise. These measures are not a substitute for allocated social workers to both child and the foster carer, but they do ensure that there is a social work service involved in each placement.

The committee was also concerned about the recommendations in Dr. Geoffrey Shannon’s audit report, particularly An Garda Síochána’s use of section 12, to which the Chairman referred. I receive regular updates on that in regard to the plan I drew up with Dr. Shannon, but one of the concerns raised in the audit report, which was also raised in the joint committee's report, was that vulnerable children are being returned repeatedly to the same circumstances. It was raised again here. The issue has been included in the research Tusla has commissioned into the handling of cases where a child came into Tusla’s custody following the use of section 12 by An Garda Síochána. I expect that research will bring clarity on the extent to which that is happening, and the circumstances in which it occurs.

The committee also called for improvements in the collation of comprehensive data on foster care services. I can assure the committee that my Department already receives a comprehensive range of data from Tusla on children in care, the types of care provided, including private placements, the number of children in care with written care plans, the number of referrals to child protection services, the allocation of social workers and the numbers waiting for allocation. Many of these data are published on the Tusla website and are freely available. My officials use the data to monitor significant changes and emerging monthly, quarterly and annual trends. I am confident that further improvement will be realised through the introduction and full implementation this year of the national child care information system. I had a management board meeting with my team earlier this morning and there is confirmation that Tusla is on target in regard to rolling this out. This will include a view of re-referrals of children and give a picture in terms of the children throughout the 17 areas. The system will provide my Department with more detailed reports about children in care, and bring greater clarity to the scale and impact of our care services.

There is much to do to ensure that we maintain the high quality of foster care placements to children needing the care and protection of the State. I welcome the work of the joint committee and I look forward to hearing the Deputies' comments on this very important issue, especially in light of the time that has passed since the committee published the still very relevant report.

I thank the Minister and the Chairman.

I thank the Chairman and the Minister for their opening statements. The report represents a huge body of work. The Chairman was right to acknowledge the role of the rapporteur, Deputy Funchion, in bringing it front and centre. I found it an enlightening experience because it was something about which I did not have great knowledge. The most important point is that it put a spotlight on the great work done by foster care families.

The Minister's good colleague from the Department, whose name I cannot remember at the moment, and I attended an Empowering People in Care, EPIC, conference at which we sat on a stage in front of various children. I will always remember the number - 6,344. A fantastic lady came forward who told her story through song, dance and literature, and it was absolutely amazing. It was all about her experience in care. When I and the Minister's colleague left the conference that day, there was an undertaking and a willingness on our part that we would be the voice for those people. Those young people took the microphone that day, and they do not understand the difference between a Deputy, a Minister, a Senator or the lady in the Department, but they felt their voices were not being heard. All they wanted to know was that they had a voice. To be considerate to the EPIC organisers on that day, they let the debate flow and allowed the young people and their foster care parents have a say. That instilled in me the need to ensure that we should do whatever we can do to let them have that voice. I am very glad that our committee facilitated that opportunity.

It was important for us to be able to deliver a message for those young people because they had issues to raise. That is addressed in the 12 points in the report. As members of an Oireachtas committee, we have identified various issues that they highlighted about their care and aftercare plans. They made the point that if they were to engage in education, given that a person may not make the right choice in the first subject they select, they could pursue education again. Their greatest fear is that they would fall off the wagon, so to speak, in regard to education. Foster care parents were worried about that also because they wanted to support these children and give them every chance to get an education. That was a major worry on the day.

Another issue was voiced by foster parents on the day. With the current housing crisis they said they would have no problem building on additional units or capacity to their properties. If there was a grant available similar to the housing adaptation grant for older persons or persons with disabilities, they were prepared to build what those of us in the country would call a lean-to onto the house if they wanted to foster another child. They were open and flexible in wanting to help.

It is important to acknowledge the good work done by EPIC, Youth Advocate Programmes, YAP, Ireland, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, and all the other agencies which provide support for foster care parents. The critical point they made concerned the support they felt they were getting nationally from Tusla. They were critical of the fact that they did not have the link workers, the social care workers or the aftercare plans.

In the context of recommendation No. 7, we know that there is a problem in the recruitment and retention of staff which is affecting the most vulnerable children in foster care. We must also examine the supports for staff to enable them to do their work, including ICT facilities. I raise this issue on a regular basis because how staff on the ground communicate with central base is critical. If a child moves from Galway to Dublin, the relevant data should not solely be in paper files but also stored electronically. The Minister said new ICT systems were being rolled out, which is welcome because it was a major criticism in the report. It is really positive to see improvements being made in that regard.

In terms of there being specific committee meetings, the presentation made by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on child protection, was fantastic, particularly the body of work he did on the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act. For me he opened up a new way of understanding children in vulnerable circumstances. I sit on the joint policing committee, JPC, in Galway and must compliment the Garda division in that county. We now receive an audit and quarterly reports on the use of section 12 by the Galway division. In the first quarter of this year the provisions of section 12 were used seven times. The report from An Garda Síochána does not go into great detail, but at least we know how many families were vulnerable. Following his presentation, I was equipped with the tools which enabled me to ask at a local level for support for vulnerable children. I recommend that all Oireachtas Members who sit on JPCs throughout the country engage with journalists, county councillors and other JPC members in order that they will all understand what section 12 means. I was able to educate my fellow JPC colleagues, for which I have the Oireachtas committee to thank. The information that came from the particular meeting was startling, as was the information on the out-of-hours service.

I note that three counties will benefit initially from closer co-operation between An Garda Síochána and Tusla. The lack of cross-departmental co-operation was very evident from numerous presentations made to the committee. I must compliment the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on the work her Department has done to build a bridge because that is the only way we will be able to support young people properly. We have to be the bigger person and identify where the system is not working and bring all Departments on board. The wonderful thing about the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs is that it works with so many Departments. A lot of them can work without the committee but it cannot work without them. It depends on seven Departments, but interdepartmental co-operation has been a failure in some respects. That failure was not the result of an unwillingness on the part of any group. On the level of co-operation between An Garda Síochána and Tusla, somebody had to make the decision that they would work together and bring it all into play. That has happened and I really look forward to the national roll-out in that regard. At a recent meeting of Galway JPC I asked when it would be rolled out in my county. It will be rolled out and there is an awareness of it, as well as huge hope.

I am glad that the Minister, Deputy Katharine Zappone, and Deputy Alan Farrell both touched on the Galway abuse case which happened in my constituency. As I have raised it as a Topical Issues matter on two occasions, I will not go into the details of it again today. It is important to point out, however, that it happened when the foster care system was under the governance of the HSE. I hope lessons have been learned and that the mistakes will not be repeated. No one who watched the horrific television programme would want any child in care to be subjected to anything like what was described. In that context, HIQA needs stronger statutory powers. It does not have the teeth it requires at this time. It is carrying out all of the inspections and conducting review after review, but, regrettably, the findings are still the same. When it began carrying out inspections, the first reports we saw were very concerning and, in some instances, shameful. Simple, basic things were wrong that should not have been wrong. Even basic things such as Garda vetting had not been carried out. However, 12 months on from the first reports we are still seeing issues repeated and lessons not being learned. Garda vetting does not take 12 months to complete. There is a process in place and when one applies for Garda vetting, it works well and does not take anything like 12 months to complete. In that context, why are the basic problems which are highlighted continuously not being addressed? There is no need for that to happen. If we are not getting the most basic fundamentals right, how can we expect to tackle the huge non-compliance issues? One of the latest reports highlighted nine areas, in one of which there was compliance and in another semi-compliance, but in the remaining seven there was major non-compliance. It should be the other way around. We should be making progress, but it seems that we are not, which is regrettable.

As the Minister pointed out, we need more foster care families and to support them if we want to give children a second chance. We must ensure they are in the best possible place - a home setting. In that context, Tusla must make foster care a priority in order that foster carers will be able to proudly identify as a group within the care sector that does its job well, rather than a group that is in the public eye for all of the wrong reasons.

I thank everyone on the Oireachtas committee for giving me the opportunity to work on the report. I really enjoyed it. The 12 recommendations made should be kept front and centre and reassessed on an annual basis. It would be beneficial to invite representatives of HIQA to appear before the Oireachtas committee again to see how best we can move forward, given what we have learned in the past 12 months.

I welcome the report and the recommendations contained therein. The work on it had been largely completed before I joined the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, but I express my thanks to those members who worked on the report. It does a very good job in reflecting the concerns representatives from all parties and none have about the state of the foster care system. I strongly support the recommendation that a value for money review be carried out of the use of the six private foster care companies and that Tusla focus more on recruiting foster carers directly. As mentioned, concerns have been raised in the latest HIQA report about two of the aforementioned foster care companies. We all know that there is a shortage of foster parents. This shortage means that children are often placed with foster parents who live very long distances away from where they were based originally. This creates huge problems when it comes to going to school and retaining links with friends and relatives. This issue needs more attention.

The issue of data collection is one that concerns me greatly because, as I said to the Minister earlier this week, we need all of the facts when making decisions on funding and resources.

If we lack data, it is difficult for us to make informed decisions on issues. I, therefore, welcome the recommendation calling for Tusla to be more transparent when it comes to precise breakdowns on the types of care settings in which children are placed and the circumstances surrounding them. Unfortunately, when I have looked for data on some of these issues, I have been told that Tusla does not have it, which is concerning.

Tusla, in its response to the committee on the report, said some data are collected quarterly but not published, while other data will be published when the national childcare information system is fully implemented. The Minister said the agency would put the information on its website. The most recent annual review of adequacy report was published online in 2015. The Minister receives a copy of the report every year under section 8 of the Child Care Act 1991. This highlights the problem. In some cases, there seems to be a closed loop when it comes to Tusla data. The information is forwarded by Tusla to the Department and, in turn, to the Minister but those of us outside the loop are left in the dark. Hopefully, that will be addressed.

I refer to the issue raised in recommendation No. 7, which calls on Tusla to be "creative" when it comes to the recruitment and retention of staff. We all recognise that this is not just about funding. According to the recent business plan published by Tusla, it expects an underspend of €11.4 million in respect of pay this year. There are major difficulties retaining and recruiting staff. This issue is raised with the Minister on a regular basis and she is doing her best to address it. Creative thinking is needed because Tusla staff are under immense pressure, and it is not surprising that many are leaving their roles. Pay and conditions need to be examined as a matter of urgency, because we cannot continue to lose staff. This is not just a matter of cases piling up. Social workers and link workers build fantastic relationships with children in care and with foster families but all that is lost when one of them leaves and everyone has to start over again. It can take a long time for a child to build a similar relationship again. We need to focus on recruitment and retention of staff because these children need continuity. I understand Tusla established a workforce planning unit to examine this issue, and it would be a great help if we could be given information on how that process is going and if more supports are needed.

There is a major issue with the casual use of voluntary care agreements for long periods. It is deeply unfair on children to be placed with families on such an agreement for the duration of their childhood and to be told at the age of seven or eight that they will be removed from the family they have known all their lives. It is a difficult issue but I urge the Minister to discuss it with some of the groups that represent young people in care. While most of these agreements are only supposed to be used for a short period, there are instances where they are used when another care order would have been more appropriate. This is partly down to Tusla trying to avoid legal costs and the increased workload that securing those care orders can involve.

Overall, I welcome this report. The recommendations are workable, and I recognise that some are being implemented. It must be remembered that children in foster care are some of the most vulnerable in society. Everything needs to be done to ensure they are safe and to provide them with safety and certainty. The report predated the disclosure regarding the foster home in Galway. Everybody was disgusted when they watched the recent "RTE Investigates" programme into the failures of the HSE when it came to the abuse of children in foster care in Galway. We need to hold people accountable for leaving children in a foster home where abuse was taking place. The public are sick and tired of the lack of accountability in respect of this issue. We need clear answers, transparency and accountability in order that we can protect children in care.

I welcome this timely report. I read through the recommendations and commentary as I waited to contribute to the debate. I will relate my experience of dealing with Tusla, about which I spoke to the Minister previously, the files it creates and its activities in respect of foster families. Questions are raised with us at our clinics along with complaints about the agency and how foster families are treated, and complaints from the families from whom children have been taken. I understand the confidentiality requirements around these issues but some way has to be found for Oireachtas Members who have been approached about them to make representations to a secure unit within her Department in order that we at least know the rights and wrongs of the issues we have raised are being dealt with. Unfortunately, my experience is that that does not happen. Vulnerable families who are worried about their children and who are seeking their return want to know what is going on. When they make a complaint, that cannot be processed. I find that difficult to take when I am dealing with vulnerable families and young children. Will the Minister address the issue of allowing access to representation through Members, bearing in mind the confidential nature of the issues being raised?

I understand that indemnity for foster families was not included when responsibilities in this area were transferred to Tusla and, therefore, no indemnity is in place for these families. This has been brought to my attention by Irish Foster Care Association, which has been lobbying for the reinstatement of the indemnity. Will the Minister explain why there is no cover and what will be done about that? Has every foster family been advised of this through the association? Have families who are not members of the association been informed that they are not covered by insurance? It is a concern and I ask the Minister to deal with it.

I share the concerns expressed by colleagues about private companies in that there is a need for accountability and transparency in this area, and the public needs to be reassured regarding transparency.

In the event of siblings being separated, is there a register which clearly indicates where brothers, sisters and members of the same family are taken into care? At least with such a register we would know where they are being placed and there would be a history of care. This concerns the rights of those individual family members to know the whereabouts of other members who are being cared for. That right should exist and somebody within Tusla should ensure that the entire family picture can be put in place. Where is such registry data collected? If it is not being collected, why is that the case? If it is, to what extent is it being collected and how transparent is the process?

I will comment on vulnerable families going to court. We spoke earlier of the HSE but the people to whom I refer feel completely out of their depth because of the confidential nature of the system and the weight of the legal process on the side of the State and the Department. In some instances, these people feel it is almost impossible to get appropriate representation for those who require it. Something must be done to strike a balance between the State having all the representation and the families concerned having some members taken from parents. They should be properly represented in the court system.

I appreciate all the comments and questions from Deputies and I acknowledge the great contribution made by this report. It has informed all of us about the great elements of the system, particularly the foster care families and carers themselves, as well as the gaps that still exist. I will address specific issues that were raised.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to a number of the 12 points and it is helpful that the report was so clear and concise in its recommendations. It is why we are able to respond as we are.

Deputies Rabbitte and Mitchell mentioned the importance of data collection. Tusla is moving on in this regard with ICT systems being rolled out throughout the country. Deputies noted that there is still a challenge in this area and spoke about the importance of transparency and accessible information. We made the decision on the national roll-out for social workers, and they are trying to focus on their practice. It is not that they are not collecting data at a local level but we are waiting for the full roll-out of the other system in order that they can focus on practice instead of completing more paperwork. Deputies asked about what is on the website and also about the 2016 annual review that recently arrived into the Department. Most of the information from the annual review is already on the Tusla website. As we are waiting for the full system to be rolled out, I ask that if Deputies have any specific questions or concerns, they should contact me and we can follow through on them. Our hope is that the system will be more transparent when it is completed.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to the movement to inter-agency co-operation between the Garda and Tusla. It is great to hear that the Deputy knows of a local and regional response in the form of the joint policing committees she mentioned. We still have a way to go in that regard. We are changing the cultures of two major agencies and institutions in order to ensure that they work together. There were concerns in resect of recruitment and retention and I addressed those, and other matters, in the House recently. The Deputies referred to creativity, which is required, and I spoke about the work force strategy currently being worked on very carefully. Particularly in the context of retention, some of the key issues for social workers include being able to manage caseloads, having good supervision and seeing administrative supports and information technology. Those specific issues are being worked on in the workforce development strategy.

Deputy McGuinness raised the matter of insurance or indemnification. My understanding is that the individual cases will be underwritten by the State while my Department is sorting out the indemnity issue. It is working on that. The Secretary General of my Department has reassured the Irish Foster Care Association of this so if there is a difficulty or problem, there will be indemnification as cases come up. It is an interim solution and a longer-term solution is being worked on as we speak. All cases in foster care are currently being dealt with on an individual basis. There should not be any concern about this. My officials are working with other Departments to put in place that scheme. It is more complicated than initially anticipated.

Deputy McGuinness began by asking about finding a way in which Members of the Oireachtas can make representations regarding what comes to them in the form of complaints, specifically in respect of vulnerable families. The Deputy raised this matter with me previously. I brought it to the attention of officials in the Department and I will have to do so again. The questions raised by the Deputy are reasonable and we should see if there is potential for moving in different ways.

Much of the system is good and we respect and want to find greater ways to support the foster care families. Significant improvements must be made in the foster care system, and HIQA is demonstrating that. I am in conversation with the authority about giving it more powers regarding Tusla. Members referred to recent HIQA reports and I am also very disappointed by the inspection findings, particularly those concerning the two foster care companies. I have directed my officials to find out the full facts of Tusla's arrangements in placing children through private companies. They will report to me on all issues outlined in the inspection reports. I have also been informed that Tusla is not making any new placements of children with Care Visions Fostering Ireland, which is one of the companies identified . No new referrals will be made until the company is fully compliant with standards. It is essential that Tusla is satisfied that every company has competent and reliable leadership and management structures. Many of the failings outlined in these reports are a direct result of problems at that level.

In regard to those two recent reports, I have directed my officials.

Will the Minister comment on the register of siblings? I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence.

I believe the Deputy asked whether there is a register in order that people will know where their children are.

I do not know if there is a register but we can find out. The practice is for a foster care family to care for two children. Sometimes there is an exception to move to three but that is on a case-by-case basis. However, when and if siblings have to be separated, steps are taken to maintain contacts across the family groups. Social workers spend a considerable amount of time making that happen.

There is a register of all children in care and all details are recorded. That is the specific answer to Deputy McGuinness' question. If siblings have to be separated for good reasons - sometimes there are good reasons - social care workers are in contact and work diligently to ensure as much contact as they can with the families.

Question put and agreed to.