That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and to provide for related matters.
I welcome the opportunity to introduce the Child and Family Agency (Foster Care Oversight) Bill 2018. It is a straightforward and necessary Bill which will place a statutory obligation on the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, to publish statistics annually for the numbers of children in care. I know that I speak for many Deputies in the House when I say we have had difficulties in accessing information from Tusla. Many believe there is something of a closed loop between Tusla and the Department. One example is the use of voluntary care agreements and the length of time children spend, in some cases, most of their childhood, in what is supposed to be a temporary agreement which can be ended at any time. This is also something many advocacy groups, care leavers and campaigners have criticised. For many young people, there can be a complete lack of security. While most voluntary care agreements are used appropriately, there is a feeling that in a limited number of cases this type of agreement is being used as a quick fix to avoid going through the courts to secure a more appropriate type of care order. On numerous occasions I have asked parliamentary questions about the number of children covered by certain care orders and their timeframe, only to be informed that this information is unavailable. The Bill will oblige Tusla to outline annually the number of children in voluntary care agreements and other care types, as well as noting changes to care orders, and to publish this information. It is about ensuring all data are published. As I said, this is a straightforward Bill, but it is about ensuring transparency in order that, as legislators, we will have up-to-date statistics and data when it comes to the most vulnerable children in the care system.