Child Care Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mr. Farrell

Before children are taken into care there should be more discussion between social workers, the local doctor and the school teachers. That is important. I have experience of children being taken into care — I know social workers were doing a good job — based solely on the social worker's experience. Teachers and the local doctor could be very helpful. They may not wish to get involved in such cases but they could give advice which would be very helpful. I would like to see more co-operation in that field.

It is sad that we have to have these laws; it is sad that there is so much child abuse. We must remember that laws only work where the culprit is brought to court and fined. Unfortunately they are not a deterrent. They are a preventative only for those who are caught. It may be a warning to those who are not caught if the sentences are severe enough but that does not always happen. We must do more to bring child abuse to an end. I do not know how we can provide more services but certainly something has to be done. It is sad that anyone should have to be brought to court. With the setting up of Childline and so forth, it is obvious it is a very big problem.

This law is good, it is very important to have it and I welcome it but we must ensure that we have a more caring and a more preventive system so that there will be no need for this law and that children will not be abused.

It would be very ungracious not to welcome this Bill, however belated it may be. In some ways it is a useful indication of the way the Oireachtas should work, in that a very specialised piece of legislation which was introduced in the Dáil went before a select committee which worked, from my reading of sections of the debate, in a relatively non-party political fashion on Committee Stage and established a considerable consensus.

It is about time this legislation came before us. The Children's Act, 1908 is too old and there are still huge areas to be discussed. The areas which this Bill deals with and its principles are most welcome and we all subscribe to them. The fundamental principle is the paramount welfare of the child. It would be great if we could all agree on what that meant in detail because on one issue, which I am not going to even mention this morning, the welfare of children is going to be booted around this nation for the next six weeks mostly, incidentally, by people who will never have direct responsibility for the welfare of children. However, we will hear a lot about the welfare of children over the next four to six weeks. Nevertheless, I think we all agree that the fundamental concern of all legislation dealing with children and the care of children, is the welfare of children. Everything else is secondary to that. I do not think anybody disputes the intent of the greater part of this legislation to actually do that, to achieve a considerable step forward. However, apart from being belated, there is an underlying problem that no amount of legislation can deal with. There are two problems.

The first is the adequacy or otherwise of resources to do all the things it is intended to do. Section 5, most welcome though it is, deals with the obligation imposed on a health board to provide accommodation for homeless children and could consume millions of pounds unless, for instance, we are going to have cold, detached clinical institutional hotels for homeless children, which is precisely what homeless children do not need. They need homes, not just shelter, and therefore a fine and noble principle — I take this as one example because I have had a certain interest in the area over the years — may well not be achieved. If adequate resources are not provided nothing maybe achieved. We cannot legislate for resources; we can simply say over and over again to this Minister and to the Government that all the good intent, all the remarkable degree of consensus that has emerged on this legislation will be meaningless if resources are not provided to meet all the obligations and all the aspirations contained in this legislation.

Apart from what is contained in this Bill, there are areas of child care that are desperately in need of updating. They are in no particular order. I would like to remind this Minister and the Government of previous commitments to rewrite the adoption law. We have had a single amendment to the Adoption Act which was, we were told, a prelude to a fundamental review responding to the review body on adoption. That is as much a part of the welfare of children as what we are dealing with here and it is long promised, long delayed and long overdue and very badly needed. I would love to hear some indication from the Minister that a review of adoption law was completed and that legislation was to be introduced quickly. It is a major area of social reform which needs a variety of amendments.

I would similarly say, perhaps with even greater passion, that the area of juvenile justice, which was originally supposed to be incorporated into a single Children's Bill was, for administrative reasons or efficiency or other restrictions, separated and brought in in separate legislation. We have no proper juvenile justice legislation. We still have the absolutely astonishing assumption that a child of seven and a half is capable of being criminally culpable. There is a burden of extra proof for a child but, nevertheless, we accept the principle that a seven and a half year old child is actually capable of committing a criminal offence. Extending from that we have the astonishing situation of 15 year old and 13 year old children being locked up in a prison which is not fit for adults and which is entirely unfit for children, that is, Mountjoy Prison.

I have not succeeded in getting the attention of anybody in the media or in politics in relation to the most astonishing small scandal that I have run into in recent years in the area of juvenile justice. This is a project under the general heading of Irwin House in which the much maligned religious community, the Sisters of Mercy — much maligned in the way religious orders are — handed over a convent and its grounds to a voluntary organisation which proposed to set up a centre for the care of disturbed adolescents. If anybody reads the newspapers in this country it is perfectly clear that one of the most painfully needed services here is a residential centre for disturbed adolescents.

Let me tell this House what happened. The Sisters of Mercy handed over this building in perfect condition, and its grounds, to the Irwin House Foundation. The Irwin House Foundation tried to get funds from the Departments of Health, Justice and Education and each Department tried to say that the other Department was responsible. Ultimately the Department of Health told Irwin House that it was really a matter for the South-Eastern Health Board. It most assuredly was not. It happened to be geographically located in the area of concern of the South-Eastern Health Board, but it was meant to be a national service. If we are to have a situation where national services, because of their geographical location, become the responsibility of a single health board without funding, then we will have a ridiculous situation on our hands. Not only did the Sister of Mercy offer this premises free of charge and in good condition, they offered to commit between £70,000 and £100,000 a year in the early years of this operation because they believed Irwin House filled a need. It would have been a specific clear alternative to the disgraceful practice of locking up children in Mountjoy Prison. Our Government, the previous Government, the South-Eastern Health Board and the Department of Education failed miserably to respond to that proposal and that whole idea has now been dropped. It is an absolute disgrace.

That is not true. The Senator is only telling half the story.

I have told the story as Irwin House told it to me and they have not got any other version from any Government Department. At least we have now got a public response about Irwin House because Irwin House was buried under a succession of carpets and Government Departments for the last number of years. It is nothing short of a disgrace. The individual concerned was among the most competent, qualified, committed people to be in charge of the work of attempting to heal the wounds of disturbed adolescents. I would be delighted and excited, as they say, if the Minister would actually reply in detail and explain why the Irwin House project did not take off.

There are suggestions of extraordinary petty inter-bureaucratic wrangling about who was responsible for what, I believe Governments are responsible for what happens in this country and they should make things happen. We need an answer on that. The reason I raised it is because of the fact that week after week children are locked up in Mountjoy Prison. While it is more than reasonable to welcome what is in this Bill, and there is a lot of good in it, the fundamental question in the implementation of this legislation and other legislation is the question of the goodwill of those who are responsible for implementing it. The sad story of Irwin House and the indifference both of politics and the media to the story does not say much for the importance of children in our society.

There are other aspects of the way we deal with our children that are not good pointers towards our concern. The level of child benefit is significantly lower than it is in many countries towards whom we are inclined to adopt attitudes of smug superiority because of what we call our commitment to family life. One of the great Irish contraditions is the fact that our commitment to family life is largely rhetorical and rarely translates into hard cash.

The support services for families that we provide through our taxes are limited. The support services for children are limited. Our child benefit system is limited, inadequate and underfunded. I would be happy to accept a more discriminatory form of child benefit, a generous level of child benefit, generous by multiplying it by a factor of two to three, which was taxed. That would represent a far better system. Our level of support for families with large numbers of children is remarkably poor and is a direct contradiction of what we claim to be the dominant ethos of our society.

I was glad to hear Senator Farrell refer to the issue of taking children into care. While I would not disagree with a detail of what is in this legislation, I am always wary of experts. I would claim, with the arrogance of ten years of Irish politics, to be an expert on a number of matters myself. I do not like the idea of experts interfering in other people's lives unless it is done in a clear, open and unchallengeable fashion. Some people have suggested that the procedures for taking children into care are so complicated and so intimidating that most families, particularly where parents were of a restricted educational background, would be so intimidated they would not even know how to contest the case. On the general issue of putting children into care, I would simply cry warning that we must be careful not to allow experts to run away with us.

There are two kinds of experts. On the issue of child sexual abuse it has taken us ten years to admit that such exists in this country. The irony is — and it is one people ought to address on the issue of child sexual abuse — that most of what we are learning about child sexual abuse is being told to us by adults who were sexually abused at a time when some would have us believe this country was a shining model of virtue in western Europe 20 or 30 years ago. Let us remember that. The adults who are now telling us the shameful stories of child sexual abuse were children at the time when this country was supposed to be a model of virtue.

There are also other sorts of disturbing perceptions of child sexual abuse. I have often given an example of one in this House, because I want Government Ministers to be aware of it. I will leave it anonymous because I would not like the individual to be identified. At an association meeting I attended in my political capacity I was sitting in the back row and somebody raised the question of children coming home late at night in a certain area out of which came threats to young girls, out of which came child sexual abuse. A Garda superintendent who was present said he did not like this thing being blown up too much because a lot of the talk about child sexual abuse was being put about by people who were seeking to undermine the sanctity of the family in Irish life. He said that "We in the Garda know that most sex offences against children are committed by homosexuals". A senior officer of the Garda Sióchána said that in public at a meeting. It was not my business to contradict him there because I was there in a capacity where it would not have been proper. I have never named the man nor have I ever identified him. I am not even saying whether it happened in Cork, Dublin or anywhere else. I am simply saying that it represents a perception of the problem that is very different.

It is interesting that many of the voluntary organisations dealing with child care have emphasised the need to ensure that the gardaí who deal in this area are adequately and properly trained. It is a pity that every time we extend the responsibilities the Garda have and make a fuss of them we have to raise a fuss then about the need to have them trained. Some years ago the whole issue of properly training gardaí to deal with rape victims was gone through here. Of course, it was wrong. It was not their fault that they were not trained.

Could we for once get away from reactive policy and have a thought out policy which says: right, if we want people to do the following things, then we train them to do the following things. We simply do not send around a circular letter saying, from some day next month you are now responsible for X, Y and Z, go and do it. Could we think it through and make the resources available to train people? The Garda in most areas of social need do a remarkable job. As I have often said, in dealing with some of the people I have dealt with earlier in my life particularly homeless people, they have shown a capacity to be compassionate and flexible that many of the statutory caring services never seem to be able to show. I am not criticising the Garda. I am simply saying they are hopelessly under-resourced and hopelessly under-funded.

There are a number of other areas in this legislation that deserve a little more scrutiny. I do not want to get involved in what is necessarily Committee Stage work, but I will mention a few. First, there is the apparent deliberate exclusion of relatives of a child from the payment of foster care allowance. I do not know who thought that up. I do not know what motivates it. I would have thought the most ideal foster parent for a child — I am not making a professional judgment — the most obvious place to start, would be within the extended family of the child. If we are to suggest, for instance, that the unemployed couple who are the aunt or uncle of a child in need of foster care are expected to take on foster care without the support of a foster care allowance which is paid to a non-relative, then I need an explanation of the logic of that position. I would be very happy to hear it.

A number of people have raised with me — and I am sure the Minister is aware of the objection — the need to make separate applications to the courts for care orders and supervision orders so as to allow the court to grant a care order or not on the basis of the evidence present and, likewise, to grant a supervision order, because it would be better if separate hearings had to be held and if the orders could be dealt with separately.

There are issues about the review plans, long term care, etc. that are better dealt with on Committee Stage. I would like to bring one specific section to the attention of the Minister, because it looks like a classic bid of the State legislating for everybody else but ducking its own responsibilities. I refer to section 56, under the heading "Children's Residential Centre". The section says:

"Children's residential centre" means any home or other institution for the residential care of children in the care of health boards or other children who are not receiving adequate care and protection excluding—

The list is remarkable. It begins with: "(a) an institution managed by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government or a health board.". As far as child care legislation is concerned, children's residential centres do not include children's residential centres if they are owned or managed by the State or by a health board. What an extraordinary idea. We are going to say that everybody else must meet all these wonderful standards but the State is excluded. My understanding is that this amendment surfaced quite late in the other House and may not even have been adequately debated there.

Fair enough, then the information I have is incorrect on that specific issue. I quote again from the list of exclusions from section 56 of the Bill:

(b) an institution in which a majority of the children being maintained are being treated for acute illnesses,

(c) an institution for the care and maintenance of physically or mentally handicapped children,

(d) a mental institution within the meaning of the Mental Treatment Acts, 1945 to 1966,

The least the Minister can do is explain the logic particularly behind paragraph (a). I do not want to get involved in a Committee Stage debate, but there is a principle involved in this, which is that we propose to legislate for children's residential centres and we stick in a proposal which excludes all those run by the State. Is it that the State does not want to have to meet the expense of bringing these centres up to the standards it wants everybody to come up to? Is it that the State does not believe that its own institutions would meet these standards, or what? It is a practice, incidentally, that is not confined to the Department of Health. It is the same ridiculous practice which allows the Office of Public Works to plank buildings where they like, when they like, without any reference to planning laws. It is the same legislation which operates in a number of areas and which leaves the State exempt from the requirements everybody else has to meet.

I do not want to go on at length on the detail of this Bill. I understand that a number of my colleagues will be introducing a series of amendments. But I would like to hear from either this Minister or some Minister not just the intricacies of this Bill, which would be most welcome, but some news on what we are going to do about the scandal of juvenile justice and what we are going to do about the report of the Adoption Review Body, which is beginning to gather enormous amounts of dust on enormous numbers of shelves and which is desperately in need of a legislative response.

In conclusion, notwithstanding the argumentative tone of much of what I had to say, I welcome the Bill, but it will only be as good as the money that is available to make it work. I look forward to future budgets in which specific and substantial provision is made for the implementation of this legislation. However, given the niggardly attitude of this and previous Governments to obvious areas of child need, particularly in the area of mental handicap, one does not have any reason to be optimistic.

I look forward to convincing the Senator otherwise.

I would like to welcome the Minister, Deputy Treacy, to the House, and this long awaited Child Care Bill. I believe it is fair to say that more attention has been given over the past couple of decades to the development of economic policy than to the development of social policy. In general terms we do not tend to have social policy: we have a series ofad hoc responses to emerging crises. We saw that only this week — the Government have tactics, not strategy. We do not really have a social policy which contains, controls and deals with all of the major issues. We have a kind of string bag full of holes.

I hope this Child Care Bill is the begining of the development of thoughtful and comprehensive social policy, and is the legislation to express that social policy. Now is the time to start getting the pieces into place. We are standing in the centre of massive demographic and social change with encompasses change in the way we live, change in the pattern of family life and change in the problems facing our young people and, at the other end of the spectrum, our older people. We need to start addressing the complex issues emerging and we need to start creating a fabric of sensitive and progressive social policy. If this Bill is the beginning of that process it is to be welcomed; it is also to be welcomed because it is a considerable step forward in an area long overdue for legislative attention.

It is good that this Bill defines a child as a person up to 18 years of age. That means some steps can be taken to minimise the unconnectedness of after care, because up to now young people have been disgorged into the system and the basic message they were getting was: OK, kids, you are all grown up now, go and survive as best you can because you do not fit into our categories any more. That, we must hope, is no longer the message they are going to get, that now the system will continue to have some responsibility towards them and some interest in seeing that they successfully make that transition, hopefully, to gainfully employed adulthood.

The Bill has good balance in many of its provisions, a good balance between the interest of children and the interest of parents and others. One area which has been mentioned already is certainly unclear, and that is the question of resources. The Bill is saying, let us build in a set of provisions for our children, but we are not saying how much that will cost, where the money is to come from or — and I hate to think of it — even if the money can be found.

It is a very serious problem. It means that, long before the Bill ever becomes law, professionals in the field — and they have said this to me — whether they are social workers or child workers are already shrugging and doubting that it can be effective. They say it is great to have the law, but if you do not have the personnel or the money to enforce that law your are nearly worse off rather than better off, because you are creating a social awareness that the law is meaningless and can be flouted with impunity. Laws about drunken driving have been on the books in this country for decades, but they are less than effective until enough gardaí are put on the roads with a clear enough brief to put teeth into those laws, as happened last Christmas. This Bill could too easily sit gathering dust if the money is not allocated immediately and on a continuing basis to give it teeth as a law.

That is one criticism which could be made; but there is another criticism, not of the Bill as such, but of the way we as a society think about children and it is one I want to make at this time. We have a very interesting pattern of child care organisations, some go back to the Victorian era, some are rooted in religious orders and some are semi-commercial. They do a very good job, or they do several different kinds of good jobs, but they are hassled and stretched and, of necessity, they concentrate on their own particular bailiwick. For example, a child care organisation which mainly operates in Dublin's inner city is unlikely to be able to find the time to address issues of more moment to children in rural Ireland. That is why we need a single national body to pull together all the concerns about our children and all the expertise we have built up in different areas to match those concerns.

When it comes to women's issues we have such an organisation — the Council for the Status of Women, backed recently by the creation of a new Commission on the Status of Women. We need a similar organisation for our children and we need it very badly. We need something we could term a national children's council so that children's rights and needs can be catered for on a national level, so that there is a lobby and a voice for children, because we must remember, children have no votes. Otherwise, we will have individual regions and agencies concerned with children's rights and it will be a case of divide and rule. We will never evolve a policy which revives, refreshes and reinterprets our constitutional claim to cherish all of our children equally.

This calls for the creation of a national children's council. I am not suggestion that our child care agencies be homogenised. We do not want or need that. We want them to have their own individual flavour and their own sense of mission, but we need them to add up to a powerful voice represented on national issues by an umbrella body. None of them would lose and all our children would gain if they could be pulled together in a council to provide a unified voice on key issues about the welfare of children in the same way as about 70 organisations participate in the Council for the Status of Women. This comes back to funding. If the creation of such a council was not facilitated by funding it would never happen, or it would be yet another voluntary organisation outside the harsh world of influencing policy and would thereby be ignored. If the Government were to set up an oganisation along the lines, I suggest they would have a vested and continuing interest in listening to that organisation.

My call for the creation of a national council for children's welfare is part of a wider concern I have and part of a wider criticism I must make of the Bill. It is a Bill about children at risk or about children who are already in trouble, so it addresses a certain problem. It is not a bad Bill, but it is not a preventative Bill. You could term it a fire brigade rather than a fire prevention Bill. It is wrong that we should be responding after the fact to the problems of children. If we are genuinely committed to cherishing our children then it follows, as day follows night, that we must be committed also to the creation of preventative legislation.

This Bill is a move in the right direction, but in a sense it embodies a concept of childhood as something which for the majority just happens, but in a minority of cases causes problems. I do not believe that our laws should reflect such a constrained and uncreative view of childhood. Our laws should not set out simply to mop up problems; they should enable, empower and enfranchise our young population and those who care about them and work with them. My party, the Progressive Democrats, will be pushing strongly for the development of proper, preventative, progressive child care legislation. If our partners in Government adopt the openness and flexibility shown by Minister of State Noel Treacy over the past few months, then we can achieve wonders. I want to put on record our appreciation of the Minister of State's contribution to this Bill when he was in the Department of Health and thank him for continuing it on through the Seanad today.

I am concerned about the imprecision of the Bill in the area of day care and sessional care. It is only one aspect. When this imprecision is put to public representatives or to the Department of Health officials the response is that this will be covered by regulations. There has been no commitment in law or in fact in regard to what these regulations may be. I will give an example of this. The day care services committee convened by the Department of Health reported in 1985 and most if not all of the agencies and many of the individuals involved with young children submitted to that committee. It worked out regulations and guidelines for decent day care and sessional care; but I do not see the commitment — perhaps it is there — that these will be the regulations put in place, although they should be. They might need to be updated, but they would at least represent a basic minimum.

To turn to another area, there does not seem to be a basic minimum when it comes to the training of people providing child care, the training of people inspecting the premises where child care is being provided and the training of the people in the courts who take the crucial decisions about the future of children who are already in difficulties. That is a very wide area. There is no point in having good legislation if that legislation is to be interpreted in the courts by judges whose mind set in relation to family and children is not informed by current thinking. Nor is there much point in allowing child care to be provided by untrained people who are, in turn, inspected by similarly untrained people.

The response to queries in relation to these matters tends to be that it is a matter for regulations. Regulations take a long time to come and they do not always reflect what legislators assumed would be the priorities for those who passed the original law. I am very wary that all of these considerations are being shifted into some little box labelled "regulations".

I am also wary about the imprecision about lists which will be housed in the Department of Health in relation to pre-school provision. This has a real potential to mislead the public. It is provided that a person running a pre-school has to notify the health board. I am not clear what is going to happen if they do not, but I am sure the Minister will enlighten me there. Let us say a woman is running a pre-school. She obeys the orders, she notifies the health board, and that is fine. Somebody in the health board writes down the notification, so she is on the books. It seems to me that if somebody in her area is thinking about sending a toddler along to that playschool that person may ring up the health board and ask if that playschool is listed with the health board. The answer is yes, because the person running it has obeyed the law and has notified the health board. What worries me is that the person ringing up the health board to check is convinced that the health board has approved the operation, and that is not true. The fact that the play school may be listed with the health board is no more a validation of the operation than a listing in the telephone book would be.

There would be an inspection of these premises, but the Bill does not say what the guidelines of the inspection will be. It says there will be a list of inspected premises in the Department. That, in turn, implies that a member of the public can ring up to find out if the premises was inspected; but nobody is saying that they have been approved — in other words, you might end up with people believing a premises has been validated when in fact it has been inspected and perhaps even found wanting. It would be very dangerous for a member of the public to send their child to a place that has been inspected but may be in the process of closing down.

Another thing that concerns me is the exclusion of health board facilities from this process of inspection. Why are they excluded? They should be the model on which everything else is based, and it should be possible to demonstrate that by having them independently examined. It also worries me that pre-school play groups should have to pay for the privilege of being inspected. A pre-school play group is not a restaurant with a cash flow to pay for inspection. They are run on half a shoe string. The possibility that they would have to pay for an inspection is going to put them under a certain pressure. It will not serve anybody's interests if that pressure makes people running child care facilities avoid any contact with the authorities, because one of the things we must avoid in this area is a kind of black economy child care system.

I have been told of nurseries where babies are left to cry because the places are so understaffed. I have been told of facilities where the standards of hygiene were appalling. I presume that parents who badly need to have their children minded at a reasonable price cannot always afford to take direct action, so they tell public representatives in the hope that this will raise standards generally. I hope it does. I hope that in future budgets we are going to see more imaginative tax breaks given for child care so that people can afford to get proper care for their children and that the people providing the care can get real money so that, they are not cutting down on staff in order to make a buck. Tax breaks of that kind are one thing that will keep standards high; inspection without financial cost is another help.

A final point. I have been stressing that it is not satisfactory to create a legal framework without the resources to back it up. Nowhere is this more relevant than when we look at the provision for research. We badly need research in this area, but without money it will not happen.

I would like the Minister to consider the points I have made. There are other points I would like to go into in greater detail on Committee Stage, but I am hopeful that he will make the resources available and that regulations are speedily put into place so that the Child Care Bill justifies the expectations we have of it.

I also welcome the Bill. It reforms many necessary parts of our existing legislation to care for and protect children. Most of my contribution will cover the area of the funding and resources that are so necessary if we are to be sure that there will be a speedy and co-ordinated implementation of the Bill. I will also concentrate on the whole area of child care services, particularly within the European experience or framework. But, before that, I want to cover briefly other issues which I would have liked to have seen addressed in the Bill. One was the establishment of a child care authority. I am sorry it did not happen.

One of the persistent criticisms of the Irish child care system is that there are three different Government Departments, Health, Education and Justice, responsible for providing care for children in need. Indeed, over the last number of months, we have had repeated calls for a debate in this House on situations that have occurred regarding teenage children where judges have thrown their hands in the air in exasperation at the lack of facilities relating to problems society throws up. That is one area I would like to have seen addressed in the Bill.

The second point, which has been addressed by Senator Keogh, is the need for the establishment of the national children's council. It would be very important in the preventative area to have evaluation and research and a national forum for debate among child care interest groups. This was called for as far back as 1970 by the Commission on Reformatory and Industrial Schools and, again, in 1980 by the taskforce report recommending the establishment of such a council. At the end of the day it would be cost effective as all preventative measures are. Finally, in relation to the reform of courts, family courts with professionally trained staff would be the correct place to deal with child care cases.

Day after day we listen to problems about the lack of resources in our health system. From the funding viewpoint there are shortfalls. Senator O'Reilly itemised the cutbacks health boards will face this year. To take the Mid-Western Health Board we are talking in terms of a cut in excess of £2 million. Looking at resources, and taking into account that the age of responsibility has been increased to 18 years, we are aware that health boards cannot meet the expense at present where the age limit is set at 16 years. What do we do now that the age limit has been increased by two years? This will not just apply to the Mid-Western Health Board, it will be the same for health boards throughout the country.

There is another problem which has not been highlighted in the debate so far which relates to difficult and disturbed adolescents. The range of staff and professional foster servicing needed for that is crucial. We need a counselling service for children who are emotionally damaged. The community care service in my health board, consists of child care workers, social workers and specialised foster parents.

I will look briefly at social workers. We know that the points system based on the leaving certificate results for those who want to take up social work as a career is highly competitive. Unfortunately, many of our graduates have to go to the UK for employment. It is not as if we do not have the personnel. We have the trained personnel and we have the commitment from our young people because they are as idealistic now as they were in the past. Many of them choose social work but, unfortunately, they cannot get employment here. It will be very difficult to attract them back once they get knit into a system abroad where they are highly prized.

When I look at the payment rate for fostering, I find it extraordinary that foster parents are expected to look after a 15 year old child for the same amount of money as for an infant which may be £35 or £36. There is absolutely no comparison between the cost of looking after a young baby and the cost of looking after a 15 year old.

I will take a specific case study in the Mid-Western Health Board area. For a quiet, mildly mentally handicapped boy the foster parent subsidy is nowhere near the cost of maintaining him. It is not just physical needs, it is not just food, clothing and shelter but the whole socialisation and recreational aspect of trying to integrate that boy into society. Obviously, this must be taken up. I hope the Minister will be able to move towards a tiered system between the £35 or £36 for the infant and the cost for caring for a teenager. Any parent could tell you that it is just not realistic.

At the moment it is very difficult for community care, fostering or residential care to cater for difficult children. In particular teenagers cannot be placed. There are borderline psychiatric cases. It is sad but a reality, as research has shown, that the cause is nearly always related to home circumstances, abuse, the whole environment. It is not just hereditary and in nearly all cases it relates to environment.

Under the present national climate responsibilities will be given to social workers, under the various health boards with appropriate guidelines, to work with child abuse. If one is to think realistically in terms of what would be needed in the Mid-Western Health Board area, two child care workers are needed immediately. The cost, between equipment and office accommodation, would work out between £50,000 to £60,000. The moneys that have been allocated go towards assessment. That is fine. Obviously, assessment is the first stage but there is a void after assessment and that is in follow-up care. There is no extra money for that. That is the most difficult part. I am sad, that not just in this Bill but in other legislation, there is no follow-up. This means funds.

When one thinks of the £1 million that was set aside to implement the provisions of the Bill after it is passed, and takes the Mid-Western Health Board area, which caters for 10 per cent of the population, we are talking in terms of 10 per cent of that £1 million, or £100,000 which is very small to allow for assessment and follow-through to be carried out. A certain percentage cannot stay in foster homes. They must go to residential care centres for specialist treatment.

There are two residential care centres, both convent based, in the city of Limerick. To take one, there are 12 children there. There are four staff plus a sister in charge. Going through the full working day and night the ratio works out at 1:12. That ratio is fine if we are talking in terms of normal children but it is certainly not fine if we are talking about sexually abused children. A 1:2 ratio is needed to help those children. That is the reality.

Last week when I was talking about Adapt House in Limerick on the Adjournment, which caters for deserted wives and their families, I said that they had the same problem because most of their resources at the moment go towards the counselling of sexually abused children. They are crying out for help also. They are a voluntary body who get funding of something like £28,000 from the health board and have to raise up to £60,000 annually from voluntary contributions. It is not just health boards but voluntary bodies who are taking in the needy. They are looking after many cases which could end up the responsibility of the health boards.

Looking at the rates internationally for fostering they are far higher. Because of the importance of the child in Irish society, three-quarters of children go into fostering. It is a very high rate. I hope this will continue and that fostering will not decrease because that foster parents cannot exist on that miserly £35. The figure for the Mid-Western Health Board is that 69 per cent go to fostering. Of the 90 children they would have about 30 to 40 would relate specifically to maternity cases, where for a six week period they would be fostered before they are put up for adoption.

That is quite easy for foster parents. They look for an infant because it is economically viable and they like to work with young children. If we are talking about fostering for the eight, nine or ten year old sexually abused child we are really talking about a different child altogether. We are talking about a need for a far greater resources and about another hidden cost, the resources needed for training programmes that are organised by a senior social worker in the Limerick area on a weekly basis for a five week span for those foster parents. Those programmes are run on a voluntary basis at the moment. It is a credit to the youngsters working in the health board that they actually turn up for five nights a week for five weeks to do the work. They are told that if possible they will get time off. They do not take the time off because they are so committed to their work. It is not to be sneezed at that there is this tremendous voluntary commitment from young social workers in a Mid-Western Health Board region, who will actually do the work to help those foster parents cope with the sexually abused children they take out.

People throughout the country do not realise that this happens within health boards. It is something I hope the Minister will consider. That enthusiasm cannot last forever. It is there now because of the age group of those young social workers. They will marry, have their own family commitments, they will have inroads on their free time and they will not be able to continue, week in and week out, to give their services. It is not the money aspect of it, it is the time aspect. It is important for the Minister to see that. I hope he appreciates it.

We will stay in the Limerick area for a moment and look at preventive measures. Moyross, with which people will be familiar, has a huge percentage of unemployed people but there is no health board creche there. Over the last couple of years there has been an increase from 24 per cent to 27 per cent of single parent households, and 11 per cent to 11.5 per cent of births to single parents when you add to that the families of deserted wives and the families of men in prison you are talking about one in every four children in that housing estate being children of single parents. Who can argue against the fact that those children need pre-school help if they are to compete satisfactorily with other children? There are no pre-school facilities in that area for all those children. That ratio is enormous.

I took the local area because we must get down to specifics. When we get down to resources we are talking in terms of the reality of life in one health board. Has the Minister any information on child care and pre-schools? My information is that the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been ratified by the Government.

It has been signed and will be ratified later, as is normal with any international convention.

I would like to know about the later aspect of it. The Minister might address it. Article 41.2.1º and 2º of our Constitution state:

In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

We are talking in terms of 1990. It is an economic necessity for those single parent mothers to work to support their children. It is an economic necessity within the family structure for women to go out to work. When we look to the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child we see that Articles 18, 19, 20 and 21 refer to this. I will not hold up the proceedings by reading all the material there. In relation to Article 18 (3) it is stated quite specifically that:

State parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child care services and facilities for which they are eligible.

That is spelt out there. I look forward to having the Government spell out the measures they will take to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child care services.

In relation to where we stand in Ireland in regard to child care, I will give some statistics which, unfortunately, are from 1988. They will probably have changed slightly, but these are all that are available. In 1988, 23 per cent of women——

What is the Senator quoting from?

I am quoting from "Child Care in the European Communities, 1985 to 1990." There were two and half pages devoted to Ireland in relation to child care services, the number of children involved, etc. In 1988 23 per cent of women with a child under ten were employed, the lowest level in the Community and 8 per cent were unemployed. Women with children from zero to four had rather higher employment rates than women with children between the ages of five to nine, 25 per cent compared to 20 per cent, with unemployment rates being similar.

The employment rate among childless women aged 20 to 39 was 67 per cent. Those statistics speak for themselves. Over 30 per cent of employed women with a child under ten have part-time jobs. The average hours of work are ten to 19 for mothers employed part-time, 40 to 49 hours for mothers employed fulltime and 30 to 39 hours for all employed mothers. I state that because things are changing in this country. We have to look to the hidden reasons — indeed they are no longer hidden — why we have such a small percentage of women employed in comparison with the ratio I have given for the childless woman. The reason is that the child care services are not there.

When we look at where we stand regarding publicly-funded child care services, we find there is no pre-primary schooling centre in Dublin, and approximately 40 centres for travelling children, which we are pleased about. Fewer than 2 per cent of children under three attend publicly-funded services, going to mixed age centres which take children up to six. The services are provided entirely by private organisations and are not available for children with employed parents. I accept that it is essential that there are social work services for children who are severely disadvantaged or at risk. That is the fact in relation to this. I agree that those children — I referred to the position in Moyross — are most needy but it spells out where we stand.

Five or six day nurseries are provided by public sector employers for their workers. Private services do not as yet have to be approved and registered, I presume that it was the Irish Government that had an input in drawing this up for Child Care in the European Communities. At that stage it seemed that there would be registration because private services do not, as I said, as yet, have to be approved and registered.

I am very disappointed that registration is not covered in this Bill. The sad thing is that there are no statistics for private nurseries and mixed aged centres. There are no statistics for family day care and own home care because registration is not needed. Are we to live in a void for the next number of years not knowing where the services exist because they do not have to be registered?

There is a very big difference between registration and notification, particularly in the context of our people who, unfortunately, do not do things until they have to do them. From a voluntary viewpoint, we really fall very short in going in and signing for things where there is no pressure on us to do so by law. How can the Government do anything about providing child care services if they do not even know what is available at the moment? Will they go just on notification, where you do not have specific registration?

Another interesting thing is that most playgroups receive no public funds and because there is no registration, there is no information on the number of play-groups or the number of children attending them. An estimate in 1987 suggested it is quite a sizeable figure — that 22,500 children, about 12 per cent of children between the ages of three and five, attend playgroups, and I am sure that figure has increased since then because the number of part-time workers has increased, especially women, who have to work for economic reasons. It is stated here that the Government have recommended that child care services be provided for workers in the public sector with the Government providing physical facilities and staff running costs. I would like to hear the Minister's response to that. I hope the Second Commission on the Status of Women — I am sure they are very aware of this — will take up this issue and address it very thoroughly. I hope it will be one of the main planks of their discussion while they are in session and that we will have at least an interim report very quickly.

I turn now briefly to the area of quality. According to the European Community, there should be common and consistent principles and standards in this area and services providing safe and secure care should be available to children of all ages and should meet the full range of children's needs. I am speaking not just of the care area but the education areas too. Workers should have comparable pay, conditions, status and training, and the cost to parents should be consistent. A central objective policy on quality must ensure equal access for all children to that good quality. The assessments of quality should include the experiences of children but it should also take into account parents, workers and the local communities. I reiterate what I said a few moments ago about the child care workers. Their work should be given the importance it deserves. EC objectives are that appropriate pay, conditions, basic training and training for all these play group workers should be at the same level as for teachers of older children.

As a secondary teacher, I find it very sad when I have to cope with illiteracy, emotional problems and all the various problems that should have been tackled down the line. I hope within the pre-school area that that will be looked into. The child care workers should be of such quality that many of the problems that emerge later could be addressed at an early stage so that I believe that to prevent problems arising at a later stage, you must start at grass root level. The Government have a unique opportunity here in the Child Care Bill to tackle the problem of lack of registration. We really do not know where we are going. Child care services should be responsible for a wide range of local needs. I again emphasise that we need close relationships between the child care workers, parents and local communities.

Sending children to playschool is a costly business, I know parents want to ensure that their children get good care and education but in most countries these costs are borne disproportionately by women — mothers have to bear huge loss of earnings or child care workers effectively subsidise costs because they have no wages and bad conditions.

The key issue, therefore, is not whether we can afford the costs, because they already exist, but how these costs are allocated in particular between parents, employers and society. If the Government are to have a comprehensive policy towards child care provision, then the parents, the employers and the State must have consultations. I will not go into detail about the employers aspect but they have a contribution to make. They are reaping the benefits and they have a contribution to make to ensure child care facilities are provided for their workers. Funding could be shared between employers, parents and the State.

An interesting point is that structural funds can be applied for in this area. We do not hear anything about this but it is written here in black and white that there is a second — and now there is a third — equal opportunities programme and that Structural Funding can be used to support the development of child care services. The Minister may ask if I think he has a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. I would like the Minister to tell me whether he has looked for the Structural Funds. It is stated here, and I repeat, that it has become clear that Structural Funding can be used to support the development of child care services and that such services are an integral requirement for achieving the objectives set out for the funds promoting the development of rural areas. A main task for the third equal opportunities programme is to ensure that the Structural Funds begin to make a significant contribution to child care.

Until I read this I had not seen or heard of any application from the Government to Europe within the framework we drew up in the mid-western area. Shannon Development have been involved in the national plan but there was no reference to this at that particular time. I remember discussing it at our local authority meetings and asking if anything could be done in that area. I asked for this to be included without knowing it was a clear objective within the Structural Funds framework. They tell us this can be achieved in two ways. First, the Commission should use the opportunities available to initiate child care programmes — they refer to various seminars and rural child care programmes. The aim of these programmes would be to increase awareness of child care applications for Structural Funding. The Minister must submit our applications for Structural Funding; second, to support the development of services in poorer regions — God knows we qualify as a poor region and we are getting poorer by the minute the more peripheral we become; and third, to develop innovative models of child care. There is a second reference there to the fact that the relevant Commission Directorate should co-ordinate to support a programme to inform and sensitise all relevant individuals and organisations at all levels in member states to the potential uses of Structural Funding for the development of child care services. That is three times in one sentence we have this recommendation from Europe which suggests to me that there have not been applications for something I believe is essential.

I implore the Minister to ensure that we are in there with the other countries who, at this stage I am sure have plenty of funding available to them, getting this funding. If we do, we will not have this problem about health board funding and the frustration of wondering whether this Child Care Bill can be implemented satisfactorily because there is a lack of funding. The Commission recently announced a first step in this process. It is doing everything it can to facilitate. The Commission proposed a new programme, New Opportunities for Women, shortened to NOW. This will focus on training and enterprise and will be funded from the Structural Funds and includes the possibility of financial assistance for the development of child care services to support the general objectives of the programme.

I hope I have been constructive and that the Minister will be able to tell us that he has received funding from Europe to ensure that our children will be looked after at the most vulnerable stage of their lives, the preschool stage, to ensure that existing and future problems can be addressed and that all the social problems Senator Keogh referred to that we are slow and hesitant to address will be a priority issue.

At the outset I want to welcome the Minister to the House and to congratulate him on his personal input into this Child Care Bill.

I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this most important Bill on children's rights. The Government are to be congratulated as this is a tremendous step forward in providing for the welfare and protection of children who are at risk. I welcome the Bill as its purpose is to update the law in relation to the care of children, in particular children who are being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused, or who are at risk in any other way. The majority of Irish homes are happy homes. Children born into them can be assured that they will be protected and provided for, loved and reared to adulthood by good decent parents. However, there are a small number of problem situations where children are born into families where they are not welcome or where abnormal situations arise. This Bill, hopefully, will resolve all such situations.

The existing legislation in relation to the care of children is largely based on the Children Act, 1908. It has served us well. Many of its provisions are still in use today. However, there have been sweeping changes in society in the intervening period which need to be reflected in our child care legislation. Our political and administrative structures have changed. New values and attitudes have evolved. There is a greater awareness of the rights of the child. While we live today in a more enlightened society, I am sorry to say there continue to be unhappy and deprived children within our midst. I understand that at any time about 2,600 children are in the care of our eight health boards. Many are in care because their parents are unable to look after them, whether due to marital breakdown or other family crisis. Most of these children are re-united with their families after a period of time. Others, unfortunately, remain in care for years. There is another group of children who come into care in more dramatic circumstances. They are the victims of child abuse, whether it be physical, emotional or sexual.

The Minister has indicated that in 1989 the total number of confirmed cases of all sorts of child abuse known to our health boards was approximately 1,300, of which the number of confirmed cases of sexual abuse was about 500. These figures represent an increase of some fourfold in five years. The Department of Health has not, as yet, completed the collection from health boards of figures in respect of 1990. All the indications are that the total number of confirmed cases in 1990, including child sexual abuse, will show a further increase.

The figures now indicate the need for up to date and good legislation to protect children who are at risk. While we must have the legal means to protect children whose health or welfare is at risk, it is also important to safeguard children and families from excessive interference by the State. Many of us who have been in public life over the last number of years are aware of frightening situations where children living in unbelievable circumstances are sometimes so traumatised and emotionally shocked that they cannot speak about their experience at home or to anybody in particular. They are unable to communicate with the police, the health centre or any other person about these happenings. They are usually too terrified of the abuser to do so in many cases. These situations have come to light through the school teacher or an astute neighbour. It is only then it is brought to the attention of the health authority and the Garda. In many cases this does not happen for the simple reason that people do not want to become involved. This leaves the children in an uncalled for situation.

In dealing with the care of these children the main thrust of this Bill is to place a statutory duty on the health board to ensure that the welfare of these children is being provided for and that they are given full protection. The health boards will be encouraged by this Bill, as it will give them extra powers to provide child care and family support services. It will enable them to move more quickly if children are in serious danger and to call on the assistance of the Garda.

This Bill will also enable the courts to place children who have been assaulted, ill-treated, seriously neglected or sexually abused in the care of or under the supervision of health boards. It will introduce arrangements for the inspection and supervision of pre-school services and revise provisions in relation to the inspection and approval of residential centres for children. All these provisions are well intentioned and required, but funding must be provided in order to make sure that the procedures laid down will work. As a result of this Bill the health boards will now have a duty and responsibility to protect and accommodate these children. The Garda can intervene immediately in a family where a child is under threat and remove that child to the care of the health board.

I am appealling to the Minister to ensure that the necessary finances are made available to the health boards for the provision of accommodation and the cost of care for children. It has been brought to my notice over the past few months in Tralee, where children of a very low age group have been involved in petty shoplifting, and vandalism, that the Garda have not got suitable accommodation in which they could be placed. If it is within the remit of this Bill I would like to see sufficient accommodation created where these children could be placed. Most of them come from broken homes.

I welcome the fact that day care means the right of the family to remain a family. It is to be appreciated that it is not the Minister's intention to destroy or to try to break up the family unit but to give the health boards responsibility to give support and assistance to families, especially families in difficulties. In all but the more difficult cases it will leave the child at home, but under the watchful eye of the health board.

I welcome the setting up of a committee within each health board area made up of representatives of voluntary bodies, in particular child care organisations, who should include a district nurse, community workers and teachers — people with a working knowledge of the area. This committee will be set up with the intention of advising the health boards of their duty under the Bill to carry out periodic reviews of the child care and family support services within the particular area. Here again I believe these committees should be grant aided in order to help them to provide a good service.

A major portion of the Bill deals with the responsibility of the court under the heading "care proceedings". In cases where health boards are seeking the custody of a child they apply to the court for a care order in respect of the child. A care order would suspend the parents' rights to custody of the child and place him or her in the custody of the health board. To receive a care order the health board must satisfy the court that the child has been subjected to assault, ill-treatment, serious neglect or has been sexually abused, or that the child's health has been at risk or is being impaired or seriously neglected. They must also satisfy the court that the child requires care or protection which he or she is unlikely to receive unless he or she is under the care of the health board. In granting the care order the court must take into consideration the rights and duties of the parents under the Constitution. More importantly, they must take into consideration the natural rights of the child. This care order would remain in force until the child reaches the age of 18 years or until it was successfully challenged by the parents or discharged by the courts because of the changing circumstances.

This provision in the Bill is to be very much welcomed. The health board can also apply for a supervision order which enable the board to have the child visited at his or her home to ensure that he or she is being cared for. The court could also have the power to direct the parents to bring the child to a day centre, child guidance clinic, hospital or other service or help which the child might need. A supervision order would apply for 12 months and could be renewed. I would like to know how the Minister will carry out this provision.

The court will also be responsible for a number of other matters, including the right of parents or other persons to have access to the children in the care of health boards. The follow up provisions are also covered in the Bill and I welcome them. What happens to children in the care of the health boards or under the supervision of the pre-school services? What happens about the standards and administration of children's residential centres which will come under the Minister for Health and, in some cases, the Minister for Education, something which is satisfactory and adequate?

The Bill provides also for the fines of up to £1,000 or 12 months imprisonment for anyone selling solvent-based products to children who use them for glue sniffing. We have seen over the past few years where a number of children and teenagers died from sniffing these products. This is provision will be welcomed by parents and guardians.

I believe this Bill is up to date and will go a long way towards ensuring that the rights of children are maintained and provided for.

I wish to refer to sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill. Section 1 states that the Bill be known as the Child Care Act and empowers the Minister for Health to bring the various provisions into effect by order. It is the intention that this Bill, when enacted will be brought into operation as quickly as possible. Section 2 defines various uses of the Bill, of which the most important is the definition of child. At present, the Children Act, 1908, as amended, defines a child as a person under 15 years of age. This means, in effect, that a person over 16 years of age may not be placed in health care, regardless of how desirable this might be in his or her interests. There is a growing number of older children who would benefit from being in care, but cannot be admitted under the present law. It is proposed, therefore, to define "child" for the purpose of this Bill as a person of up to 18 years of age.

The main effect of this Bill will be to raise to 18 years the age up to which health boards will be responsible for children and the age to which children may be admitted into care.

Section 3 places a statutory duty on health boards to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving essential care and protection. This is one of the most important provisions of the Bill. It imposes a clear obligation on health boards to provide child care and family support services so as to assist parents in caring for their children and to prevent children having to be placed in care. These services may include social work support for families at risk, counselling and advice services, pre-school services, home help and homemaker services, child guidance, day fostering, family resource centres and special projects for the young homeless, and other at-risk groups. Thus, the emphasis is on providing support and assistance so that children can remain at home. Only in exceptional cases are children to be taken into care.

Section 4 deals with voluntary care. It will enable health boards to receive into care, without reference to the courts, orphans and abandoned children, and, with parental consent, children whose parents are unable to care for them, for example, due to serious illness, sudden bereavement or family breakdown. At present, about half of the children in care are there on a voluntary basis rather than under court orders. While there has been some increase in recent years in the number of children entering care through the courts, I expect a significant proportion of admissions will continue to be on a voluntary basis.

Voluntary bodies have played, and will continue to play, an important part in our child care services, in particular in the region of residential facilities. I acknowledge this excellent work. I wish to make special reference to the Nazareth Home in Tralee, where the Sisters of Mercy over many years have provided an excellent service. This is now in the care of an excellent lay staff but they find themselves with serious financial problems. At the moment they are catering for approximately 40 children but the subsidy and subvention they are receiving from the health board is certainly not covering the upkeep of the property. At this time they are running on a substantial overdraft. I appeal to the Minister to see if there is any way around their situation. They are dedicated, work many hours outside the call of duty and, on most occasions, are not paid for the overtime they do. This is wrong. It is all very satisfactory while there are committed people, but we could reach a point where we will not get this type of worker. For that reason I appeal to the Minister to try to resolve this situation.

I welcome the Bill. It is up to date and will go along way towards ensuring that the rights of children are maintained and provided for adequately.

I would also like to welcome the Bill and welcome the Minister to the House. I am glad of the opportunity to make some comments on the Bill. I note that it will be the function of the health boards to promote the welfare of children who are not getting adequate care and protection. While this is welcome — I will deal with that in greater detail especially with regard to the statutory review procedures — it would be remiss of me not to indicate the serious problems with regard to the budget which the health boards have at the moment, and the likelihood that the Bill will not come into effect due to the fact that inadequate provisions will be made to introduce the changes therein.

I would like to highlight a situation in the mid-west region, and especially in Limerick, where it is not possible to provide a service to a standard acceptable to the health board because of the allocation received. Because of the financial constraints and cutbacks being imposed by the Minister for Health, not only this year but for a number of years, it is now impossible to achieve a reasonable bed provision either in the Limerick Regional Hospital or in Croom Orthopaedic Hospital. This means we have an appalling problem in our area with regard to the Limerick Regional Hospital in terms of nursing and medical care for the public.

There are problems of long waiting lists. I know of cases of people waiting entry to hospital for several months, up to six to eight months. These people are often in distress and are affected by the wait that is enforced upon them because of inadequate moneys being available to provide the facilities which are necessary, desirable and expected in any democratic State. The intolerable waiting lists are there because of a lack of important and essential specialties, such as, for example, cardiology and a lack of sufficient theatre facilities and the appalling out-patients facilities and accident emergency services. I know of a case where somebody was sent to the Limerick Regional Hospital for treatment and was waiting for six hours to be admitted. The response of the hospital authorities was that they had to give priority to the patients who arrived in the hospital having regard to their need for treatment. However, one can just imagine the stress being caused to patients admitted to a hospital in those circumstances.

It is envisaged in the Bill that the health boards will provide adequate care and protection for the children but to enable the health boards to do so the Minister must provide the necessary funding. If he does not do that, the Bill will be useless. The health boards are certainly not in a position at the moment to divert resources for the provision of facilities. I would like to emphasise that there is no point in passing this Bill if the resources are not provided by the Minister for Health to implement its very necessary provisions.

I would like to suggest a recommendation that the health boards be responsible for the statutory review procedures. Duties should be allocated to the health boards by those responsible for that review procedure. I suggest that an initial review should be completed on every child within 40 days of being taken into care and a review should take place in care at specific periods of four, six or eight months. The purpose of each review should be to ensure that every reasonable effort is being made to provide a long term placement plan for the child who has been placed in the care of a health board. This would be consistent with the child's interest. At each review hearing, the health board should consider information from the parent, parents or guardian of the child, the care provider, the relevant health board personnel and the child itself if over the age of 12, and of any other person or agency the health board might consider of assistance in carrying out the review.

The health board should also provide for attendance at a conference of the following people, at least 10 days before the review in the case of a child in care. They should invite to attend the parents or guardian of the child, the care provider of the child and the child who is in care if the child is 12 years or older. The child should be fully informed of the review's purpose and procedures. Invited also should be any person with a bona fide interest in the child's welfare, and other relevant persons as appropriate.

The health board should at each review look at the following: the child's progress in placement and the implementation of the decisions made at the last review, if there has been one and the plans for the future. They should review the efforts of the health board responsible for the placement of the child in order to facilitate the return of the child to the home or to find an alternative long term placement, if reunion with the parent or previous guardian is not feasible. The health board should consider all factors which either favour or mitigate against the decision of its alternatives with regard to these matters. The efforts of the health board responsible for the placement of the child should be directed towards locating and providing services to the parents of the child and should note the efforts and capacity of the parent or parents to provide for the child's care.

During the review stability and continuity for children in care should be promoted by discouraging unnecessary changes in placement arrangements. The health board should also provide any records of information in their possession for the purpose of the review hearing. These should be confidential to the participants of the review procedure.

I would also like to draw the attention of the House to the special report of the Task Force on Child Care. This suggested a special programme in the health board areas to deal with child care. Again, I want to emphasise that if the finances are not provided to the health boards to carry out this work the Bill is just a series of pious platitudes.

The legislation before us caters for the removing of the child in a barring order case arising from sexual abuse. It is more appropriate that the offender be removed rather than the victim. The Law Reform Commission have recommended this action. Is it not punishing the victim rather than the offender to have the victim removed from the house?

I welcome the view that child sexual abusers and those who physically abuse children be described as criminals. However, people who are involved in these activities can be very tragic figures themselves and in need of State assistance. They can come from deprived areas or sections of society where they did not have a chance in life to be more responsible. Perhaps they were conditioned by childhood experience of similar acts. In other words, many of them may have been victims of this abuse themselves. We often see a sad cycle of events from one generation to another where the same abuses are perpetrated. It is similar to many of our more serious prisoners who come from families who have had generations of experience of alienation and victimisation by society and find themselves continuing that sad cycle. Society has a duty to try to break any such cycle and to promote better behavioural patterns in conjunction with the needs of the State.

There is a need for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse though I appreciate the problems that arise in regard to this. The reporting should be by way of trained professionals who are covered under the legal system in the matter of carrying out their duties. I appreciate the difficulties that arise with regard to charges of defamation of character and the difficulties about proving in some cases that there is an offence. There is also a need to protect people from such defamation. It is a very thin line to walk, but it is necessary that there be mandatory reporting.

With regard to section 19 I believe the health boards should have a right of access where parents are still in control. Although sanctions can be introduced these are meaningless. Section 25 provides for the appointment of a solicitor to represent the child. A solicitor may not be the right person. A health care professional should be considered as a substitute for the solicitor. Such a person should represent the child's needs to the presiding justice and should be responsible to the judge and not to the health board. The professional should be an aid to the judge and independent of the health board and of the parents. He should advise the judge on the situation. The professional should be able to hear all sides away from the pressures of the board and report to the court on his or her findings. It would be akin to an Ombudsman for the child. This system could be cost effective in that it would not then be necessary to pay the legal fees often requested for such hearings.

Under the Bill relatives cannot become foster parents and, therefore, are denied claiming foster parents' allowance. It is obvious that relatives would make very good foster parents. This change was inserted since the original 1988 Act. It was introduced by the Minister on Report Stage in the Dáil.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

I will expand on the area of appointing guardians in court rather than having a solicitor dealing with the situation. A guardian appointed would be reporting to the court rather than the present situation whereby a solicitor would represent the health board. I would see guardians as professionals appointed by the court who would have a specific and independent role in relation to children subject to the hearings concerned. The main job of such a guardian would be to focus specifically on the interests of the child and report to the court for the purpose of the specific hearing. We would not intend that the relationship would be an ongoing therapeutic one but an intervention on the issue. This role would be valuable in an adverserial legal system where the interests of the adults tend to be competing, whether these adults are parents of the children or professionals working for the agencies such as the health boards.

Guardians should be appointed by the court and operate independently, with the right to work with the children individually and to meet all relevant parties in the case, including professionals and relatives of the child, and to have access to relevant information and reports so as to get the best possible picture of the child's situation. Guardians in other countries are often, but not exclusively, social workers who are experienced in particular skills in relation to child care and working with children. This would replace a solicitor, who would have a different set of skills to fulfil his role. The guardian should be a skilled professional who can discuss, communicate and identify the needs of the child and, more importantly, communicate the child's interest to the court.

Prior to the suspension of business, I also dealt with the fact that under the Bill relatives cannot become foster parents. That deprives them of foster parents' allowance. Relatives usually make very good foster parents because of the relationship already there between the potential foster parent and the child. Where there is a blood relationship there is an interest and concern. One has only to look at families where uncles, aunts or grandparents had to rear children to see the success of such an approach. Parents may have died young and left children who were brought up by uncles and aunts and because of the close personal relationship they were sometimes as good as if not better than, some of the natural parents.

I would like to pay tribute to many foster parents down through the years and at present who do excellent work and contribute to society in taking children, giving them good homes, giving them a good start in life. We cannot over-emphasise our thanks to such charitable people. I am always amazed at the charity of people who will take a child and rear it, often without any long term guarantee of attachment. Of course, the relationship builds up.

I hope it is not the Minister's intention to try to get foster parents on the cheap. The Minister might feel that many relatives take children without requesting the foster parent allowance and that this would activate such claims. I do not feel that this would be the case because of the thorough and strenuous checks that people go through in order to be accepted as foster parents. In other words, if the relatives were claiming such an allowance they would have to go through these rigorous checks. Many of them would have the care of the child as their first priority; but many of them might well need such an allowance, and deserve such an allowance, in order to do the work of foster parents. I hope that this will be looked into on Committee Stage.

Section 50 deals with the registration of day child care centres. It requires that all day care centres be registered. Does that mean that somebody who is babysitting during the day or a grandmother who is minding two grandchildren would be considered under the Act? What are the criteria on which the Minister decides what constitutes a day care centre for children? What mechanism is there in order to allow commonsense to prevail in these circumstances, or should there be a ceiling on the number of children who can be taken into day care, if that is the right word, while parents who because of economic circumstances are obliged to work have their young children taken care of during the day, sometimes by babysitters who might take two, three or four children?

Section 48 (4) deals with fees. I quote:

The Public Offices Fees Act, 1879 shall not apply in respect of any fees paid under regulations under this section.

There is a registration fee for centres. Should pre-school centres be obliged to pay a fee for inspection? Would this not be a disincentive to register as a centre?

Section 56 seems to indicate that institutions for mentally or physically handicapped children do not come under the Act. Why are such institutions excluded? Surely it is just as important that these centres meet the requirements under the Act as those mentioned in section 56.

I welcome the Bill and I look forward to Committee Stage. I would ask the Minister to bring forward some of the suggestions I have made as his amendments to the Bill. They may have a better chance of success in this House than if they were brought forward on this side.

I would like to make some observations on this important Bill. It is regrettable that in the Ireland of today this Bill is necessary. Unfortunately, over the past ten years or so sexual abuse of children, not just in this country but in many countries all over the world, has increased and has emerged as a major social problem. Regrettably, there has been an unprecedented rise in official reports of child sexual abuse. It is generally agreed that unofficial figures would greatly increase the figures that are presently available. It is obvious that huge changes are needed in our legal structure to cope with this widespread evil in Irish society. With this in mind the Irish Government, through the Attorney General, requested the Law Reform Commission to examine appropriate changes that might be needed. I understand that they did this under three broad issues — one was the civil law, the other the criminal law and the third was the law of evidence. Obviously, the Bill before us has taken account of the Law Reform Commission's report in the preparation of the Bill.

The Bill has changed a good deal since it was first initiated, principally because of the work of the special all-party committee of the Dáil, which dealt with all sections of the Bill with the exception of sections 1 and 2. Because of this, I believe it is true to say that we have a much better and stronger piece of legislation now. All concerned must be congratulated, and in particular the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Noel Treacy, who was then Minister of State at the Department of Health and who has taken a very caring approach to all the provisions of this Bill. Further evidence of his concern and his caring approach to this Bill is the fact that he has stayed with the Bill even though he has left the Department. That is a further tribute to his commitment and concern for this important Bill.

The explanatory memorandum which was circulated following the passing of the Bill in the Dáil was very useful. I would like to congratulate the officials who prepared it. The introduction reads:

The main provisions of the Bill are as follows:

(i) The placing of a statutory duty on health boards to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection;

(ii) strengthening of the powers of health boards to provide child care and family support services;

(iii) improved procedures to facilitate immediate intervention by health boards and the Gardaí where children are in serious danger;

(iv) revised provisions to enable the courts to place children who have been assaulted, illtreated, neglected or sexually abused or who are at risk in the care of or under the supervision of health boards;

(v) introduction of arrangements for the inspection and supervision of pre-school services;

(vi) revised provisions in relation to the registration and inspection of residential centres for children.

There are six main provisions in the Bill. The point I am making is that the health boards are involved in four of them and mentioned in a very positive and definite way. It is quite obvious that the health boards will play a very important role under this Bill.

A sum of £8 million was provided in this year's budget and £1 million of that was set aside specifically for the Child Care Bill, which is a clear indication of the concern the Government have. I expect, as Senator Neville does, that the health boards will not be neglected in any way in funding the proper implementation of this important Bill.

In all cases it is the child who is removed from the home. I am sure that this is the correct approach in the majority of cases but I have long been of the opinion — an opinion which will be shared by many others — that ideally, as in some other countries, the offender ought to be removed from the family home. This has been mentioned by a number of speakers. I believe it might be preferable if the offender were removed from the family home rather than the child and therefore minimise disruption in the child's life. I accept that this may not be appropriate in all cases, because many domestic and other difficulties may arise but nonetheless that is my view. Maybe the Minister would comment on it.

The involvement of psychologists can be very intensive. Inevitably parents and other family members will be drawn into counselling and treatment. This phase is very important for the rehabilitation of the family but it has the other side effect, the added cost factor in the service's delivery. Health board workers are key people in this Bill. The social worker in particular is paramount to the successful working of the Bill. Social workers must be not 99.999 per cent sure of successfully detecting a child abuse case, they must be a full 100 per cent certain of their facts, of their case and of their evidence. I do not think social workers should be carried away with enthusiasm for their work. They are human beings like the rest of us. We can all make mistakes. They have to be 100 per cent certain, for very obvious reasons.

The role of teachers is also important. It is very important that they become involved. A teacher could well ask: "Why should I get involved at all? What if I am wrong?" Of course, this raises other interesting questions. Dealing with sexual abuse in children is not in a teacher's briefper se. The reality is that very often a child will first divulge details in the school of the abuse. It is important, therefore, that teachers understand the problem. Training and guidelines on how to cope sensitively and appropriately should be given to teachers. I believe that to be necessary and I certainly feel that preventive education in schools and adequate briefing of teachers from time to time is a very important part of coming to terms with and responding correctly to the problem of child sexual abuse.

The detection of child sexual abuse is largely about a breach of trust between the child and usually someone they love or someone they trust greatly. Most children feel safe in school. They may not like school but they feel safe at school. Because of the bond of trust that is there between the teacher and the pupil, the teacher is very often the first person he or she will go to about abuse. As I said, teachers have a very important role to play in dealing with and in detecting child sexual abuse.

I am not surprised that the Law Reform Commission suggested mandatory reporting by doctors, health workers, social workers and teachers to health board medical personnel and to the Garda. If I were a social worker or a teacher I would welcome a legal obligation to report, for the obvious reason that if I were wrong, the fear of being sued by the parents would become a real possibility. I accept that they could land themselves in court one way or another. That, too, has problems and perhaps the Minister would comment on it.

I am sure the Minister has good reasons why he has not gone down this particular road. Obviously the Minister has tried to take the right approach and to get a suitable balance between the voluntary and mandatory reports. It is an aspect of the Bill that interests me.

Section 13 (7) (a) (ii) refers to the medical or psychiatric examination or treatment of the child. It has been suggested to me that after the word "psychiatric" the words "or other" might be inserted. The point made to me was that within the health board system and within the whole child abuse system you have a full professional team — social workers, nurses, psychologists, etc. The same amendment would obviously — if the Minister did decide to accept it — be appropriate and apply also in Part IV, section 18 (2).

I do not wish to go into detailed specifics of the Bill because obviously there will be some comment on those on Committee Stage. I want to mention section 71. This is something I welcome very much. It proposes to make it an offence to sell solvent-based products to children where it is known or suspected that they will be abused. In this area, provision is made for fines of up to £1,000 or 12 months imprisonment. That is very important. Unfortunately, children have died as a result of glue sniffing activities and obviously something had to be done. A further provision which was introduced on Report Stage gives the Garda power to remove the substance from the child if it is being used in a public place, and have reasonable cause to believe that it is being misused by that child in a manner likely to cause him to become intoxicated. That section and the changes that will be made at a later stage in the Bill are welcome.

The Constitution is something that from time to time raises its head and it is only right that at all times we adhere to our Constitution. We can, in this case, say that the Constitution does not only permit the State to intervene where children are not being cared for but it places an obligation clearly on the State to do something positive and constructive about it. This Bill is not in any way at variance with the Constitution. It is acting totally in conformity with the Constitution. It is doing exactly what the Constitution would like us to do and asks us to do. The primary purpose of the Bill is to protect children who are at risk of being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused. All concerned have to be congratulated for bringing forward what is very important legislation. I welcome the Bill and I hope that it proves very successful in the future.

Debate adjourned.