Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the Bill to the House and I look forward to engaging in a constructive debate as the Bill proceeds through the various Stages. The Bill proposes to amend the Child Care Act 1991 and the provisions have three distinct elements relating to aftercare, early years services and technical amendments on foot of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.

The Bill provides for an explicit requirement to prepare an aftercare plan in respect of a specified cohort of children and young people as they transition from State care. The Bill places an absolute obligation on the Child and Family Agency to implement national standardised structured aftercare planning provision. Although operationally the agency has been moving significantly in that direction, the Bill clarifies and copper-fastens the requirement for an aftercare plan. It puts such planning on the same footing as other statutory obligations on the agency. It guarantees that the progress made to date will continue. The Bill also provides for amendments to the Child Care Act 1991 to enable the Child and Family Agency to visit premises where it is proposed that an early years service will be provided, before such a service has been registered with the agency, to ensure they are fit for purpose. In addition, the Bill provides for technical amendments to a number of Acts on foot of the commencement of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013.

Aftercare is the term used to describe the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person who is leaving statutory care at 18 years of age and to assist in making the transition to independent living. It is essential that all young people leaving care are provided with the type of transitional support that their individual situation requires. The most important requirements for young people leaving care include continuity of relationships and secure suitable accommodation as well as further education, employment or training. Current aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. Other crucial elements of an aftercare service include advocating on behalf of young people to support their development as fulfilled adults in their community and, when necessary, linking them to targeted adult services. The aftercare planning process is a natural extension of the care planning process. It is a necessary step in supporting and enabling the transition to independent adulthood, a change which can be challenging for many young people.

Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18 years of age. Overall, of approximately 6,400 children in State care, some 93% are in a foster care family placement. On reaching 18 years of age in foster care, a sizeable number of young people remain living with their foster carers either full-time or part-time, if they leave home to continue in third level education. The Child and Family Agency supports these aftercare placements by way of an aftercare plan, in addition to a support worker and financial assistance.

Young people who do not have family support from a foster carer or family base are assisted in finding accommodation in supported lodgings, sheltered housing or independent accommodation and encouraged and supported financially in furthering their training and education. The Child and Family Agency has advised that, as of the end of March 2015, there were 1,720 young people aged between 18 to 22 years, inclusive, in receipt of aftercare service. Of those, some 1,012 or 59% were in full-time education.

Under existing operational policy arrangements an aftercare plan is prepared, in partnership with the young person, to identify supports that the young person requires. In preparing the aftercare plan, some of the supports required will fall to be delivered by the Child and Family Agency and some by other Departments and agencies, for example, income support, health services, education and local authorities, in respect of accommodation. The voluntary youth sector has an important role in supporting young people while in and leaving care by working with local statutory providers in creating a supportive network for young people. By proactively including young people in their programmes and activities, further benefits for these young people may be gained. One of the key objectives of the national youth strategy 2015-20, which I recently launched, is to support young people at critical transition points in their lives. The strategy commits to promoting a stronger role for youth services in supporting young people as they transition from statutory support services, including care arrangements and residential services, to independent living.

The legislative provisions relating to aftercare are being strengthened in response to concerns that there was insufficient focus in this area and that such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis. We all remember well some years back some of the terrible tragedies that occurred to children or young adults leaving care. The approach adopted is to impose a statutory duty on the Child and Family Agency to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or eligible young person. This will create an explicit statement of the agency's duty to be satisfied as to the need of the child or young person for assistance by preparing a plan, in consultation with the young person, which identifies their need for aftercare supports.

The Bill builds on the existing provisions of section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 and provides for a statutory entitlement to an aftercare plan. I am keen to be clear on one point. The Bill does not, nor was it intended to, provide for any change in statutory entitlement to services. The provision of services to which those leaving State care may be entitled is governed by the existing statutory and administrative criteria of the relevant schemes and programmes. As Senators will be aware, all State bodies are obliged to have regard to the resources made available to them in the provision of such services. In this regard, my Department has held meetings with other key Departments in respect of the supports those Departments offer to young people leaving State care. There has been widespread recognition that such young people carry a particular vulnerability.

Discussions are ongoing on how to best support these young people to transition to independent living, and I am glad to say the response from our partner Departments has been positive. The heads of the Bill were considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last year, and representatives from my Department, the Children's Rights Alliance, Focus Ireland and Empowering People in Care, EPIC, attended the hearing. The Bill I am bringing forward today has benefitted from the recommendations in the committee's report, and I thank all those involved.

The general outline of the aftercare provisions of the Bill allow for: the preparation of an aftercare plan for an eligible child before he or she reaches the age of 18; preparation of an aftercare plan, on request, for an eligible adult age 18, 19 or 20; and review of the operation of an aftercare plan where there has been a change in the adult’s circumstances or additional needs have arisen. A key factor in achieving success is ensuring assessment, preparation and planning for leaving care begins in the years prior to leaving care and continues as part of the care planning process. This work is based on collaboration with the young person, his or her carers and partner agencies to generate an aftercare plan that is specific to the individual young person’s needs. The language used will be suitable for the individual concerned.

I will outline the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 of the Bill provides for the definitions required in this Bill, defining the principal Act as the Child Care Act 1991 and the Act of 2011 as the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011. Section 2 amends section 2 of the Child Care Act 1991 to provide for additional definitions within that Act of those eligible for an aftercare plan. A child who has spent 12 months in the care of the State, with either the Child and Family Agency or the HSE, in the five years between the ages of 13 and 18 years, will be eligible for a statutory aftercare plan. The criteria employed to determine the eligibility of an adult - a person aged 18, 19 or 20 - for the purposes of an aftercare plan requires such a person to have spent 12 months in the care of the State, with the Child and Family Agency or the HSE, between the ages of 13 and 18. Where a child or adult has been in care for any period of time between the ages of 13 and 18 and has also been accommodated under section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991, any periods of time spent in such accommodation and that spent in care can be combined to meet the 12-month threshold stipulated.

Section 3 provides for the removal of a reference to section 45 in section 23J of the Child Care Act 1991. This reference is no longer valid on foot of the new aftercare provisions. Section 4 provides for an amendment to section 23 of the Child Care Act 1991. The Child and Family Agency will be obliged to produce guidance on the assistance that may be provided in accordance with an aftercare plan in instances where the person to whom the plan relates has been the subject of an interim special care order or a special care order and is an eligible child or eligible adult.

Section 5 provides that the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan for the eligible cohorts of children and adults, detailing the assistance that may be provided, once such a person has reached 18 years of age. The core age range for such support is 18 to 21, other than in the case of education where the agency may continue to provide assistance until the completion of the course in which the young persons are engaged or until the end of the academic year in which they reach the age of 23, whichever is the earlier. This section incorporates elements of the current section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 and provides that implementation is subject to resources. Section 6 provides that an assessment of need will be carried out in order to identify the supports and services appropriate to an aftercare plan and sets out the domains to be considered in such an assessment.

Section 7 provides for an aftercare plan for an eligible child who is in the care of the agency or an eligible child who is no longer in the care of the agency and sets out what an aftercare plan will contain. Regarding a child who is in the care of the agency, following an assessment of need, the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan setting out the assistance required to meet the needs identified in the assessment, upon the child turning 18. An aftercare plan will be prepared at least six months in advance of the child attaining the age of 18 years or within three months of that child having become an eligible child, whichever is the later. An eligible child no longer in the care of the agency or a person acting on that child’s behalf – a parent, guardian or person acting in loco parentis - may request an aftercare plan from the agency. Upon receipt of such a request, and following an assessment of need, the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan setting out the assistance required to meet the needs identified in the assessment, upon the child turning 18. In the case of an eligible child who is no longer in the care of the agency, an aftercare plan will be prepared within three months of receiving a request, or at least six months in advance of the child attaining the age of 18 years, whichever is the later.

The child or young person will have a central role in the development of the aftercare plan. This is very important and appropriate. The agency shall also consult, in preparing an aftercare plan, with all relevant bodies playing a role in the provision of services and supports required for the aftercare plan. As part of this process, the agency must have regard to resources available to it in implementing an aftercare plan. Where the agency cannot ascertain the views of the eligible child, an aftercare plan shall still be prepared by the agency. The agency shall consult with specific people, mainly those in loco parentis, in preparing an aftercare plan, other than in such circumstances as the agency deems it not in the best interest of the child to do so.

Section 8 provides that the agency shall prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible adult where none had been previously prepared and sets out what an aftercare plan will contain. The agency shall, following a request from an eligible adult or a person authorised by that adult, carry out an assessment of need for the eligible adult and prepare an aftercare plan setting out the assistance required to meet the needs identified in the assessment. The aftercare plan for an eligible adult will be prepared within three months of a request for such a plan and the agency shall consult, in preparing an aftercare plan, with all relevant bodies playing a role in the provision of services and supports required for the aftercare plan. In preparing the aftercare plan, the agency must also have regard to resources available to implement the aftercare plan. The agency may consult with all people who, in the view of the agency, would be of assistance in preparing an aftercare plan for the eligible adult. Such consultation can only take place with the consent of the adult concerned.

For the avoidance of doubt, where the agency is providing assistance to a person under the original section 45, it will continue to do so as if the section had not been amended. In addition, if the person satisfies the eligibility criteria for an “eligible adult”, he or she may make a request for an aftercare plan. In all cases, for an eligible child in care, an eligible child no longer in care or an eligible adult, in preparing an aftercare plan, the assistance identified will comprise supports and services that may be provided directly by the agency in addition to assistance in accessing other supports and services for which the person may be eligible.

Section 9 provides that the agency shall conduct a review of the operation of an aftercare plan on request by a young person or someone acting on his or her behalf if any of the following conditions are met: there has been a significant change in the circumstances of the young person; the assistance being provided under the aftercare plan does not meet the need identified; or additional support requirements for the young person have arisen. Such reviews are to be conducted within three months of receipt of a request. The agency will, in conducting any reviews, have regard to those service providers for whom any such review would have relevance, and consult accordingly. The agency may also, with the consent of the young person, consult with individuals who the agency considers may be of assistance in reviewing the plan. Aftercare plans may be updated following a review. Any such updating shall have due regard to the resources available to the agency to implement the updated plan.

Regulation of early years services is provided for under Part VII A of the Child Care Act 1991. In particular, this new Part of the Act introduced new powers for the Early Years Inspectorate regarding registering providers of early years services, removing providers from the register, or attaching conditions to a registration. Revised preschool regulations are being finalised. In the meantime, I am taking the opportunity in this Bill to give early years inspectors the power to visit preschool services premises before they open, in order to advise the provider on layout, and generally to check the premises are suitable for running the service.

While it is likely that providers would welcome such a visit, there is no compulsory provision for it currently and the inspector would have to rely on the consent of the provider.

I am satisfied that these provisions will form an additional safeguard to ensure that preschool premises are fit for purpose and will support the care and education of the young children in the service. The provisions will also facilitate preschool providers in understanding what is required of them in terms of the provision of appropriate facilities.

Section 10 amends the Child Care Act 1991 to allow the Child and Family Agency to refuse to register a proposed provider who refuses permission to an authorised person to enter a premises for a pre-registration visit. Section 11 amends the 1991 Act to allow the agency to cause to be visited premises where it is proposed to carry on an early years service to ascertain if the premises comply with Part VIIA of that Act. Section 12 amends the Act to permit an authorised person to visit premises where it is proposed to carry on an early years service in order to ascertain if the premises comply with Part VIIA of that Act.

A number of amendments of a technical nature are required by the enactment of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 to a number of Acts that were amended by it. Section 13 and Part 1 of Schedule 1 provide for technical amendments to the Child Care Act 1991. Section 14 and Part 2 of Schedule 1 provide for technical amendments to other Acts. Section 15 and Schedule 2 provide for a small number of repeals.

This Bill underpins significant initiatives and reforms that have taken place in recent years, which have been developed with the goal of improving aftercare services so as to deliver better outcomes for young people leaving the care of the State. A key focus of the Child and Family Agency service reform and improvement is the continued enhancement of leaving and aftercare services, which began with the development of a national leaving and aftercare policy in 2011 in co-operation with the key stakeholders, including the voluntary sector agencies representing children in care and those services involved in aftercare provision. There have been significant improvements in the delivery of aftercare services since the introduction of that policy. In implementing it, the agency has prioritised the development of dedicated aftercare services in each area, the standardisation of a range of financial packages, the introduction of interagency aftercare steering committees at local level and the further development of the provision of information on aftercare services. The Child and Family Agency continues to review its current policy to reflect legislative changes. In so doing, it will continue to work in partnership with those that represent the views of children in care and foster carers.

In examining our care and social services, we all too often focus on the negative, a deficit reporting model, as it were. It is this form of negative outlook that, while in many cases based on fact, is transmitted for public consumption. However, it is fair to say that progress is being made in the provision of aftercare services. As one example of good practice, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, recently found the aftercare service provided to young people in the Galway-Roscommon area to be excellent. In its inspection report on the foster care service in that area, HIQA found that the outcomes for children leaving care were excellent, with some remaining with foster carers and others placed in supported lodgings. Every young adult in aftercare had an aftercare worker and a written aftercare plan that was of good quality. Almost all of those in aftercare were attending third level education or training of some kind. This is the standard to which we aspire for all young people leaving the care of the State and tangible proof that the changes made to date are progressing as we would wish. I remind the House that, one decade ago, the delivery of aftercare services was unstructured and inconsistent. We have made significant progress in the interim. This Bill builds on that success.

Overall, the Bill attempts to take account of the need for a degree of nuance in planning for leaving care for young people at a time that is appropriate and sensitive to the young person's particular needs. The intention is to ensure that these preparations take place in good time to allow a young person to participate in the preparations, which is critical, ensure that the young person can prepare himself or herself for changes that may be occurring and ensure that the necessary supports can be identified and, subject to availability, put in place.

I thank Senators for their support for and engagement with the Bill. I look forward to our debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill. It is a step in the right direction towards the goal of a legal entitlement to aftercare services for all young people leaving care. The Bill imposes a statutory duty on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for such young people. However, we regard this only as a first step. The Department cannot use the legislation as a ruse to distract from the wider issue of adequate service planning for aftercare. It is welcome that Tusla has been given a legal obligation to provide young people with an aftercare plan, but we have some concerns, in that the Bill does not go far enough in obliging Tusla to put a full service framework and necessary resources for aftercare in place. It gives Tusla the "as resources allow" opt-out clause in section 8. Therefore, the Bill will not oblige the organisation to put in place fully resourced aftercare plans that are tailored to the individual needs of all vulnerable people leaving care.

The debate on the Bill allows us to discuss a related issue, that is, who has statutory responsibility for homeless young people and children. Tusla has no statutory duty to provide all children in emergency accommodation with in-reach plans that would ensure practical access to education, recreation, health and social services. The Bill presents an opportunity to oblige the agency in this regard so as to co-ordinate services for families in emergency accommodation and reduce the risk of long-term damage on a child's upbringing and development that might result from a period of homelessness.

In the context of aftercare plans and services for young care leavers, it is essentially to safeguard these vulnerable people who lack the traditional supports on which young adults fall back. Research conducted on permanent care by Empowering People in Care, EPIC, to which the Minister referred, and others has shown that young care leavers are more likely to leave State care with poor coping mechanisms, poor educations, poor life skills and a lack of support and friendships, which leaves them more at risk of feeling isolated, suffering mental health problems, engaging in risky behaviour, self-harm or suicide and becoming young parents. Between 450 and 500 young people leave care annually upon turning 18 years of age. Last year, 1,698 18 to 23 year olds were in aftercare. Of these, an impressive 56% were in full-time education.

While the Bill obliges Tusla to provide an aftercare plan, it gives the organisation an opt-out clause. From my experience in the House down the years, "as resources allow" is an opt-out for Governments of all colours because it places no legal obligation on the State to provide those resources. It is a worrying and vague opt-out clause and undermines all other provisions in the Bill, including Tusla's statutory obligation to provide an individually tailored aftercare plan to all young people leaving care.

Currently, Tusla has a statutory obligation to investigate all child protection and abuse claims in a timely manner. Last Monday, however, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, revealed serious deficits in protection and care systems for children administered by Tusla. In his audit, Dr. Muldoon found that Tusla had managed to deal with just one fifth of all reports of child abuse in a timely manner last year. By any measure, this is a gross systems failure on the part of the Minister's Department and Tusla's management. Tusla was set up with the purpose of strengthening the child protection system, but it is failing significantly to investigate child abuse claims immediately. The new agency's failures to protect vulnerable young people is widespread across its service remit, with the ombudsman making the appalling disclosure that children with mental health issues were still being accommodated in adult psychiatric wards. Dr. Muldoon found that, due to bed shortages, many of these children in distressful situations were simply being put on suicide watch instead of being given the care, compassion and specialist treatment that they required. The opt-out clause will not oblige the organisation to put in a place a fully resourced aftercare plan, which is the thrust of the Bill.

We have concerns about whether Tusla will be able to implement the Bill.

Giving Tusla a statutory remit is not the same as putting in place a fully resourced system of aftercare and supports for all young people leaving care. It cannot be denied that since its inception Tusla has been grossly underfunded as a service organisation. We welcome the additional funding in budget 2016, and I applaud the Minister for that. Despite the somewhat difficult and straitened economic circumstances he managed to get an increase, but is relatively small and it is required for services just to stand still rather than improve. Last year, Tusla was at least €18 million short of meeting day-to-day expenditure for the provision of social worker services alone. Other community programmes that receive their budget from Tusla, including family resource centres, school completion programmes, domestic violence community groups and rape crisis groups, including SAFE Ireland and the Rape Crisis Centre, received savage cuts last again this year.

It also remains to be seen whether the relatively small increase to which I referred for a very underfunded organisation will be enough to rectify service gaps in social and child welfare services provided directly by Tusla as well as providing funding for community programmes that are on their knees because of an annual 5% reduction in their budgets since 2012. HSE and Tusla funding for domestic violence services has been cut by 70% since 2012, although it remained the same last year. Funding for the Commission for the Support of Victims of Crimes domestic court accompaniment service has been reduced by 26% since 2012. Support agency funding for counselling services has also been reduced by 47% since the Government took office.

Funding required to support these services is tiny compared with the protection and solace they offer to women and children in difficult situations. The same happened under previous Governments. For some strange reason, when it comes to budget time, a sum of money is taken out of the system which, if it were allowed to stay, would help a large number of organisations and individuals. When one tots up the figures, a measly few million euro is involved. I am sure the Minister, in fighting the good fight for an increased budget, has probably used those arguments. It would be interesting to hear his comments.

It is unclear which organisation has responsibility for the 1,600 children currently living in emergency homeless accommodation. It is shocking that Tusla does not have a statutory remit to co-ordinate care and in-reach plans for these children. There are currently ten homeless families with children for every 100,000 people in Ireland. By comparison, there are only three homeless families for every 100,000 people in England. It is shocking that Tusla does not bear any special statutory responsibility for putting in place in-reach plans to promote normal development and reduce the risk to the welfare of children in emergency homeless accommodation.

The response of the Minister effectively denied that his Department has any responsibility to children who are homeless, in that he stated, "Young people who are homeless, either singly or as part of a family unit, and not falling within this category, are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and local authorities." Tusla should be taking a lead and front-line role in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This Bill is an opportunity to oblige the agency to put in place in-reach plans for co-ordinating and integrating services for vulnerable homeless families, as well as managing and reducing the risks to ensure a period of homelessness does not have a long-term and damaging effect on a child's upbringing and development. Overall, we welcome the Bill as a first step in the right direction, but there are inherent flaws in it, in particular relating to the "as resources allow" portion of section 8.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him and his officials for bringing this important Bill before the House. I commend him on his foresight in recognising the need to strengthen the legislative proposals regarding aftercare and on responding to concerns that there was insufficient focus on this area and such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis. As he said, there are three important and distinct elements in the Bill, mainly dealing with aftercare but also technical amendments on foot of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 and the provisions regarding the inspection of premises for early years services providers prior to registration.

The Joint Committee on Health and Children, of which I am a member, carried out pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill and published a comprehensive report. It did a large volume of work, consulted stakeholders and reviewed numerous submissions. We are pleased to have the opportunity to feed into this critical Bill. It allowed members to be fully informed, and enabled us to provide meaningful input into the Bill and make observations and suggestions in the initial stages of the Bill.

There were many discussions in the House and in the media on support services for children who leave care. Unfortunately, these debates usually arose when young adults failed to cope with the reality of life when they left care and in many cases they did not have the support of a family. Many young adults found themselves homeless or had problems with drugs and mental health issues or simply could not cope when they were out of the care of the State which had been the caregiver. Young people in care, like their peers, can face an accelerated transition into adulthood, putting them at greater risk.

Up to now, provisions made for children in care when they reached the age of 18 were not statutorily based. Children in long-term foster care who had settled with a family for a number of years were more likely to stay with them and receive support for third level education and planning for their future. However, this varied in different areas of the country and there was no guarantee of funding from year to year. On the whole, children who had successful long-term placements with foster families had better outcomes and were more likely to go on to third level education. Even if they did not go on to third level, they had support within the foster family after they were 18 years of age.

Unfortunately, the children who were in and out of foster care and the care of the State did not fare so well. Children who were in care for short periods or numerous short periods often fell through the system and were reluctant to re-engage with State agencies. Young adults were often delighted to be cut off into the working world and tried to be independent. As often happens with young people, however, when they had to be self-sufficient and the harsh reality of the pressure of working and providing for themselves hit home, they realised they might have been better off going on to further education or getting support, whether emotional or financial, from the State.

It was difficult in the past to re-engage with State agencies when children reached the age of 18 and had broken contact. This Bill changes that and places an explicit obligation on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for eligible children and adults where such needs as identified. A child who has spent 12 months in the care of the state with the Child and Family Agency or the HSE will be eligible for a statutory aftercare plan, which I very much welcome.

As the Minister said, the criteria employed to determine the eligibility for a person aged 18, 19 or 20 years of age for the purposes of the aftercare plan require that he or she has spent 12 months in the care of the State between the ages of 13 and 18. Where the child or adult has been in care for any period of time between the ages of 13 and 18, that time spent in care can be combined to meet the 12 months stipulated. This will help children who have been in and out of care for short periods, as often happens. The aftercare plan will be drawn up six months before their 18th birthday and in consultation with the child. It will incorporate their education needs and care needs, which is very important.

Each year approximately 500 young people move from a care setting into an aftercare service. A number of stakeholders highlighted the wide range of aftercare supports which may be needed by these young people. According to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the aim of aftercare services is to provide continuation of services to assist the varying needs of young people leaving care to enable them to achieve a successful transition from their placement to independent adult life in the community.

I am very pleased to welcome this Bill. I am confident there is great goodwill to provide very good levels of aftercare. Stakeholders have highlighted the socioeconomic benefits associated with the proper provision of aftercare services and I am confident that children leaving care will do so with as much support as they require.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This Bill is very welcome and I will work with the Minister to ensure we can get it through the House. We all know an election is coming up and the Bill needs to be passed, but I have certain concerns similar to what Senator Mooney outlined.

I would have liked the Bill to go further. For example, it is not a wholesale revision of the now outdated Child Care Act 1991, as was once promised. However, being an active member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I participated in the hearings we had and I acknowledge that several of the issues that came out of the hearings have been addressed within the scope of the Bill. I thank the officials in the Minister's Department who provided a briefing to Senators yesterday afternoon.

On registration, supervision and inspection for early years services, from my first reading of the Bill, I am a little bit concerned that the language around it is very severe and negative.

I want to know is it a case where services are refusing inspections for registration or is similar language used for other types of inspections. It seems quite severe language. My understanding is services really want to be registered. They want to be able to say to parents that they have been checked and inspected. Perhaps we will look more deeply into that on Committee Stage.

I will focus mainly on the issue of aftercare. We are moving from a discretionary model to a statutory model, albeit a statutory model where one will get a plan and not necessarily the resources. I heard what the Minister said in that regard. That has to be welcomed because change is incremental. To begin to include this in legislation is very welcome.

Obviously, the difficulty is that there will be gaps in that provision. Senators have quoted figures provided by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service that approximately 500 children leave the care of the State and go into aftercare each year. When one drills down into those figures, 80%, or 400 of them, were reported as having an allocated social worker. If one drills down further, 90%, or 360 of those 400, are in some form of stable accommodation. That really worried me because it means there are 140 children who leave the care of the State who we are failing. I agree with the Minister that we have 360 children for whom we are getting it right. It is happening naturally. They are probably in foster care. They are probably in more secure environments. The difficulty is, when one looks at these figures, there are 140 children who are either in unstable accommodation or have no social worker. Those are the children I will be trying to focus the lens on when we look through this Bill to strengthen it to ensure the continuity of care that is so important for children.

In preparing for today, I re-read the report of the Independent Child Death Review Group by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon and Ms Norah Gibbons. In the summary of concerns, the report states:

In some cases no aftercare at all was provided to young persons who left the care of the [then] HSE. This is a very serious cause for concern. In other cases aftercare was offered but solely at the option of the young person. Such an abdication of duty on the part of the HSE [as the Child and Family Agency was then] is unacceptable, and fails to properly meet the welfare needs of these vulnerable young people. Whilst the age of maturity of a young person for legal purposes is clearly defined it does not necessarily accord with the actual maturity of that young person.

That is where we need to move. I understand some of the caveats in the Bill but the difficulty is that while the young person has a right to refuse, that must be a considered and informed choice. There must be an obligation on the State to ensure that such is a considered and informed choice and it is not done because of the precarious situation that they are in at present.

I am also concerned about certain groups of children who may not be captured in the scope of the Bill. I refer to children in detention schools who, merely because of their pathway, whether they went down the justice pathway or the welfare pathway, have ended up in a detention school rather than in care. What will happen those children?

There is also the requirement of other public bodies to meet the needs of the care leaver, for example, the right to housing. What scope will the Child and Family Agency have to access those? Will there be a prioritisation of the need of that young person or will he or she be put in the queue with every other person?

On the assessment of needs, I welcome the much wider scope in the Bill. That is really good, but I wonder should certain issues, such as mental health, disability, or immigration and family reunification, also be part of that consideration. I want to look at the wording to ensure that those issues are part of that consideration.

As I stated at the briefing yesterday, I am concerned that the Child and Family Agency "may" rather than "shall" continue to provide assistance to the young person. We should be saying "shall" clearly.

I am also concerned about the upper age of 23. The reality of these young people leaving the care system is that in the majority of cases they are considerably behind their peers in terms of educational attainment. Many have had disjointed education. Many need to resit junior and leaving certificates or complete PLCs before, hopefully, going on to third level education. Given that masters degrees are the new undergraduate degrees, the levels of young people not in education, employment or training, and the spiralling rent prices throughout Ireland, it is not uncommon for young people to remain in the family home until their mid to late 20s. According to EUROSTAT, the average age of a young person in Ireland leaving home is 25. Surely, these young people, for whom the State has been parent, should have a similar provision. I would like to see us, not necessarily in law, looking at such flexibility where that young person is making a concerted effort and requires continuing support. How do we ensure that the plan is in place?

Although sometimes it is due to the difference between legislation, regulations and policies, the reference in section 45(5) of the principal Act to "subject to available resources" regarding the aftercare plan worries me. We develop a plan, everybody agrees it is a great plan but it is subject to available resources. I refer to the consequences of not providing those resources to an individual young person. There is no other safety net for them. There is nowhere else for them to turn. The consequences are quite severe and at times can be fatal, as the child death report clearly showed us. How do we ensure that, where possible, those resources are provided? I welcome that the plan is in place six months before, but what about those first set of children to whom I referred who, at 16, are in stable foster care. Why can we not provide them with that plan at age 16 so they will know when they turn 18 that it is there? I understand the legislative basis on which the six-months period is provided for. I am merely concerned that such people will then have to wait six months before getting their plan.

I have met too many of these young people who are dreading their 18th birthday who feel that blowing out the candle on their birthday cake extinguishes their supports and overnight they will become adults who must stand on their own two feet. The Bill goes a considerable way to address that. I want to ensure that those young people know it is not only a piece of paper but that the State really believes in them and really wants to ensure that the safety net is there, those supports are there and we are taking on our responsibility of being the parent for them.

I could obviously say so much more but I have got the signal from the Chair. I will bring up any issues I have on Committee Stage. I am concerned, for example, that out-of-hours services are not available and whether they will be available for these children who are particularly vulnerable.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to the House. He seems to be a regular visitor here these days but we will never complain about that.

Like Senator van Turnhout, I will concentrate on the aftercare but, first, I will refer to the revised preschool regulations which are being finalised. I very much welcome this. It seems incredible that the inspectors would have to rely on the consent of the providers to carry out an inspection. However, I heard a radio programme in which a preschool provider and crèche stated that there were not enough inspectors to carry out the inspections and sometimes the inspections were years apart or may not have been carried out. I merely wanted to ask the Minister whether there are enough inspectors in place to provide these inspections to preschools. With the provision of the second preschool year, I have been speaking to some providers who say they do not have the accommodation to provide the second year and it will pose a problem, but that is another day's work.

I welcome the Bill. This is a much-needed Bill which puts aftercare on a statutory footing. With this Bill, the aftercare provisions for eligible children who are transitioning to eligible adults will be strengthened and enhanced.

While this Bill may not have all the answers, it certainly is a definite step in the right direction. Now young adults who have been in foster care or residential care will have a defined care plan which will help them with their future and their induction into adulthood, which can be quite daunting for many, especially those who may not be in a sustainable family unit.

Those first few years of adulthood are vital and can mould one's future. Now the Child and Family Agency is obliged to put in place, on request, an aftercare provision to assist young adults of 18, 19 and 20 years and for those who are in further education whose provisions can continue up to the age of 23 or the end of the academic year. As it has been stated already that there are 400 or 500 young people leaving State care every year, it is good to see that 1,720 young adults are still availing of the service and 59% of them are in full-time education.

I have heard that in some cases children were transferred to a different county - in one case this happened in the middle of their leaving certificate - because the follow-on care plan was going to be in that county.

I pay special tribute to all the foster parents throughout the country who have opened their doors to provide a family setting for many children in State care who are in need. I understand that 45% of children who have been in foster families remain as part of those families when they become adults. This is a testimony to the care and love they have received in foster care, and credit is due to their foster parents in this regard.

Young adults who do not remain in a family setting or who leave residential care have additional needs. It is imperative that a detailed and constructive plan is in place to help them take steps into adulthood and assist them to become independent adults who will be able to provide for themselves in future life. As the Minister has said, the Child and Family Agency will carry out assessments of each individual's needs in education, financing and budgetary matters, training and employment, health and well-being, personal social development, accommodation and family support. These vital elements are needed to support a child transitioning to adulthood or independent living.

The Minister also said that cross-departmental support is required, and I understand that he is meeting personnel from various Departments. We look forward to the outcome. It is vital that every child or young adult must be involved in the preparation of this plan. Many of us who have children who have gone to college know the importance of the family unit in supporting and guiding them in their life choices and helping them to become independent young adults. Those of us whose sons or daughters attended college in a different county know how much they looked forward to coming home at the weekend to a warm house with a home-cooked meal ready for them. For some, however, these simple things are not available as they may have no home or family to return to. It is vital, therefore, that this Bill goes through as quickly as possible in order that each person who wishes to avail of aftercare services can do so.

We must remember that many of these young people living in residential care came from dysfunctional families. Some would not have the life skills for independent living and many would not know how to prepare a cooked meal. They may not know how to maintain tidy and clean accommodation nor be able to budget or manage their finances.

There are those who on reaching 18 may feel they have had enough of State care and dealing with State agencies and may therefore want to disengage at that stage. If they change their minds six or 12 months later, however, it is good that they can re-engage and will be guaranteed that a care plan will be ready for them within three months. That is to be welcomed.

This country has always required a national strategy to provide a co-ordinated approach in order that no matter where one lives, one will have access to the same level of service. Sometimes services can be better in one area than another, but we want the same level of service throughout the country. We need a national policy devised to provide pathways for young people to transition from residential care to independent living. We also need to provide for different types of transition to suit the needs of individuals. This Bill is certainly going in that direction to provide these strategies.

While it is all well and good to put legislation in place, we must have the funding to make it a reality. For example, due to cutbacks in Kerry we lost the aftercare support worker service, which is not in place now. Funding must be put in place to recruit the necessary personnel to make this a reality.

Support must be put in place if a young person returns to the home, including a dedicated aftercare support worker and psychological services for the family and young person involved. It can be difficult for a young person who has had to leave the family home due to difficulties to go back and live full-time again with their families. Supported lodgings are required to enable young people to experience independent living while still having a supervisory element in their lives. This could be someone, not a foster parent, who would flag up problems to the appropriate quarter before things go seriously wrong. Centres could provide a step-down, short-term placement for young people, helping them to move on to fully independent living. Young people could avail of advice in drop-in centres, for example, on parenting skills, peer support and counselling. Dedicated aftercare support workers could link in regularly with young people.

When young people reach 18 years of age they are referred to the adult services, so perhaps those services could be extended.

It is often up to 16 years of age.

Could we, in conjunction with this Bill, work to extend these services to young adults up to 19 and 20 or 23 as the case may be? Some of the more disturbed children can and do end up on the street. Some of them are pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol, but with the right help and available services, much of that can be avoided.

In welcoming the Bill, I ask that adequate funding be made available to make this strategy a reality and to make it work.

The Minister is very welcome and it is good to have him looking after this Bill. He has attended the House before and has shown his interest in this topic. I am loath to speak on this, particularly after Senator Moran and Senator van Turnhout who are such experts in this area. However, I have five children and 16 grandchildren and therefore I feel I know something about this area. We have not given enough attention to aftercare, so I am delighted that the Minister is doing something about it.

Last year, I was at a level crossing when the gates came down. Suddenly, a young man who was probably about 12 years of age collapsed in a panic on the ground inside the level crossing. Two of us jumped out of our cars, ran and were able to rescue him. We found out that he was in an aftercare home from which he had escaped through a window. When we went there and handed him over, they said he was in his room. In fact, however, he had got out the window and escaped. It is a reminder to me of how difficult a task aftercare is. This was not an 18 year old but somebody much younger. It is a reminder of the tasks the Minister faces

I am glad we are once more addressing the area of child care. The Bill focuses on the aftercare aspect to a strong extent and will introduce a statutory right to aftercare. We have seen the Government do a great deal of legislative work in this area. This Bill is another piece of a quite complicated jigsaw.

It is worth pointing out that the group entitled Empowering People in Care, EPIC, says it would like to see this Bill address the fact that there is no right to appeal the needs assessment for the aftercare plan carried out by Tusla. I would be pleased to hear the Minister's comments on that. It is a valid point. We are trying to create a system whereby the viewpoint of all is at the very least taken on board and given due consideration. Ideally, the child's viewpoint, no matter what that may be, should be taken into consideration and an appeal should be possible, as in other State bodies.

The new section 45B(5) as inserted by section 7 of the Bill reads: "The Child and Family Agency shall prepare an aftercare plan ... at least 6 months before he or she attains the age of 18 years, or ... within 3 months of that child having become an eligible child". There is some concern over the timeframe of six months before a young person turns 18. The EPIC group would like to see specific mention of the need for aftercare preparation to begin years before a person turns 18. I would like to hear the Minister's view on that. Planning is very important no matter what sort of business or service one does. I tend to agree that starting the plan at the earliest possible stage would be the ideal route. Perhaps that recommendation should be included in guidelines to foster this important emphasis on early drafting of the aftercare plan.

Will the Minister indicate whether Tusla has adequate funding? Senator Mooney was quite concerned about this when he mentioned it. Some concern has been expressed about this aspect, so I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

Apart from that, however, this Bill is another positive step from the Government. I hope that such positive steps will continue to be implemented. I am delighted to see this Minister handling it. He is showing the effort and enthusiasm that will be needed to ensure the Bill becomes law.

I, too, welcome the Minister. This is welcome and progressive legislation and the Minister and his officials are to be commended. When enacted, the legislation will ensure aftercare plans will be put in place for all eligible children and young people leaving State care. This is the first time, as far as I am aware, that children and young people will have the right to an aftercare plan, which will ensure the smooth transition from State care to independent living. Of course, independent living may also include returning to their families. It is an important development in our child care legislation.

In the normal course of events, the transition to adulthood is difficult for most people. According to a study by the Dublin Institute of Technology, there are three distinct types of transition from residential care: those who had a smooth transition; those who had experienced an unstable transition but whose circumstances improved over time; and those whose transition was volatile or considerably more problematic and who are still mired in precarious social circumstances. The transitions highlight the diversity of the participants' experiences in such a way as to emphasise more clearly the supports that enable a successful transition and the barriers that lead to social exclusion. The findings indicate that the participants' outcomes upon leaving a residential setting were ultimately dependent on a number of factors, such as the level of preparation given prior to leaving residential care, the level of the young person's involvement in the leaving care process, the type of post-care housing and accommodation offered and the availability or absence of resources and supports after residential care. It is, therefore, obvious how important are the issues being addressed in this legislation.

While I welcome the proposed plans for aftercare living, they do not replace the need for proper resourcing. This is a very good first step and I know we can rely on the Minister to ensure, as far as possible, that the words here are followed up with actions. Once the Bill is passed by the Oireachtas, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, will be required to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or young person. This is recognition of the particular challenges facing young adults leaving State care.

In respect of early years services, the legislation will enable the Child and Family Agency to visit the premises where it is proposed to carry out an early years service prior to the registration of the premises, in order to confirm that the premises complies with the requirements under part 7A of the Child Care Act 1991. That is a most welcome development. There is no point in having a service available if it is substandard. All the evidence points to how successful early years services are but they depend on quality, and quality includes the physical environment.

This legislation is very welcome. It recognises the special position of young adults leaving State care, sometimes after spending a considerable part of their lives within it. This legislation provides help to those young adults who have no family or social network to support them. We have come a long way from the Magdalen laundries and the workhouses. I commend the Minister and his officials on bringing forward this legislation.

I welcome the Minister back to the House. It was only a few weeks ago that he was here with another Bill that also received widespread support from this House. I am pleased to give my party's support to the Bill before us today. It has enjoyed support even though there are some aspects of it which we will seek to improve on Committee Stage.

The Bill is very welcome. In the past, I, as a public representative, have dealt with a number of children who were in State care and who left it when they turned 18. For some of those children - or adults, as they were at the time - the aftercare was good and for some the supports were not so good. Unfortunately, some of them got themselves into difficulties that they might not have got into if proper supports had been in place. I understand the issues and fully support what the Minister is trying to do with this Bill. Along with my party colleagues, I welcome the introduction of the Bill. Given the State's track record - this is not a criticism of the Government; I am just talking about the State historically - on the protection of vulnerable children and on dealing with the relevant issues, as I said in respect of the previous legislation the Minister introduced, we are learning a great deal. We are moving on. We are putting in place much better and stronger protections for children. That is very important and significant and the Minister should be commended for what he has done in this area. There are some shortfalls, which will need to be addressed on Committee Stage, but I see the Bill as a step forward.

Existing provisions set out in the aftercare programme have fallen short and have been at the discretion of many different parties for too long. Management and overseers who make decisions around the implementation of aftercare policies have at times been casual in many respects. The intention behind the Bill is seek to prevent this happening in the future by placing aftercare on a statutory basis. That is to be welcomed. The Bill should be used to tighten up the position in this area. Indeed, aftercare for children, especially the most vulnerable, is a top priority within the legislation.

People have referred to funding issues and some would have policy concerns in respect of Tusla, but in my view it has neglected its aftercare programmes and policies in particular since its inception and many vulnerable children have fallen through the cracks as a result. A clear and concise aftercare programme, which is child-led and provides a sense of ownership to the children in question, could go a long way towards providing these children with a stable foundation which, furthermore, would allow them to live an enjoyable and fruitful life. I welcome the addition of some practical and real-life situations in the form of allowing young people to engage with aftercare programmes after the age of 18 and in the context of their making the decision to re-engage with such programmes. From my experience, these young people tend to be cast aside. Hopefully, the Bill will limit that and be as inclusive as possible.

Amendments will be required to address some of the provisions in the Bill that need to be strengthened or to insert new provisions which we believe are necessary. The language used in the legislation indicates that although there is broad commitment to aftercare policies and the implementation of such policies, there is no wholehearted commitment to these policies in some areas. I would fear that a culture of passing the buck or making excuses could arise on the back of this. My party will be putting forward amendments on Committee Stage in order to hold the Government and Tusla to account and to ensure we have proper responsibility and allow for recourse in circumstances where neglect is found in the future. Sometimes people fall through the cracks. This may not be the responsibility of individuals within organisations but if the aftercare programmes and the policy are not right, that is what happens. It is good that we are addressing this issue now and I hope that we will deal with the shortcomings that were identified in the past at some point in the future.

I could say more but I will wait until Committee Stage to do so because I have given wholehearted support to this Bill and I welcome the Minister's commitment in respect of the matter to which it relates. He has done great work. It is fantastic that another Bill that strengthens the rights of vulnerable children and deals with how this State deals with situations where children are either victims of abuse or might be abused because of the lack of supports has been brought forward. We are talking about very vulnerable children. I welcome what the Minister has done in this area.

I thank the Minister for being with us and for introducing this legislation. It is always good when there is cross-party support. The Bill is clearly a step in the right direction. As others have said, the State's record regarding vulnerable children has not always been good. In such circumstances, this legislation is welcome.

I commend colleagues on the health committee on the work they did prior to the legislation being brought before the House. In a similar vein, when she was before the House yesterday, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, commended the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the pre-legislative scrutiny it gave to National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015. It is good to see committees working hard before legislation is formally introduced, bringing in experts to discuss some of the detail and giving feedback to Ministers and their officials, all of which makes the system more efficient.

I share with my colleagues, particularly Senator Moloney, the obvious concern about how this will be funded. The idea of offering proper support systems for vulnerable young people is, of course, welcome and funding will be the crux of the matter. Will the plans drawn up for these young people include information on the means by which they will be funded and delivered? We can write plans but it is how we deliver them that matters.

I share with my colleagues, particularly Senator Moloney, the obvious concern of how this will be funded. The idea of offering proper support systems for young people who are themselves very vulnerable is, of course, welcome, and the crux of the matter will be in the funding. Will those plans that are drawn up for these young people identify the means and the manner of the delivery of those plans? We can write plans, but it is how we deliver them that really matters. I understand that is something the Minister particularly

I understand that the Minister wants to see this happen, but I do not know how far the plans will go in that regard.

Are structures being put in place to offer the correct training and support to Tusla and the people on the ground who draw up aftercare plans? Under the Bill, young people over the age of 18 years can request aftercare plans. Is there a way of ensuring that they are aware of this right? There could be an information gap, with a young person never asking because he or she is unaware that it is an option. That would be a shame, given the fact that the right has been extended to them.

That we are moving from a discretionary situation to a statutory one is welcome. I share Senator van Turnhout's concern about out-of-hours care. While that does not fall within the specific remit of this legislation, it remains an issue.

I join colleagues in thanking those who offer foster care to the many young people in question. Given the latter's vulnerabilities, there is always an issue when they leave any kind of care, but foster care has proven to be a very good way of looking after those whose own families are dysfunctional or difficult. I do not know whether foster carers can provide their knowledge and observations on the question of extending aftercare, as I was not involved in the pre-legislative stage. How might their input into the Bill or its activation upon enactment be taken?

The compulsory inspection of preschools is to be welcomed. Senator van Turnhout and I share the view that many, if not all, preschools want to do the best and be places where young children can be cared for in a good and safe environment. Will there be an increase in the number of inspectors made available to do this work? Someone might inspect once and disappear for three years. The people running preschools would press for more inspections than once every three years or so.

Many issues have been raised. Since some relate directly to my Department and some relate to other Departments, I will confine my comments in so far as I can to the former, given the time I have.

Senator Mooney referred to an opt-out clause. Under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, Tusla is responsible for its own budget and how that is allocated. Therefore, we must leave that as a matter for the agency. It does not apply in the HSE either. We can indicate to it the important areas. The intent of the clause in question is to recognise that fact, not to serve as a mechanism by which the agency would seek to avoid its responsibilities. In a general way, there is always pressure on the Exchequer. Therefore, to start conferring statutory rights to specific services would result in our constant argument about ring-fencing funding for one area of the budget when that money must come out of another area because of the situation in which we found ourselves.

I wish to address an issue that a number of people have raised, namely, the underfunding of Tusla. Tusla was set up in 2014. I will go through it seriatim but, at the risk of being confrontational, which I do not want, I was disappointed by the cynicism of Senator Mooney's contribution. Last year, Tusla got an extra €20 million plus. This year, it got €38 million on top of that plus €20.7 million to address current deficits, legacy issues, etc. It is a new agency and is doing sterling work, but it must find its feet. I decided that we would fight as hard as we could to get it the money it needed to do the job required of it.

In the context of unallocated cases of children at risk, Tusla has put together a three-year business plan. Many Senators know my next point, but I wish to put it on the record again. No child at immediate risk is left without a social worker. If a teacher is concerned about a child in a classroom today, a social worker will be on the case before that child leaves school. There are priority areas, however, and some of the children involved, while falling into those areas, are not in immediate danger. This is not satisfactory, but Tusla put together a three-year business plan and told us what it needed for the coming year. We met that need, so it is for the agency now to deliver. That is a challenge. I emphasise the point because this problem has not been addressed by successive Governments over many years. To expect Tusla to address it in one year is unreasonable.

My next point must be taken in context. I made it to the Senator's colleague in the Dáil. When Fianna Fáil was in charge of this country and Ireland was awash with money, there was no structured support for aftercare. Consequently, there were numerous tragedies. Like us, the Child and Family Agency has made serious progress and will continue in that vein. While I thank everyone, including Senator Mooney, for supporting the Bill, it is the case that, during the previous Government's term, Deputy Shatter raised the issue of children dying in State care and had a hell of a job getting any information out of the HSE or that Government. We are in a different paradigm now. We would all love for matters to move more quickly than has been possible, but we are moving strongly.

This brings me back to the economy. We need a strong economy as the engine to provide the range of resources necessary to support our children, child care, parents and families. This year, Tusla has been given a considerable amount of extra funding and is consequently in a position to deliver its core services. There will always be a need for more funding. There will always be legislation, such as this, that Tusla believes might require additional funding. Let us see how that situation progresses.

Senator Mooney compared the UK with the Republic of Ireland, but the main difference is that the UK did not have Fianna Fáil to wreck its economy. Tusla and my Department co-operate with many other Departments, in particular, Education and Skills, the Environment, Community and Local Government in terms of homelessness and Health. Some of the Senator's contribution seemed to suggest that my Department should take over the entirety of those Departments in order to ensure the well being of children. That is not how we operate. Rather, we co-operate with and encourage many other Departments and highlight the needs of children in their policies.

Senator van Turnhout was concerned about the language being negative to services. That is not the intention but, as others have pointed out, we cannot allow a legal loophole through which we do not have the right to inspect a service before it sets up.

I am a great believer that prevention is better than cure. Let us ensure the service is right before it opens its doors. We do not have the legal right to do this. It is important. This is not to say most people would not like to be registered and inspected. I doubt anybody goes into this service without the best intentions. Senator van Turnhout inferred from the figures we gave that 140 are in unstable accommodation. We have made great progress on this and will make further progress on it. The Senator mentioned the fact that time spent in detention schools is not included in the assessment of duration spent in care. A person might be in detention for a purely criminal activity and have no other issues, and it would not be appropriate to include this as time spent in care, whereas for those who have a care history, it would absolutely feed into the assessment.

The question of "may" versus "shall" brings us back to the statutory rights issue. Although the average age of leaving a home is 25, many people leave home long before this age. Maybe, in an ideal world with unlimited economic resources, we could aspire to offering support up to the age of 25 in the future. Hopefully, with the ongoing financial recovery, it might be possible sometime in the future. The Senator suggested giving children in care over 12 months a plan at the age of 16. Although we considered it, things can change so much, and the plan must be made again. It is far too early. One would have to consider the situation. The six months out gives plenty of time, and the three months relates to those who have been away and return to care, and who would not have qualified until they did so.

I am happy to say there is additional money in this year’s budget for more inspectors. Tusla will have more inspectors. Senator Moloney raised an issue regarding a child with difficulties being moved to a different county during his or her leaving certificate exams. It strikes me as bizarre, and I will investigate it if the Senator will give the details. Extending CAMHS to 23-year-olds would be a major decision for the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. In the past, we had terrible difficulty with children moving from age 16 to 18, particularly in my constituency, with different parts of the service saying they did not look after people of that age. Children were falling through the cracks. I do not want it to be repeated. With proper co-ordination, co-operation and greater coherence of approach, we can improve outcomes for our children, especially those in care.

Senator Quinn mentioned an appeal mechanism. There is no need for an appeal mechanism, given that it is reviewed within three months if the person is unhappy. This is a de facto appeal. The Senator raised some other issues which EPIC raised, which I did not quite hear. I have met EPIC on a number of occasions and while Jennifer Gargan does fantastic work with young people who have been in care, the people who have been in care are the real resource there. They are phenomenal young people who feed back in a very meaningful way about their experiences in care and the issues they found difficult and which we would seek to address, including continuity with their social workers. They have produced a wonderful little book for children going into care, which is very clever. Although it is ostensibly geared at the child, it is also geared at the adult giving the care and makes one think about what a child who is going into care is experiencing. I thank EPIC and all those children who have been in care who have gone back to help others who have been in care and who continue to contribute.

I have covered the budgetary issues. Senator Cullinane referred to shortfalls, and I am very pleased with his party's support on it. It is unfair to be overly critical of the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, which came into being less than two years ago and has made much progress in many areas, although I acknowledge that more needs to be done and will be done. Senator O’Keeffe referred to ensuring young people are aware of their rights. This will be done. The issue is about placing an onus on Tusla to chase people who may have left care and with whom it has lost contact. It would be unwise to do this in legislation. Although I could talk further, we will have an opportunity to do so on Committee Stage.

I thank all the Senators for their support for the Bill, which is critically important. I echo what people have said about the less than admirable history of our care of vulnerable children and I hope our generation will be seen as the one that sought to address and redress it. Again, I thank all the wonderful people who are involved in foster care and who give such great care to the children in their charge. It is evidenced by the fact that so many stay with the families afterwards and continue to be supported by them. It is a tribute to our system that such a high percentage of children who are in care are in foster care rather than residential care. We would all prefer if none of them were in care but were at home with their families enjoying a happy and memorable childhood.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 10 November 2015.
Sitting suspended at 2.25 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.