I move amendment No. 33:
In page 7, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following subsection:
"(7) Each child care advisory committee shall have the following powers and functions:
(a) it will have access to all information relating to child care services in its area;
(b) it shall make recommendations in relation to the improvement of child care services to the child care authority;
(c) it shall be a consultative body to voluntary organisations;
(d) it shall make annual reports to the child care authority on child care services;
(e) it shall submit plans for the future of services in its area;
(f) it shall review the needs of children in its area;
(g) it shall draw attention to individual child cases as it sees fit and promote the development of child care services in its area.".
As can be seen this is a substitute amendment. It reflects the concern expressed by everybody here this morning to ensure that the advisory committees are independent, that their tasks are defined and guidelines, which would allow flexibility, are laid down. As a committee and as legislators, we need to define what the principal tasks and functions of these committees should be. It is proposed in amendment No. 33 that each child care advisory committee have certain powers and functions.
I would also like to refer to amendment No. 136, which is very much in line with those proposals. It reads:
The child care advisory committee may seek a review in any case with which they are concerned, and it shall be the duty of the health board or child care authority to fully pursue and investigate such a case.
Perhaps the Minister is ahead of me here and will say that the proposals being put forward and the functions outlined here are exactly those he was thinking about. We are all anxious to ensure that the best possible legislation in regard to children is put through. This legislation has been in gestation for some considerable time and, as we know, there are very real problems and difficulties for children. We hear a good deal about child abuse, for instance. Not only do these proposals give us an idea of the functions child care advisory committees should have but they are very good guidelines for the kind of work they should focus on within the community.
It is absolutely essential, and I know the Minister would agree with me here, that they have access to all information relating to child care services in their area. We need to ensure that there would be no health board or Department of Health rule which would preclude the making available of any relevant information needed. We should all work to ensure that these committees have complete access to and could demand access to whatever information is available so far as the child care services are concerned. They should be expected to make recommendations in relation to the improvement of child care services to the child care authority and be a consultative body to voluntary organisations as this would be of tremendous help to the many voluntary organisations working in this area already. I would also like to think that the results of any research undertaken by these advisory committees would be made openly available to the voluntary organisations who may not themselves have the resources to produce this kind of information or who may not collectively have set up such a consultative body.
Subparagraph (d) reads: "it shall make annual reports to the child care authority on child care services". Again, all of us realise that through the making available of annual reports we can measure progress, highlight recommendations and see if further legislation is needed. It would set down a marker for all of us to examine what progress was being made and to see if further reform is needed.
Subparagraph (f) reads: "it shall review the needs of children in its area". The results of such a review would be of the most tremendous value not alone to the child care advisory committees and the health boards but also to the children section of the Department of Health itself. Advisory committees, working within the community with their special interests and expertise, may in fact be able to provide an amount of information and make recommendations, to the special section within the Department of Health which may be of tremendous value to them.
Subparagraph (g) reads: "it shall draw attention to individual child cases as it sees fit and promote the development of child care services in its area". None of us would quarrel with that. What all of us should be lobbying for is that they should be allowed to draw attention to the need for development of child care services in an area and that the necessary investment and resources needed be made available to make sure that we have an even spread because at present assessment units, treatment units and validation units for children are spread wide apart with the result that many people, particularly in rural areas, are required to give of their time and do much travelling. I would like to think that we would have a national network with all parents and child care workers in all areas having access, if possible, to the information available to the advisory committees and having specialist treatment available within their own areas. I know all of us will applaud and work towards achieving that aim.
Amendment No. 136 relates to the powers of a health board or child care authority. In order to guard the independence and autonomy of a child care advisory committee it would be only right and proper that they would have the power to seek a review of cases with which they are concerned and that the health board or child care authority would fully pursue and investigate such cases so that the child care advisory committee would always be confident that each case has been subjected to full and independent review.
I would like to conclude by saying that these proposals are designed to add to and strengthen this legislation. By ensuring that each of the powers listed in the amendment are provided for, we would, from the very beginning, be giving clear guidelines to everybody concerned while ensuring also that the members of the advisory committees, and those appointing them, would be very much aware of their functions and responsibilities. Indeed, I hope recommendations will arise as a result of the advisory committees carrying out these functions.