SECTION 9.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 8, subsection (1), line 36, after "services" to insert "and shall ensure that a proper assessment of child care needs nationally is carried out annually".

I consider this to be very important. In fact, the new section 10 which I am proposing ties in with this in so far as one of the biggest weaknesses and faults of the Bill is the failure to establish a national children's council. I do not wish to go into detail on that but one of the vital aspects of work of an independent national children's council would be to carry out independent national research into the needs of children on an organised and regular basis. Section 9 deals with research but there is no obligation on the Minister to do so because it states that he may conduct or assist other persons to do it.

In amendment No. 43 I am suggesting that those carrying out such research should have an idea of the needs of children and that an assessment be carried out as to their needs. The amendment is reasonable and constitutes the best possible scope for such research work to be undertaken. It is a forerunner to amendment No. 44 because, as far as I am concerned, that is a crunch issue in the overall context of this Bill.

Amendment No. 43 seeks to include the availability of a proper assessment of child care needs nationally to be carried out annually. At present it is very indefinite, there being no obligation to undertake such research. Unless such independent research is undertaken annually and nationally, we will be dependent on voluntary groups — perhaps with a vested interest — to provide politicians and others with a basis for action. There is a lack of information nationally on child care assessment and their needs. To date the Department have failed to undertake such research. There is no track record to inspire any confidence. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment if he is serious about research.

I support this amendment. Indeed it is not sufficiently strong. I should like to see the provisions of this Bill incorporate a research unit within the Department of Health which would evaluate — an on-going basis — report on conditions as they relate to children. The one matter that emanates from all reports on child care is that there is a dearth of research and information available to people to ascertain the overall picture in regard to our children. I support this amendment. This is a very important section. The provisions as they stand, are all very haphazard and casual. That is not good enough. I know the difficulties experienced by anybody who would want to conduct research into any area of child care in applying to the Department or to a health board. I should like the provisions to be stronger, more definite than this.

I might add to what my colleagues have said. We could never over-emphasise the importance of research. I would be in agreement with Deputy Fennell, that a research unit within the Department of Health would be the most centralised and co-ordinated way of doing so. Certainly I should like to see such a proposal part and parcel of whatever section deals with research. It is not merely important to undertake research. Probably it is even more important to disseminate the findings of research to social workers and voluntary organisations responsible for child care. Perhaps seminars might be initiated and booklets regarding the research made widely available, as tools of learning to the people working on the ground. There is no mention of such as the Bill stands. It is important not merely that research be undertaken but that it be made available to the people who would gain most from it. Perhaps the Department could establish such a unit and a process of disseminating such research information.

In a sense the wording in the Bill, as it stands, leaves it entirely to the discretion of the Minister. Perhaps potential Ministers might welcome that. They may — at their inclination — decide to conduct research or assist others with research. But the sentence in the Bill becomes a descriptive statement because it prescribes circumstances in which no research at all is carried out as much as it does that bits of research can be carried out at any time, or, in turn, that the Department may be linked to research. Equally, the amendment — which seeks to improve on this provision — expresses the need for an assessment of child care being carried out annually and nationally. I suppose what one has in mind is that a strong statutory expression of that might be the report on prisons to the Minister for Justice, or the report of the Garda Commissioner to the Minister for Justice on the state of crime. There is, however, a certain lack in that amendment too because the obligation to report is not contained therein. This has been adverted to by Deputy Barnes.

It seems to me that the obligation — if one were to go down the road of there being some kind of obligation to present some kind of annual assessment — has meaning only as in the case of the examples I have given, if there is an obligation to report. However, trying to be of assistance beyond that, taking up and expanding a point made by Deputy Barnes, researchers in the area of child care make the point that perhaps up to a quarter to a third of the total budget is spent on the collation of existing research and the gathering together of materials. The costs of research would be enormously reduced if there was in existence a register of research within the Department. It would mean that one was quicker into the field.

Ideally, we should be very positive about this in so far as one could envisage circumstances in which the Department was taking a research initiative, relating it to a body of studies that have been lodged, described and summarised so that one could operate, on a cumulative basis, on known work. Also from the point of view of research undertaken outside the Department, academic institutions and independent researchers would welcome such proposal. It has been a proposal that has been put forward from the voluntary organisations as well. I would prefer it to be like this. There is no other implication to be taken from the wording as it stands than that it is relying totally on each individual piece of research to be assisted in a sporadic way not necessarily in a linked way.

I might say as well that the idea of a register would be useful; so also would be some kind of commentary on existing proposals for legislative change. There are pieces of research on child care which recommend, for example, clarification of the law in relation to 19th century punishment of children. It am not so sure whether whipping has yet been officially abolished. The point is that it is not a research paragraph as it stands. It says simply that if the Minister is attracted to a project or if a head of steam builds up for some little project at present within the Department the Minister may or may not be moved. It is singularly weak. I would favour going beyond the amendment, perhaps in a reconsideration, moving in the direction of an explicit obligation to report, to have a register and to publish the findings of such registers on an on-going basis, communicating them to the research community and the public.

The fact that section 9 (1) and (2) specifies provisions for some research to be done to monitor the situation underlines our argument. I support the suggestion that there be a more mandatory provision. As I see it the amendment seeks to have such included in that it says at least: "and shall ensure that a proper assessment of child care needs nationally is carried out annually." As Deputy Higgins pointed out, we need to firm up that provision, by making it a mandatory, as the amendment seeks to do.

First, I would like to congratulate the Minister on having included within the main framework of the Bill a provision for research. Everybody would be in agreement with that. In any ongoing legislation — especially with regard to child care where circumstances change almost daily in relation to certain aspects, such provision is vital. In saying that my fear would be that the inclusion of the words: "is carried out annually" may actually restrain research. I do not think that mere statistics are going to help anyone especially if one is to recognise the problem and henceforth get a solution to it. Research should be a very detailed analysis and in that respect I find the amendment would be a stranglehold in relation to any research and development.

I am very pleased with the very positive attitude that people here have to the importance of research. I accept the points that have been made about the need for more and better research into child care. For that very reason this section was inserted in the Bill. I might point out that there is no specific power to undertake research in our existing legislation, so section 9 represents a very important development. I think it was Deputy Fennell who made that point.

We have the Act of 1908 which has no reference to research. We had the 1985 Children (Care and Protection) Bill published with absolutely no reference to research and the same situation again in 1987. Section 9 is specifically included to ensure that we will have very important research carried out.

The purpose of section 9 is to enable the Minister and the health boards to undertake research into child care and family support or to assist other persons in carrying out such research. Subsection (1) enables the Minister to conduct research into any matter related to the care and protection of children or to the provision of child care or family support services. It also empowers the Minister to assist other persons carrying out such research. Subsection (2) empowers the health board to carry out research into any matter related to their function under the Bill or to assist any other person to do so.

The type of research I have in mind here might include, for example, a detailed analysis of the factors in society and in individual families that give rise to children having to be taken into care, comparative studies of the relevant advantages and disadvantages for the child and the family of placement in foster care or residential care, follow-up studies of children who have been in care and so on. These are just some examples of possible research topics in the child care area. I am sure members of the Committee have many ideas of their own on these matters.

However, what Deputy Yates seems to be referring to in his amendment is not what I would term research at all. The type of assessment he mentions is, in my view, no more than the ongoing administrative or managerial review and assessment of services that is going on all the time at both health board and Department of Health level. We have already dealt with this type of assessment in section 6 which will require health boards to carry out reviews of the adequacy of the child care and family support services in their areas. Indeed, as the committee will recall, I accepted an amendment — No. 36 to section 6 — which will require these assessments to be carried out on an annual basis. I might also remind the Deputy that the Minister will have to be supplied with details of every such assessment.

With reference to a number of points that have been made, particularly by Deputy Higgins and other colleagues, the Department of Health have commissioned or assisted various research projects in the child care area in recent years. It was Deputy Barnes who mentioned that there should be a special research unit. For example, my Department co-operated with the ESRI in a major study on children in care. I might mention that this study was based on data collected by the Department's child care division as part of their annual children in care survey. At present, the Department are supporting a research project into aspects of child sexual abuse in the Eastern Health Board area. We are very committed to research. We want it enshrined in law. We see it as a very important vehicle in assessing and in having the best up-to-date information to ensure that we give the best possible level of service to children who need care.

In the circumstances of what I have said, I see no need for this amendment. I would be concerned that it might only serve to divert attention away from the type of detailed research projects I mentioned a moment ago.

I am most disappointed with the Minister's reply because he has not answered the central point, which is that the Minister may not carry out such research if he does not see fit. The purpose of my amendment is threefold and the words used are quite strong. The Minister shall ensure; "shall" is used to replace the word "may" as provided in section 9. Second, the Minister is misconstruing the purpose of the amendment is relation to his use and interpretation of the word "assessment". I am not talking about an assessment of each individual child as we previously discussed, but a proper assessment of child care needs generally, that is to say nationally what the needs for residential planning are, whether the juvenile justice system is liaising with the health board system effectively to see if non-attendance at school is a particularly severe problem, so that would cover the widest possible assessment of need. If there is a hang-up about the word "assessment", that can be changed to another suitable similar word.

Third, there is a need to have annualised statistics to make comparisons. If it is something like a census of population that is done every now and again, one can question the validity of certain statistics because the intervening period can bring about different changes, but if you have annualised data basis from which to work, you can see exactly where you are going. Also, in terms of setting out needs, one can make assessments then as to how those needs are addressed subsequently.

I feel the amendment meets the wishes, on what I have heard, of the members. I feel it can only strengthen section 9. If the Minister hasbona fides in this area and intends to carry out the research, he should have no difficulty in accepting it.

I very much accept one point made by the Minister of State and that is the distinction between an annual statistical report and research. It is a most valuable distinction and an important one. In many cases, research has been impeded indeed by the requirement to publish annual statistical information. It has impeded deeper research in terms of situational research, as he has described, or case studies or longitudinal research over periods of time in institutions and so forth. It is a valid distinction. In that sense it would be most important in regard to this amendment that the word "research" be not limited by time, not confined to a statistical report and not put into a strait-jacket of an annual requirement. However, what I would like to see is that one piece of research be able to be seen in the context of other pieces of research. It would be far more useful in a sense if there was available an accessible register of ongoing research both departmentally initiated and initiated outside the Department so that researchers could operate in a cumulative way and advance the whole body of research.

Mr. Fitzgerald

Why is Deputy Yates drawing a distinction between amendment No. 43 and amendment No. 44 Nearly all of what he said would seem to be embodied in the concept of the national children's council. Why did the Deputy draw this distinction? I would like to respond to amendment No. 44 at the appropriate stage and I feel that what I have to say will be more appropriate to amendment No. 44 than amendment No. 43 but the content of his contribution so far seems to be directed very centrally towards amendment No. 44.

That is what I said at the outset. I felt that the two were linked and amendment No. 43 was a forerunner to what I was trying to do in amendment No. 44. I see the national children's council as the best placed agency to carry out such research but I understand the Minister is not disposed to establishment of the council and, therefore, the questions on research stand in their own right.

We all welcome research projects and benefit from them. The section does need strengthening, not just in regard to research; the implications of the research findings should be made widely available, particularly to those who have worked on it. A structure should be set up to enable the people involved to explore using the research in a practical way. I do not want the section to stop just at doing research, I want to strengthen the section so that the findings will not just be available but used in a practical fashion, which is usually the outcome of research. Very often research remains esoteric and confined to one group. I do not know in what way one would strengthen it or try to strengthen it, but I would like to think that that could also be a foundation of this section, its dissemination and the wide use to which it will be put.

I can see the very positive attitude being adopted here by my colleagues in this case on how relevant and important research is; that is why we have included section 9. I concur with Deputy Higgins in that naked statistics on their own can be interpreted in many different ways and can give many different viewpoints. Research in itself and the type of research we are talking about in section 9 is very detailed and can be well tested. It can give clear guidance on the changes necessary to improve services and otherwise. It should not be just an annual review because if that is the case obviously people are merely fulfilling a function, they are not doing the type of research that is so vitally important to assess the overall needs to provide the detailed analysis that is very important for a proper service.

Deputy Yates does not accept that the Minister and the Department have been very committed to research and that we have carried it out. We are constantly assessing situations, we have supported bodies and co-operated with other bodies in research projects. We want to enshrine in law the fact that we need research, that the research can be carried out and give legislative support to the Minister and to the Department to be involved in such research projects.

Contrary to what Deputy Yates says, his amendment would not require the Minister to undertake research. He has not sought to remove the word "may" from subsection (1), so it does not make it mandatory on the Minister to carry out research projects. I can assure him that we are involved in research, that we will be committed to it and that we will cooperate in every way. It will be enshrined in law and I respectfully suggest that he withdraw this amendment.

I want to respond to what the Minister said. The Minister might, in the context of his Department's research, be able to prove his point in responding to a question I will now ask him. I appreciate the Minister may not immediately have the reply to this question and maybe he can only furnish us with the information after lunch or on the next occasion this committee sits, but it is of relevance.

In the context of research, when I came into this House I discovered that if you wanted to find out how many care orders each health board was seeking under the Children Act, 1908, and how many place of safety orders were being sought by each health board, there was no real statistical information. There was some research done which produced figures for 1983 and I made it my habit to start tabling annual Dáil questions to get information. However, I suspect the Department still does not have the necessary information for an overview of how our children's legislation is working, why some health boards have more children on "at risk" registers than others and why some health boards take care proceedings more frequently than others. There does not seem to be any understanding of why things develop in this way.

The Minister said there is no need to impose an obligation by amending this section because the Department of Health are involved in ongoing research. We will be dealing with Part III of the Act about the protection of children in emergencies and we will then deal with the general taking of children into care. I would be very pleased to be proved wrong but I suspect the Minister's Department currently would not be able to give us information as to how many applications were made by each health board in the years 1986 to 1989 to have children taken into care by way of place of safety orders. I suspect he would not have information as to how many court proceedings were brought by each of the health boards under section 24 of the Children Act to have a fit person order made or under section 58 or section 59 of the Act to have children taken into care.

The Minister may have the statistics for one of those years. I would not expect him to have them for 1989 because that would be unfair, but I suspect he does not have that information for 1987 or 1988. That is indicative of the absence of necessary collating of information on which decisions should be made. I do not understand why some health boards bring emergency court proceedings to take children into care more frequently than others. I raise that as an example because it is an area in which there is a need for the Department of Health to have an overview of information as to how the health boards operate in protecting children at risk.

There is a diversity of approach being operated by health boards and the report of the Law Reform Commission on child sexual abuse emphasises the very different approaches taken within each health board area. A different approach may mean that in some health board areas children at risk are not getting the protection to which they are entitled or may mean in other areas that children are precipitately taken into care on an emergency basis in circumstances where, perhaps, an emergency intervention is not required. Perhaps the Minister might find out or indicate whether such information for the years 1986 to 1988, inclusive, is currently available in his Department. If it is, it would be of great relevance to our further deliberations in relation to Part III of the Bill. If it is not available, it confirms the need to take on board Deputy Yates' amendment.

I assure Deputy Shatter that I am satisfied, even though I only joined this Department last July, we are very committed to statistical data, analyses, research and to up-to-date information and that we have a very good team putting that information together. I do not have all the information the Deputy seeks but I can give him some statistics if he wishes to have them. I can give information on 1985, 1986 and 1987, which I have immediately available.

This information might be of relevance and assistance to members of the committee and maybe if information is available on 1986 and 1987 his Department could facilitate us by circulating it. It is relevant to the deliberations and the Minister is welcome to read it out.

I will give this information to give an overview to the members on the situation and if they feel they need any more data, I will try to procure it for them. In 1985 there were 95 place of safety orders granted; in 1986, 125 granted; in 1987, 148 granted; in 1985, there were 158 fit persons orders granted; in 1986, 280 and in 1987, 316. No wardship proceedings were granted in 1985 but in 1986 there was one and in 1987, five. Twohabeas corpus orders were granted in each of the years 1985, 1986 and 1987, there was one proceeding under the Guardianship of Infants Act in 1985, none in 1986 and two in 1987. They are all national figures. I hope those are of some interest and that they conclusively prove we are constantly aware of the need to have up-to-date and carefully prepared and analysed figures and that the Department are constantly working on that and co-operating with the health boards on it. If there is any other information the committee require, we will try and procure it.

I have no doubt the Department of Health have the total figures because one can get those through the Department of Justice. That is not what I am asking, and this is where I am talking about analysing. I am not talking about the basic facts of whether one has a place of safety order or a fit person order. What I am talking about is the different approaches adopted by different health boards, and why it is that some health boards look for court intervention more frequently than others and why it is that some health boards use place of safety procedure and — as we are going to have it under this Bill now — the new emergency care order procedure, more frequently than others. The information I am talking about is not that sort of breakdown which can be obtained as a court statistic, but information as to how each individual health board is operating in the child care area.

While those statistics are very interesting, they are not new, and I am very aware of those statistics. I am interested in knowing whether the Minister's Department have a breakdown of, for example which health boards obtained place of safety orders for 1986-87 and which health boards obtained fit person orders? Were the fit person orders following on emergency proceedings under section 24 of the Children Act or were they orders made under section 58 of the Children Act, which is a different procedure? That is the information I am talking about. That is where analysis and research is relevant, and that is where what we are going to do in later sections of this Bill is relevant.

While I said I anticipated the Minister would not have the breakdown for those years, I would be delighted to be proved wrong. It is the breakdown that is crucial and it is the way the boards are operating in these areas that is crucial. Perhaps the Minister does have the breakdown and perhaps his officials might make it available to us. We are now in 1990 and whereas I said I would not expect the 1989 figures to be available, I would certainly expect at this stage the 1988 figures to be available.

I can assure the Deputy that we have a breakdown for each health board and we are in the process of putting together at the moment the breakdown for 1988 and 1989. If there is any particular health board the Deputy wants to query I will supply the figures if I have them available.

Perhaps the Minister could make available to us the 1985-1987 breakdown for each of the health boards.

The Eastern Health Board were granted 51 fit person orders in 1985; 112 in 1986 and 96 in 1987. The Midland Health Board were granted 20 fit person orders in 1985; 20 in 1986; 17 in 1987. The Mid-Western Health Board were granted eight fit person orders in 1985; 24 in 1986 and 39 in 1987. The North Eastern Health Board were granted 11 fit person orders in 1985; 13 in 1986 and 15 in 1987. The North Western Health Board were granted 15 fit person orders in 1985; 41 in 1986 and 67 in 1987. The South Eastern Health Board were granted seven fit person orders in 1985; three in 1986 and seven in 1987. The Southern Health Board were granted 28 fit person orders in 1985; 44 in 1986; 52 in 1987. The Western Health Board were granted 18 fit person orders in 1985; 23 in 1986 and 23 in 1987.

Does the Minister have a similar breakdown for place of safety orders?

The Western Health Board were granted 18 place of safety orders in 1985; 22 in 1986 and 21 in 1987. The Southern Health Board were granted 22 place of safety orders in 1985; 41 in 1986 and 45 in 1987. The South Eastern Health Board were not granted a place of safety order in 1985, but were granted four in 1986 and eight in 1987. These figures refer specifically to health boards. There may be other orders granted to the Garda and other people. The North Western Health Board were granted six place of safety orders in 1985, eight in 1986 and three in 1987. The North Eastern Health Board were granted two place of safety orders in 1985, five in 1986 and four in 1987. The Mid-Western Health Board wer granted 16 place of safety orders in 1985, 21 in 1986 and 41 in 1987.

The Mid-Western Health Board had 41 place of safety orders and only had 29 fit person orders?

It was 39. The Midland Health Board were granted 31 place of safety orders in 1985, 23 in 1986 and 12 in 1987. I do not have figures for the Eastern Health Board.

Would it be possible to get figures for the Eastern Health Board? I appreciate we may not have them today.

It may be possible to get them, but the Eastern Health Board operate in a de-centralised way. It is much easier to get the others because of their centralised operation. We will try to procure them for the committee. We will put together a table of figures and we will give all the members a copy so that they will have an overview of the situation.

Separate from the Official Report?

Absolutely. A special report. I will try to be as open as possible.

The Minister mentioned that other agencies might have had certain orders placed. Have we a co-ordinated and centralised way of knowing about all orders in all regions, or do we only have an analysis of the health board ones?

We have some other information pertaining to other orders granted by the courts. We may not have all the information, but we have some, because we take cognizance of other decisions that are taken.

I want to raise a question about what I have been listening to, which is very interesting. It is very important at this stage to once again draw a distinction between the question of what is research and what is the publication, in a proper administrative sense, of vital statistical information. Having listened to the exchanges that have taken place, it would seem to me that the Minister's position is stronger only if the regular publication of statistics which might be regarded as a matter of administrative competence and administrative regularity and propriety was firmly in place. The kind of case for research that I had made was one that departs from this, as something that is pre-research, that is administratively there as a statistical base. The argument about the section and the amendment is inclined to fly away, if we are looking at both basic statistical information and research, interchangeably. It would be very interesting — rather like the tables published from the Department of Social Welfare in relation to certain categories of benefit from which one can depart and then make further research statements and investigations — if what we have just been listening to now could be accommodated in some kind of enhanced statistical publication which would be published on an annual basis, which could be taken for granted. If that were in place I could accept the Minister's argument that research must not be simply statistical, must not be simply limited to an annual basis, but should be more projected, should be over a longer time period and so forth and should be much freer. I welcome the Minister's comment, and perhaps assurance, in this regard.

I would like to conclude this amendment before lunch. The Minister made the point that my amendment might, in fact, hamper other research. Deputy Coughlan had the same point. I should point out that my words are additional to those that are already there and, therefore, anything the Minister had originally in mind is totally unaltered by what I am proposing. This amendment would improve the prospect of research being carried out. What I am referring to is the need of children, which goes beyond merely a statistical requirement. There is not enough obligation on the Minister to carry out this research.

The Minister also asked why I did not substitute the word "may" for "shall". I do not feel that would be appropriate because then the Minister "shall" conduct research into any matter and that would be too wide. I am specifically seeking that research would be carried out into the needs of children right across the country. Once the needs are properly defined and established one can put in place policies to deliver health care to meet those needs. Therefore, I will be pressing this amendment.

In response to what Deputy Higgins and Deputy Yates have said, my interpretation of research would be research into the statistics I have given to you: why certain orders were granted, the kind of environment children were in, the reasons for situations happening, how this can be prevented, how we can improve matters and so on. I want to be as open as I can with the members because I believe that public representatives are entitled to know all the facts in order to give the best judgment possible. In the Department of Health we carry out an annual survey of children in care. The 1988 survey will be concluded shortly and I would hope to be able to present it to you in about six weeks time so that you can peruse it and come to your own conclusions on it.

I say to Deputy Yates that we are totally committed to and accept the importance of research. The amendment says "shall ensure that a proper assessment of child care needs nationally is carried out annually". We do an annual survey of children in care. We want the research to be flexible and not to be hampered by any statistical needs. The people carrying out this research should be able to do so without any restrictions placed upon them. If we were to give all the information people seek we would need a mini-statistics office. We have not got the staff or the resources to do that but we do a fairly good job with the resources available. I respectfully suggest again that the Deputy withdraw this amendment, but that is purely a matter for him.

Is Deputy Yates pressing the amendment?

Question put: "That the amendment be made".
The Committee divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 7.

  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • Treacy, Noel.
Amendment declared lost.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2.15 p.m.