We proceed to deal with amendment No. 129a in the name of An tAire. Amendments Nos. 130, 131, 132, 133 and 134 are alternatives and therefore with the agreement of the committee, we will take Nos. 129a, 130, 131, 132, 133 and 134 together. If No. 129a is agreed, Nos. 130 to 134, inclusive, cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 129a:
In page 13, lines 43 to 48, and in page 14, lines 1 to 7, to delete subsections (1) and (2) and substitute the following:
"(1) Where a child is in the care of a health board, the health board shall provide such care for him, subject to its control and supervision, in such of the following ways as it considers to be in his best interests—
(a) by placing him in foster care, or
(b) by placing him in a children's residential centre, approved under Part VIII, or in a school or other place of residence, or
(c) in the case of a child who may be eligible for adoption under the Adoption Acts, 1952 to 1988, by placing him with a suitable person with a view to his adoption, or
(d) by making such other suitable arrangements (which may include placing the child with a relative or other suitable person) as the health board thinks proper.".
This amendment contains a number of improvements and technical changes from the original provision and also takes account of some of the points raised by Deputies Yates and Howlin in amendments Nos. 130 to 134. Section 25 sets out the ways in which health boards may provide accommodation and maintenance for children in their care, whether they are in care on a voluntary basis under section 4 or have been committed by court order. The first change is the insertion in the introductory part of subsection (1) of the phrase, "subject to its control and supervision". This is to make it clear that the health boards must exercise continuing control and supervision over the child no matter where or with whom he is placed, that is, whether he is placed in foster care, residential care or any other type of care. The second change is the insertion in the introductory part of subsection (1) of the phrase "in such of the following ways as it considers to be in his best interests". In the existing draft, the health board were empowered to do as they thought fit. I think this emphasis on the placement being decided in the interests of the child is desirable and I hope it deals with the point raised by Deputy Howlin in his amendment No. 131.
Paragraph (a) which deals with foster care is exactly the same as the original provision. Paragraph (b) replaces paragraphs (b) and (c) of the original provision. It is a much broader provision and permits the placement of children in, for example, boarding schools and hostels as well as child residential centres approved under Part VIII and homes run by health boards. Paragraph (c) provides that where a child may be eligible for adoption under the Adoption Acts, the board may place him with suitable persons with a view to his adoption. I had already circulated an amendment No. 133 to deal with this matter. Therefore, if the present amendment No. 129a, is agreed, I will not be moving amendment No. 133.
Paragraph (d) is similar to paragraph (d) in the original provision except that I am proposing the insertion of a reference which would enable a health board to place a child in the care of a relative or other suitable person. Deputy Howlin made a similar proposal in amendment No. 134. Situations can arise where the best person to look after a child who has been in care is a relative, for example, a grandparent or a friend of the family. In such cases, it might not be appropriate to foster the child with such persons as this would require that all the conditions of the foster care regulations be satisfied. Rather it may be desirable that other more flexible arrangements be made and this paragraph will facilitate that. I might add that this is the first time that placement with relatives has been given specific statutory recognition. I think these new provisions are much better than what we had originally proposed and I hope the amendment will be supported by all Members.
The Minister has now clarified the point raised regarding other places of residence but it is important to note that very often it is the relative who comes to the rescue. One of the best arrangements is to make provision for this and I support the amendment.
This amendment improves the section and the Bill. I will just comment a little on the provisions because this is a very important section. Deputy Yates had an amendment down regarding placing children in foster care. He suggested that, given the existing wording of the section, we should insert "preferably". For a child who is unfortunately losing out on the family unit we should try to recreate it for them. There is no doubt that the history of foster care in this country has been splendid. We should ensure, where possible — and I am quite sure that this is the Department's and the health boards' objective — that children are put into foster care rather than into an institution. I think a family environment is far better than any institution. I am asking if we can strengthen that amendment by saying this should be preferable. Paragraph (b) proposes placing the child in "a children's residential centre approved under Part VIII or in the school or other place of residence", could this be a boarding school or hostel? I suppose we can presume that all these boarding schools and hostels would all be approved and there would be no question of a health board using some venue, hostel etc. that may not be entirely satisfactory because they are short of finance. I would like to be assured that there is protection for any of the other places of residence that are not actually specified in the legislation, this should be more specific. I am very pleased that amendment No. 133 states:
(d) in the case of a child who may be eligible for adoption under the Adoption Acts, 1952 to 1988, by placing him with a suitable person with a view to his adoption, or".
This follows on from what I said about recreating the family environment where possible. If the child has lost his-her parental family unit then you would want to recreate that family environment for him-her, and in the present day there are many couples who have no children and are finding it difficult to adopt.
In relation to paragraph (d) I am delighted that this enlightened approach has been taken. It will prove to be very effective and important in the context of the breakdown of the extended family. In years past the extended family, grandparents, in-laws aunts and uncles, helped out in family crises far more than they do today. To some extent the reason for that may be that they cannot afford it. Under this section I have to draw attention to the fact that more resources will be needed. Can the Minister tell me if a distinction will be made between paragraphs (d) and (a). Relatives would willingly take the place of fostering or institutional care but they cannot afford to take on what could be a lifetime commitment for a child.
Only last month I was talking to a social worker in my constituency who sees a lot of this problem. She told me that the extended family/grandparents, sister in-law or an aunt, often take the child to prevent him-her having to go into care but they are absolutely strapped for cash when it comes to buying clothes and other necessities because they have to provide them out of their family budget. That is something we must keep in mind because we should encourage these people to care for these children but we should try to ensure that they can afford to take on this responsibility. I put down a parliamentary question on this.
I welcome the new paragraph.
I welcome the new subsection. It is a significant improvement on section 25 of the Bill. I thank, the Minister for taking a serious look at the amendments in the names of Deputy Yates and myself and for encompassing those amendments in his new subsection. It is infinitely better. I was uneasy with the old section beginning with the first sentence which states:
A health board shall provide accommodation and maintenance for a child . . . . . as it thinks fit—
I sought to delete that and to put the emphasis on meeting the needs of the child in my amendment No. 131. The needs of the child are the whole basis of everything we are doing here and that needs to be spelt out in very clear terms. I welcome the deletion of that sentence and the obligation on the health board, to act in the best interests of the child — the phrase used is: "in his best interest". I also welcome the continued monitoring of the child's progress by the health board. I will not go through all the subsections except to say that I welcome the variety of options — for example, foster care, which many people have argued has been a very successful option, placing the child in a residential school or placing the child for adoption where that would be suitable; God knows many couples want to adopt children.
I also thank the Minister for accepting my amendment No. 134 which sought to include the placement of the child in the care of a relative other than the parents. That is a very important amendment and I thank the Minister for taking it on board. This is an area which needs attention. It involves a member of the extended family, an aunt, a granny etc. who would well take the child. That is the practice. We all know several families who do that as a matter of course.
I want to refer to one important aspect that is not raised in any section of this Bill and which was raised by Deputy Fennell. The health board do not pay any allowance or maintenance to a relative who takes on such a child. If we are serious about that being a desirable option, it is important that we give a carer's allowance to a family in that circumstance. Quite often it would be the best option if a granny, an uncle or an aunt would take a child and raise him-her as their own. There should not be a financial penalty on the family. They should be helped financially for taking on that responsibility. I would ask the Minister to respond to that. I will not be pressing my amendments Nos. 131 and 134 since they are now encompassed in the Minister's amendment. I welcome and appreciate the Minister's attitude to the Opposition in this regard.
I should like to join in congratulating the Minister on this section. It probably underlines more than anything else, if it needed underlining, that the Minister has been listening very carefully to what has been said at this Committee and has been taking in the general views of all Members that the child and the care of the child should take precedence over everything else. If there is any section or any amendment that underlines that view, this one certainly does. I have just one very brief question. I am seeking clarification in relation to amendment No. 133 which states:
(d) in the case of a child who may be eligible for adoption under the Adoption Acts, 1952 to 1988, by placing him with a suitable person with a view to his adoption, or'
I am wondering about the mechanics of that. Are we talking about a situation where a person might be placed with parents prior to a formal adoption application or anything else? Is that what the Minister intends? If it is, that could be very good. It is something very positive. I welcome the section and congratulate the Minister for incorporating all the ideas that were put here by the Opposition and by his own backbenchers.
I welcome the amendment but I am wondering about paragraphs (a) and (d) — maybe this has already been adverted to. Would there be a possibility that if a health board were strapped for cash, rather than placing the child in foster care they would place the child with a relative who might not be suitable? In view of the fact that there does not seem to be statutory provision where a relative could be paid I note that later in the Bill we are bringing in regulations in regard to foster care. There is a distinction here in that there is provision for payment in the case of foster care whereas in paragraph (d) there is no such provision. Where a member of the extended family takes the child it could happen that the health board would be more inclined to use paragraph (d) rather than paragraph (a). Perhaps the Minister would comment on that.
At the outset I welcome the warm response there has been to this detailed amendment No. 129a. In a direct reply to Deputy Fennell, could I say that paragraph (b) will enable a health board to place a child in a place of residence which the board considers was best able to meet the needs of the child. Such a place of residence might not necessarily be approved under Part VIII of the Bill, for example, it might be a boarding school. There are a small number, perhaps a dozen or so children in care, who have been sent to boarding school. I am sure the Deputy will agree that it would not make a great deal of sense to require the boarding school to obtain approval under Part VIII. The health board is already under a statutory obligation to give due consideration to the wishes of the child having regard to his age and understanding. I would refer members to amendment No. 14 on page 1 on the list of amendments at paragraph (b) (ii). This duty applies to all functions of the board in relation to children, including the question of the type of care to be provided for the child. Therefore, there is no need to insert a reference here to the wishes of the child.
On amendment No. 131, which has been proposed by Deputy Howlin, the deletion of "as it thinks fit" and its replacement by "as meets the needs of the child" we have deleted the phrase "it thinks fit" and inserted "as it considers to be in his best interest" which is more or less what Deputy Howlin was seeking. I trust this is to his satisfaction. He has indicated that.
On amendment No. 132 which has been proposed by Deputy Yates, the effect of this amendment would be to amend paragraph (a) to read: by placing him preferably in foster care, that is, it would create a statutory preference in favour of foster care. While I accept that foster care is a very important and valuable form of care, I do not believe we should create a legal preference in favour of it over other forms of care. The needs of some children can only be met in a residential setting, other children may require specialised therapeutic care which the average foster parents could simply not provide. I believe we should leave the question of the most appropriate form of care for each child to be determined by the professional staff having regard to the circumstances and the needs of each individual child. As I have already indicated, I will be withdrawing amendment No. 133 if you agree to accept amendment No. 129a which I think you will. Deputy Howlin seeks in amendment No. 134 to enable health boards to place children with relatives. This is provided for in paragraph (d) of amendment No. 129a.
The question of payments to relatives is a difficult one and this has been raised by a number of speakers. As we all know, many children are reared by relatives, grandparents, uncles aunts, cousins etc. The majority of these are private arrangements made by the parents and there does not seem to be any reason why the State, through the health board, should be expected to meet the cost. It is only where children are placed with relatives by the health board that the board should be liable to contribute.
Is the Minister saying that that is going to be the case?
That is what we are hoping to cover in our financial evaluation of the Bill afterwards.
There is no statutory provision in the Bill now for that, unless I have missed it.
There is no statutory provision in the Bill for payments to relatives, nor indeed is there statutory provision for payments to foster care.
We will be drawing up regulations in relation to foster care. In relation to the placing of a child through the health board, and I accept fully what the Minister is saying, that if there is an informal arrangement which occurs all over the place I do not think the State should be involved, but if there was a formal decision that the preferable, thing, out of many options, was to place with an uncle, aunt, or a grandparent there should be support for that option. If there was no responsibility to provide resources for it, there might be a financial incentive in the health board following that course, even when it would not always be the most appropriate. There certainly would be a reluctance in some instances where it would be in the best interest of the child to be taken in by a relative but who would not have the wherewithal financially to do that. The Minister has indicated he feels that should be done but it is not in the Bill. Is it the Minister's intention to bring forward an amendment to the Bill to put a statutory obligation on health boards in those defined circumstances to provide assistance to relatives?
In view of the fact that I raised the easy option business, I would be slightly worried that if we were to put in some statutory provision whereby relatives were to be paid, while I think it is a good thing on the other hand it could create a small industry of grandparents and relatives. We all know that perhaps in cases where there might not necessarily be a problem that distant relatives of a child who has been put in care or where a care order was made——
That would be subject to a court.
That is correct but then it would be up to the health board to make provision for that child in care and it would be the health board who would be deciding on which option.
It would hardly lead to an industry. Would people offer their children up to the courts? Would the court make a decision to take a child into care in the hope that they might get them back with a few bob attached?
No, but somebody else in the family might, knowing that an order has been made taking the child away from the parents.
It is very tenuous.
I do not think so.
If the child is being taken away from the parents it is the desirable option.
I am not saying it is not.
I agree. I am just saying you mentioned there could be an industry and that there could be frivolous obligations.
What I am saying is that some relative other than the people who are involved in the court application could then lobby the health board to say: "I want that child, I will take it in care, do not put it into foster care, do not put it up for adoption, I will take it in provided you pay me". That is the problem.
That is what I am saying. Would that not be better than putting the child into institutional care?
My experience of dealing with health boards and fostering children is that the director of community care normally sees to it that financial aid, if required, is made available; the two would go hand-in-hand, not in every case but in many cases.
It is not my experience.
We have deliberately made a distinction between placement in foster care and placement with relatives, not for financial reasons as Deputy Ahern implied but for sound practical reasons. Before a health board may place a child in foster care it must carry out a detailed assessment of the foster parents, their suitability, state of health, the condition of their homes, etc. Such an assessment makes sense where we are dealing with third parties but would hardly be appropriate in the case of close relatives. This is why we have made separate provision for foster care and placement with relatives. From the information available to us we are satisfied that we do not need to bring forward any amendment vis-ï¿½-vis making payments to relatives. We believe this should be left to the discretion of the health board and the professionals involved.
In relation to the points made by Deputy Fennell concerning children taken in by relatives who maybe after a year or two find themselves in financial difficulty vis-ï¿½-vis providing for shoes, clothes, education or whatever, the discretion would be left to the health board in consultation with the Department of Health vis-ï¿½-vis making payments out of a particular section or having discretionary liaison with the community welfare officer and being able to direct him to accommodate children in certain situations. Otherwise we feel we could find ourselves in a situation that if we are to exclude a certain discretion then we might not be able to look after the needs of children in particular situations.
I apologise for missing most of the meeting due to the fact that I had to attend a funeral. I received a copy of this on Tuesday and I read it. I believe that amendment No. 129a is an improvement on the section. I would be happy to withdraw amendment No. 130 in my name which seeks to insert the words: "having due regard where possible to the wishes of the child" in favour of the words: "considers to be in the best interest of the child".
In relation to the question of residential care versus other forms of care, such as foster care and so on, I would have a preference for foster care over residential care but perhaps not over care provided by other relatives. Is there any way in which we can give that priority in the legislation or regulations? Much has been said in recent times about the people who are making money out of this. We would be far worse off if we were to end up with more and more residential seven day centres for people who need greater social interaction with the community, their friends, neighbours and families. Therefore, I am anxious to ensure that permanent residential care would be the last resort. Is it possible, in drafting the regulations to weigh them accordingly?
I wish to return to the Minister's response. I assumed, given his initial comments, in relation to support for relatives, that he had a positive view about it. This is certainly a different question to that of support for foster parents. They are a different category and should not be left without financial support. If I understood correctly, he implied that this matter would be left to the discretion of the community welfare officer or his superintendent.
I have much experience, as has everybody sitting around this table, of dealing with health boards and community welfare officers and I would not place great trust in them. People have often been humiliated in trying to get entitlements. There are some excellent ones and I think it would be wrong of us to generalise but I certainly have come across genuine cases where a generous response has not been forthcoming. As I said, a very generous and caring response has been forthcoming from CWOs but I would not be happy to leave it to their discretion in this instance. I hope the Minister envisages some mechanism by which financial assistance can be made available to a member of an extended family who takes on the responsibility of caring for an extra child, if that is deemed by the health board to be in the best interest of the child.
I would like to have it more structured. The Minister in his original reply seemed to indicate that finance would be forthcoming. I do not think the relatives of every child who is the subject of an order, placed in care or in the custody of another person, will need money. Most people will continue to do what they have always been doing, which is looking after someone else's child within the family without looking for money. However there are cases where the person involved is unemployed or a widow who finds it both embarrassing and difficult. I would prefer if we did not leave it to the discretion of the community welfare officer or health board. Paragraph (d) is both important and relevant. If we put it forward, along with foster care, as an alternative, then I believe we should also recognise the difficulties being faced by some families and indicate that resources will be made available.
In relation to paragraph (d), I would be against putting in a statutory provision. If a statutory provision is inserted, people whether they need it or not, will look for the payment, and the first thing that will be said is: "As X is getting it, I should get it". Therefore I would not like to see a statutory provision inserted. I hope what the Minister said initially will turn out to be the case and that finance will, where necessary, be made available.
The one thing I would say about the section, and this is what I think the Minister said initially, is that it states in paragraph (d) "by making such other suitable arrangements" which may include the placing of the child with a relative or suitable person as the health board thinks proper. I envisage a relative of a child in the care of a health board approaching the health board to indicate that they would be willing to care for the child but that they would face financial difficulty in doing so. There would be no bar on the health board stating "let us iron out the difficulty and use the provision on foster care". I would much rather see us move in that direction, rather than insert a statutory provision. People will be willing to undertake this task and look after a relative. If it is not necessary to insert a financial provision, we should not do so but we should leave the health boards in no doubt. It should be indicated in the regulations that a health board shall consider the financial circumstances in making that arrangement. I would be afraid of putting it in as a statutory section in the Bill.
I am very disappointed at the points made by Deputy Dempsey and I can only deduce that he does not have great experience of dealing with CWOs. They will refer to the rules and they will indicate where they can and cannot pay. While they have to be clinical, they try to be sympathetic in their approach. I welcome this subsection as it is very important that we recognise that a relative could come to the rescue in a family crisis. A mother may go though a bad period and for this reason she may not be in a position to look after her child or children and in some cases a sister or some other relative may come forward. This is very commendable and it is good that we are recognising this in this subsection. However we cannot put it in without also making financial provision. Very often this would be short term care; foster care would be long term. The provision is there but we need to make financial provision.
I have considerable experience of dealing with community welfare officers and their superintendents. Perhaps they are better in my part of the country than they are in the Deputy's part of the country but I did not say we should not make financial provision. I would not like that to go on the record. Some financial provision should be made and this should be made clear to the health board. That is what I said. I am just not sure that putting in a statutory provision in this Bill is the right way to go about it.
Each speaker in their opening words indicated that they accept this amendment. If we have brevity we will be able to move on.
Children may require foster care or residential care at different times during their period in care. It is not a simple question of one or other form of care. Different forms of care are developing, such as short-term foster care, short-term residential care, long-term foster care, long-term residential care. The needs of each individual child must be considered in terms of his individual needs at any given time.
I should like to clarify the position in relation to payments to relatives. First, I think it has been agreed that the health board should be required to contribute only where they have placed the child with the relatives. However, where the health board make the arrangement it is envisaged that the board would have discretion to make payments under the general powers contained in section 8 of the Bill. I am advised that it is not necessary to make an additional provision for financial assistance in this section. Never before has any consideration been given to payment to relatives. This is a new dimension. Obviously we will be making financial and other regulations for the health boards when the Bill is passed. These payments will be included in the regulations. We are advised that it is not necessary to cover payments in the Bill as the regulations will cover them.
I have just reread section 8 and it looks as if this power is there. However, it is important that it be clearly stated on the record that that is the intention of the Minister and the Oireachtas. Like Deputy Sherlock, I have dealings with health boards and when they have a statutory obligation to provide this assistance they often will not do so until you scream blue murder at them. I should like this provision to be spelt out very clearly. I am happy the provision is there under section 8 but I would be happier if relatives were mentioned in specific terms. I welcome what the Minister has said and I have no doubt that following the enactment of this legislation he will communicate in clear terms to the health boards the intention of his Department and the Oireachtas.
I move amendment No. 135:
In page 14, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) The child shall have a right of review of the type of care that is being provided if he is dissatisfied".
I am seeking to establish a right for children if they are dissatisfied that the type of care is deemed to be in their best interests. For example, a child may be put in a residential centre when he would rather be put with a friend or relative or placed in fosterage. I am not saying the outcome of the review would always agree with the child's view but the child should have the right to seek such a review if he is dissatisfied. I think this is only reasonable and gives practical expression to what we have tried to rephrase time and time again as to what is in the best interests of the child, what the wishes of the child are and so on.
I agree that the views of the child should be taken into account as far as it is possible to do so when decisions are being taken about the type of care he or she is to be provided with and the people with whom he or she is to be placed. That is why I included a provision in amendment No. 14 on page 1 of the list of amendments which requires health boards to give due consideration to the wishes of the child in so far as it is practicable to do so. This duty will apply to questions of placement and to the review of placements. It is open to the child at any time to discuss with the social workers any complaints he might have about his case. I think matters such as this are best handled by the professional staff involved rather than creating a formal review mechanism for children. I would, therefore, ask Deputy Yates to reconsider his amendment.
I do not wish to have a long debate about this but I would hate to see some Sunday World exposé about a child who had spent four years in some centre and was supposed to have made repeated attempts to notify the supervisor that he was very unhappy but that there was no comeback procedure. I am not seeking to set up an elaborate mechanism of reviews, appeals, tribunals and all that, but I would like this provision to be a little stronger than the Minister has stated. I am not proposing that the child should determine what type of care would be provided but that he should be able to seek a review which would be recorded in the health board files in relation to the child. I think that is eminently reasonable. I do not want to press the amendment to a vote but I ask the Minister to consider giving the child some right when he is dissatisfied, other than setting up an appeal tribunal system.
I appreciate what Deputy Yates said but I would point out that section 27 (2) (d) requires a health board to review the case of each child in their care, in foster care, in such manner and at such intervals as may be prescribed and section 28 (2) (d) requires a health board to review the case of each child in their care who was been placed in residential care in such manner and at such intervals as may be prescribed. It will not be just a matter of placing children in care, forgetting about them and thinking that because they are in care they are all right. The matter will have to be reviewed and the professionals will have to take account of the age of the child, the progress of the child and all the other factors pertaining to the child. Those regulations and guidelines will be laid down, when the Bill has been enacted, by the Department.
The new clause we have inserted in section 25 strengthens the hand of the health board in relation to maintaining control, supervision and responsibility. There is merit in Deputy Yates' amendment. I notice that the coalition on child care comment favourably on Deputy Yates' amendment. They agree that, depending on his age, the child should be involved in case reviews and submit his own report on how placement is going. The Minister spoke about the health board doing the view but the recipients of care, particularly if he or she is of an age, should be asked or at least have the opportunity to submit their views on how things are going. This is a reasonable enough amendment to include in the Bill; I am not sure that it is covered by the two subsections the Minister referred to.
In his initial intervention the Minister said that an earlier amendment rquires the health boards to have due regard to the age of the child. What amendment is that?
Amendment No. 14.
The Minister referred to sections 27 (2) (d) and 28 (2) (d). Amendments Nos. 141 and 144, which I have put down, seek to have that review every six months. If the Minister is steering me in that direction perhaps he might consider accepting those amendments, in which case I might trade off and be willing to withdraw this amendment.
Irrespective of that, I would be prepared to withdraw amendment No. 135 if the Minister would consider bringing forward an amendment on Report Stage which would provide that if the child was of sufficient maturity or having regard to the age and understanding of the child, he or she would be entitled to seek a review; in other words, a child over 13 or 14 years should be able to seek a review because they will know quite patently whether he is unhappy or if there is a more favourable place to which they can go. It could also happen that not only would they be dissatisfied with one type of residential care and prefer to be with their granny but some residential centres may be dumps and they might like to be moved to a better residential centre that had central heating or more basic facilities. What I am seeking could be very reasonable in a lot of practical circumstances. If the Minister is saying he does not want to give this right to four year old children who are immature, perhaps he will consider giving it to more mature children.
Subsection (2) (b) (ii) of amendment 14 is very clear. It states "in so far as is practicable, give due consideration, having regard to his age and understanding, to the wishes of the child". That has to be taken into account. If the child wants to have his case reviewed, a response has to be given. We believe this is the best option available, rather than inserting Deputy Yates' amendment. Consequently, I regret I will not be able to accept it.