SECTION 27.

I move amendment No. 140:

In page 14, subsection (1), line 18, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 141 and 144 are cognate and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 141:

In page 14, subsection (2) (d), lines 31 and 32, to delete "and at such intervals as may be prescribed' and substitute "every six months".

Both amendments seek to give clearer definition in relation to the circumstances of foster care. Section 27 of the original Bill deals with the regulations to deal with foster care. Subsection (2) (d) reads:

require a health board to review the case of each child in its care in foster care in such manner and at such intervals as may be prescribed.

I would be a bit concerned if this is left as loose as that. "At such intervals as may be prescribed" could vary from two years to two weeks. There should be a minimum of at least six months written into the regulations where there should be a review of the foster care, particularly in the initial stages. If the foster parents, the health board, and everybody knows that after six months the case and the satisfactory nature of foster care — or otherwise — will be reviewed, everyone will know where they stand, but if it is left up in the air they will not know whether they will be under constant review or when the review will be. This amendment will bring clarity to what is a tenuous relationship between a child in the care of the health board and foster parents and it would be helpful to make such a change.

On a point of clarification does that mean no inspection would take place for six months? Could it be interpreted in that way?

Sections 27 (2) (d) and 28 (2) (d) enable the Minister to require health boards to carry out reviews of children in foster care and residential care at such intervals as the Minister may prescribe. These amendments seek to introduce a fixed review period of every six months. While I agree that six months seems a reasonable period, it is, in fact, the period prescribed in the existing foster care regulations. I am reluctant to set down a fixed period in the Bill. It may be necessary to have different review periods for children of different ages or needs. For example, in the case of very young children or children in care on a short term basis it could be that more regular reviews would be desirable — perhaps every three months, or it might be that less frequent reviews would be necessary for older children who are many years in care and are well settled with foster parents. The existing provision gives the Minister some flexibility to prescribe different review periods. The amendments, on the other hand, impose a rigid six month period so that the Minister would not be able to reduce it if it was considered desirable. I think that what is in the Bill is the best formula. I would ask the Deputy to reconsider the amendments.

Having reconsidered the amendments, I would be prepared to withdraw Nos. 141 and 144 if the Minister would consider accepting on Report Stage what I want, and also dealing with Deputy Shatter's points that the review would be no later than six months. In other words, though it could be less, at least it would not go beyond six months without a review taking place, as opposed to my wording of every six months. I would withdraw that if the Minister would consider bringing this forward so that the parents and everyone else would know that the situation would be reviewed at least within six months.

I am prepared to take what Deputy Yates desires on board and will consider it in the context of the Report Stage.

Amendment No. 141 withdrawn.
Section 27, as amended, agreed to.