I move amendment No. 149:
In page 15, line 37, to delete "1976" and substitute "1988".
I move amendment No. 149:
In page 15, line 37, to delete "1976" and substitute "1988".
I move amendment No. 150:
In page 15, lines 39 and 40, to delete all words from and including "with the consent" down to and including "sees fit" and substitute "subject to any general directions given by the Minister and subject to such conditions as the health board sees fit".
Amendment No. 151. Amendment No. 197 is consequential and these two amendments may be taken together.
I move amendment No. 151:
In page 15, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) Where a child becomes adopted under the Adoption Acts, 1952 to 1988, any care order in force in respect of the child shall cease to have effect.".
I move amendment No. 152:
In page 15, subsection (1) (a), lines 43 and 44, to delete "who is in the care of a health board attains the age of 18 years" and substitute "leaves the care of a health board".
The purpose of this amendment is to extend the scope of this section so as to enable health boards to provide after care for children who for whatever reason leave care before they reach the age of 18 years. Under the present draft after care may be provided only where the child leaves care on attaining the age of 18 years. There may be cases where children might leave care at 16 or 17 years of age but might later need the support and assistance of a health board whether in terms of arranging accommodation, completing his studies or general social work support. This amendment will enable a health board to provide support and assistance in any case where this appears to be in the interests of the person concerned.
I compliment everybody on the fluid movement of things here today in response to your request for progress. We are moving through the legislation rather well. I doubt if there will be much controversy on this amendment either. Children differ and what we are seeking here is to give greater latitude in the legislation for a child or a young person who has exceeded the age of 18 years to be taken care of should that still be necessary. I think it is a very prudent and commendable amendment and I do not think there will be any great aversion to it.
I would like to re-echo Deputy Jacob's sentiment. There is certainly no opposition to that. It loosens up the terms of this section so that it can be applied to people regardless of age. The deletion of the reference to age has been welcomed in the submission from the coalition of child care agencies and I am sure there will be no problem with that.
This is a very important section. I certainly welcome the Minister's amendment No. 152. I understand amendments Nos. 153 and 154 are out of order.
You are advocating the spending of money, Deputy Yates.
I have quite a few things to say on the section, if they are out of order.
We are not doing away with the age of 18 for child care purposes. The Bill covers that. A person is a child unless they marry before they are 18 or until he reaches the age of 18. This gives flexibility to deal with people who, on reaching the various ages, would need the extra care.
I move amendment No. 155:
In page 16, subsection (2), between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following paragraph:
"(e) by co-operating with local authorities in planning accommodation where persons over 18 years of age are leaving residential care facilities due to age.".
This deals with the question of home-lessness. Focus Point and other organisations have highlighted the very stark reality for abused children who become young adults in the over 18 age group. It is common, once the official responsibilities of the health board are over, that they are no longer deemed to be children. The parental family situation has broken down many years earlier, and they are cast aside. They find themselves, especially in inner city environments, hustling on the streets to survive, but for the excellent work of Focus Point and other voluntary organisations. There is a real gap in the State social services to meet their needs. This legislation should insist that health boards and local authorities plan hostel accommodation, flat accommodation, rented housing accommodation or whatever, for these people as a target social group in need, and there would be an obligation on local authorities, particularly in the inner city areas, to provide housing. It is true that hostels have to discharge a child when he becomes 19. There must be some follow-up procedure. Having been at some of the Focus Point launches in their head office, I have heard of individual cases of deep concern, where people who had been in the care of the health board got into difficulty and lived in subhuman conditions. They do not fit into a normal local authority housing category of either a one-parent family or a two parent family. They are not on the corporation list or the local council list for rehousing. Single people do not get enough points to get rehoused. Young single people need to be encouraged to take up accommodation, which needs to be provided in a planned way. I would ask the Minister, regardless of the advice he gets from the Civil Service, to accept this. I feel very strongly that this is a major social problem. This group are falling through all the network of State services. I implore the Minister to accept this amendment.
The primary responsibility for providing accommodation for persons over 18 years of age rests with the housing authorities. The law in this area has been updated recently in the Housing Act, 1988, which requires housing authorities to undertake periodic assessments of housing needs in their areas. The needs of young persons leaving care would fall to be addressed in that context. The 1988 Housing Act requires the housing authorities to consult with the health boards in conducting these periodic assessments. Thus the type of linkage between housing authorities and health boards envisaged in the amendment is already in place, so I see no reason to insert it again in this Bill. Níl mé i ndan an rud seo a dhéanamh.
I would commend Deputy Yates for this extra insertion as it is very important. I am taken aback by the Minister. I am sure he has long experience of local authorities who are housing authorities. I am a member of two — Wexford Corporation and Wexford County Council. In Wexford Corporation we have three housing lists: we have the family type list, the non-family type list and we have a third list. By a decision of the corporation in 1987 we set up a third list of people who were never prioritised. They were single adults who were not old enough to be considered elderly. Among councillors, this third list is called the "no hope list" because nobody is ever housed off it, because whenever there is a vacancy for a flat the pressure for the elderly is such that the single able-bodied person never meets the criteria laid down by the health inspectors and never gets sufficient points to be housed. That is the reality in relation to a housing authority and I am sure that that experience is reechoed across the country.
There are people who are desperate who are in rented accommodation, who are living on very low incomes, either DPMA from the health board or supplementary welfare or unemployment assistance. They are never going to be in a position to provide adequate accommodation for themselves. It is a very imaginative, far-reaching inclusion that Deputy Yates has put forward. I strongly endorse it. The "shelter" afforded by the Housing Act is inadequate when, in Wexford, we have built nothing for three years. We have now 164 people on our priority list. There is no hope for the category we are talking about, because in an area of obvious scarce resources, they will never have the level of priority to beat the needs of elderly people and families for scarce accommodation. It is a health matter that should be addressed in this Bill.
I would like also to commend Deputy Yates for putting in this very important and realistic amendment. We all know what the housing lists in every area are like. As Deputy Howlin says, the person we are trying to cover under paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of this section is going to fall through the net unless we add paragraph (e) because they are at the bottom of the list. We have all come across the desperate situation where daily, if not weekly, we are on the telephone to the housing section for people in this category. I am thinking of another group of single people — unmarried mothers — who are on that list as well. No matter how high the commitment and compassion of the housing section, the reality is they end up at the bottom of the list. We are talking about people who may need the priority that paragraph (e) would give them, in so far as they may be less equipped and less able to live or to seek accommodation than those who come from happy, stable, fully supported families where they did not have to go through any of the crises or traumas from which children in this situation, or even adults, will find themselves recovering.
We have a special obligation towards this category of people. The least we can do is to insist that paragraph (e) be inserted.
I welcome what Deputy Yates said. There must be co-operation with local authorities in planning. We know the desperate, traumatic situation in which people in these circumstances find themselves, coming from a very protected environment and finding themselves less able to cope with the ordinary environment of trying to fight for housing accommodation. They need that extra bit of special support.
I would like to see the kind of co-operation that Deputy Yates is calling for — when people in this age group are known to be coming out and in need of housing, there would be some kind of planning and programming for them. Otherwise we are leaving them totally at risk. As Deputy Yates rightly said, you have only to check with the agencies dealing with the homeless to realise that a huge number of the people they are dealing with fall into this category. There is no sense bringing in legislation, resources, investment, compassion and hopefully justice for a group of people up to that age and then leaving them without a safety net. This has to be a natural follow-up and planning accommodation as contained in Deputy Yates' amendment should be part of the co-operation that would be set up between each housing authority and the health boards.
I support this amendment. I see it as vitally important to ensure that the young person who has spent a lifetime in institutions gets the opportunity to do what most of them more than anything else want to do, that is, to have a home of their own. I would like to refer to the response of the professional coalition on the Child Care Bill. I think it is important that we should take note of what this group say because they have first-hand contact with the people we are talking about. On this amendment they agree absolutely. They say young people leaving residential care have no home in the real sense of the word; this amendment is practical as it does not tie such people to a hostel if they are capable of running a flat and eventually a home of their own. In a way we are talking about, as Deputy Howlin has said, giving them an equal place in an unequal race because I have to say that I am utterly frustrated with attempts to get small families — like unmarried mothers and their children or a mother who is separated — a place in which to live. Under the system at present with the lack of housing stock and replacement housing stock, they are just being ground down.
I question how bad the situation is now. At the same time I absolutely believe that people who have been, if you like, social outcasts all their lives, who have been in hostels, in institutions, who have felt themselves scarred and marked because of something that happened to them which would be no fault of their own, should be given the opportunity to have an equal right and opportunity in a local authority housing queue. I say this very sincerely because I know a number of women who spent their lives in institutions. I happened to interview a number of them a few years ago when they were trying to find their families; they were in search of their mothers and their roots. They told of going from one grotty little house or hovel to another and never feeling at any stage that they could approach the standard necessary to qualify and get a home. They never felt they were entitled to a home. They felt that because they had spent their childhood and their early adulthood in an institution, that institutions were the order of the day for them.
I would appeal to the Minister to look favourably on this amendment and realise the very real need of the people we are talking about here. I would ask him to make this very small but very important change.
Members on the far side of the table do not have a monopoly on bad cases in relation to young people. Every public representative knows bad cases. This is a Child Care Bill. I compliment the Minister on putting in a section dealing with aftercare, and I think it is vitally necessary. We all know that. I then come on to what is in the section. Subsection (2) (d) says "by arranging hostel or other forms of accommodation for him"— that is in relation to a person who may have a problem after the age of 18. In all my dealings with these cases there is always co-operation between health board and other State agencies and the local authorities.
I can appreciate what is involved in the amendment and I would be inclined to go along with it but I do feel that that provision is already there. I think Deputy Yates' amendment, with all due respect, is a wee bit airy-fairy; it could do with a bit of tightening up. In relation to specific cases, this is already well taken care of in subsection (2). Perhaps the Minister would look at tightening up paragraph (e) if he is inclined to accept this amendment.
I come back to the original point. This Bill is not about housing; it is about child care. The Minister has agreed to put in an additional section to do with aftercare, which I think is necessary, but I do not think we should move away from the rationale behind this Bill. It is about child care, and not about adults. There is a Housing Act which takes care of all that quite adequately. Maybe the resources are not there but we are all trying to look for a Utopia in that regard.
I agree with what Deputy Ahern said. I think we all find ourselves in agreement with the spirit of the amendment, this is an area of which we all have experience and are worried about. I would have no difficulty with the spirit of the amendment but I would have some difficulty with the practicalities. I have bitter experience of approaching health boards or local authorities in relation to housing matters. There is a very clear distinction and a very clear line drawn at present in relation to responsibilities. The local authority is the housing authority and even if we pass this amendment as it stands and you go to your local authorities to say: "Look at the Child Care Bill", the local authority could possibly tell you very quickly: "We are the planning authority; we will decide what we are going to do and how we are going to plan our accommodation". That is a practical difficulty we would have to face.
I can only speak for my own local authorities. I am on two of them as well — an urban council and a county council. There is co-operation between the health board and the local authority. In fact it is the county medical officer or somebody appointed by him who makes the final recommendations in relation to the housing applicants on our list. I do not know whether the amendment would work in practice. I do not know whether we can ask the Minister to consult with the Minister for the Environment to ask the local authorities to include these people. There is a list of letting priorities. We are all familiar with them and there are classes of persons, under the Housing Act, who must be accommodated. Maybe we would be better asking the Minister to consult with the Minister for the Environment to see if he could direct local authorities to have some kind of a quota system for each of the categories we talk about. I accept fully the point that has been made here with regard to single people. If we could, without introducing this particular amendment, ask for that kind of insertion in the local authorities, letting priorities, maybe we would be better off. It might be more beneficial in the long run to the people we are trying to help.
I have no problem with the spirit of this amendment, but I honestly do not think that it is practical in the way it is worded. Perhaps the Minister might take another look at it or have consultations with the Minister for the Environment and discuss it again on Report Stage.
This is a very important issue about which serious contributions have been made. The point I have to make in relation to this amendment, is that I think it is not a bit airy fairy. It is exactly what is required and I will explain why. In relation to planning it says that there should be a requirement that the health board and the local authorities actually sit down and say: here is a category of people; what provision can we make for them? That actually has taken place in some local authorities. I will give you chapter and verse on that in a moment. The point I was trying to make when I spoke first was that they will not fit into the normal housing categories. You cannot, in justice, give them the level or the priority they require. If I was making a decision and had to vote on it and if there was an elderly couple in a grotty garret, I could not say: leave them there for the last few years of their lives in the face of a demand from a young, healthy person.
When you are dealing with scarce resources these young people will never get priority, regardless of who is making the decision. There is always going to be a more desperate case on your desk. What I am saying, and what I thought this very good additional paragraph says, is that that has to be planned into the system. There is a group based in Waterford called "Respond"— I do not know how many people have actually dealt with them — but they are a voluntary group who have done tremendous work in co-operation with the local authorities. They have many projects throughout Counties Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford. They look at the categories of the hopeless cases and build specifically for them with grant aid from the Department of the Environment. A scheme like that should be spread around the country. There should be categories for people, such as the young married couple — I am broadly going into a housing situation now — the single parent and the category we are talking about now — institutionalised people who are going to make their way in the world for the first time. They need something more than the normal housing policy. They would be a good role model to adopt if this section became law. I would like to see it become law. There should be a particular category, separate funding and a separate source of specific category housing for these people. It would be a good day's work if we included this section to start that process.
There is no doubt but that there are people who leave residential care who have never known normal homes and who subsequently never come to know normal homes. Accordingly, the spirit of the amendment has to be accepted in social justice. I genuinely do not believe that the subsection has any teeth. Because the allocation of local authority housing is a reserved function of management, a subsection such as this contained in a Child Care Bill will not, under any circumstances, oblige that management to povide housing for this sector. I believe the concept behind this amendment should be seriously examined in justice to the people concerned, but it needs to be considered in far greater detail. It certainly should be discussed on Report Stage with a view, perhaps, to providing teeth to the concept.
There have been a number of interesting contributions on this amendment. First, I have to confess that I get severe nausea when the Minister reads out these things indicating that just because housing is not the responsibility of the Department of Health it does not make it a problem for us to deal with. I fundamentally disagree with that approach. As a committee we must deal with problems in every walk of life. We are elected not just to deal with compartmentalised problems. We are elected to deal with all the different structures of government, whether they are social problems, housing problems or whatever. It is our job, as a committee, to assert our position and to say what our wishes are. They are quite clear as regards our priorities. Therefore, buck passing should not be any part of our role, we must not pass the buck to local authorities or to the Department of the Environment. We must take responsibility for the situation and the Minister must take responsibility.
People said we are dealing with child care legislation but what we are trying to do relates to housing. Let us visualise the situation. We are talking about a child who went into care, perhaps having been brutalised or subject to abuse. Perhaps both its parents separated or emigrated or whatever. The child may have spent some years in residential care. He or she is probably now between 16 and 18 years of age. Having got formal education they are doing some sort of vocational training work. They are a delicate species in terms of making it in life. There is a huge crossroads ahead of them — whether they will end up on the streets, whether their time in residential care has been a waste of time, or whether they are to be totally rehabilitated to living an active life as a full contributor to society. They are very vulnerable.
It is good enough for me if Focus Point say that these people are neglected once the official statutory responsibilities of the health board are over. They are on their own; they are adults. It is nothing other than a practical reality that these people exist and that the present responses have failed. We must try to ensure that this gap is plugged between the health board which mind them as children and the housing authority which is supposed to mind them thereafter. It could well be that the type of accommodation that local authorities build is not suitable for these people. Perhaps the best thing they could do is to give them £40 a week to get a bed-sit or to share a house with another person. That might be the most appropriate type of support to give and not to put them on a local authority housing list. There must be some planned response for them once they are over 18 years of age.
I get a little irritated that everyone is in favour of the spirit of everything, but when it comes to practicalities or to the wording, we tend to deviate. This is quite straightforward — you are either in favour of it or you are not. I would ask the Minister in all humility, to insist that this goes ahead and that part of our child care services would involve after-care up to the point where they get married or make it on their own to get a council house, or are able to get a mortgage and a house of their own. If society is prepared to invest so much at an early stage minding them as children, that interim period should be looked after. I implore the Minister to accept the amendment.
Following what Deputy Yates and others have said, I would like to make three very important points. First, as legislators we know that we have responsibility to legislate. We also know that if we do not legislate and it is not tied in to law, the spirit of the law is not acknowledged. In fact, it is hard enough to get people to acknowledge the law, much less the spirit of it. We can say that out of a great reservoir of experience. I acknowledge what Opposition Members are saying. They are also aware of and deal with these particular difficulties every day. One of the reasons you mentioned the spirit of the law was that you believed it was not practical but as legislators we have to insist that it is practical and the only way to make it practical is to give teeth to the local authorities to put these people on the housing lists or even to create a special category. We strengthen the hand of the local authorities and their housing lists and priorities if they say: Under the Child Care Act 1988 we have a legal responsibility. Then people may say: Why give accommodation to an able bodied 19 year old when there are two less able bodied people also needing accommodation? The housing authorities need teeth and a legal foundation to aid them.
After World War II devastated Europe and there was thousands of ophans, they set up local authorities and with legislation and with voluntary funding — if you set up some kind of a legal framework you can get some kind of voluntary funding — a series of what were called sos villages or housing projects for young people of 18 years and over. If they were not able to live by themselves, they had the total community support of housing. This gave them a chance to move out into independent living but with the total support of the community. I have a lot of documentation on that. That kind of input after 18 worked brilliantly producing very happy, independent people who had been devastated at a very early age. I just wanted to say that this is possible but it needs a legal framework.
Subsection (2) (d) recognises the fact that there is a need for that kind of follow up in certain cases where people are leaving residential care, and all the amendment is asking is to firm up and to be more specific. I think that is reasonable. There already exists between the health boards and the local authorities special housing aid for the elderly, and that is working pretty well but there are very few cases that would need that kind of attention. I support the amendment.
The motive and intent here is very laudable and we share it. As somebody pointed out earlier, it is not just on one side. Nearly all of us here are local authority members. We have all experienced the kind of problems that have been so eloquently articulated. I have no difficulty in saying that what this sets out to try to achieve is very laudable and commendable. I am wondering, though, what I would be voting for if I were to vote for it because I have to ask myself what does it achieve. Deputy Barnes said there is a planning process outlined here but to me paragraph (d), as Deputy Sherlock said, acknowledges the problem and also puts an obligation on the health board where it deems that there are people at risk to arrange hostel or other forms of accommodation. If you go to the Housing Act, 1988, section (9) (1) (f) refers to young persons leaving institutionalised care or without family accommodation. It is referred to there. I am wondering if we take paragraph (d) and section 9 (1) (f) of the Housing Act, 1988 together what addition does paragraph (e) make to it?
In my experience Dublin Corporation co-operate with the Eastern Health Board — perhaps it is different in other places; Deputy Yates says he has evidence to the contrary of what I am going to say — but any young people over the age of 18 years who are at risk and where the attention of the health board has been drawn to them, the health board has worked with the housing authority. I had three cases in one estate where there was great co-operation. There is a whole new programme in operation in Dublin Corporation — maybe we are the exception in some respects — where housing officials have been based in local communities where there is a high risk factor. I know of three such communities on the north side of the city where the housing officials are dealing constantly with social workers and health board officials in relation to housing needs. They are working there right now.
Deputy Yates talked about taking on our responsibilities. I agree with that and if there is anything we can put into the legislation that would enable us to carry out our responsibilities more effectively fair enough. I agree with that. But how do you take on responsibility for a housing area, an area that is completely outside the scope of legislation on child care or care of those at risk beyond the age of 18 years of age. That is where I am baffled and I am not satisfied that the wording of paragraph (e) goes towards addressing that problem; I am not sure it could even if the wording was changed.
This has been a very wide ranging and interesting discussion and I hope I will not steer us into World War III. I would like to point out at the outset that we are dealing with a Child Care Bill, we are going to provide legislation to care for people up to 18 years of age. We have already made provision for homeless children in amendment No. 27. I want to clarify what I said in my initial contribution. The type of linkage and co-operation between health boards and local authorities which this amendment envisages is already part of our law in the Housing Act, 1988. I would like to quote from section 9 of that Act:
A housing authority shall, within one year of the commencement of this section and thereafter not less frequently than every three years and as the Minister may, from time to time, direct, make, in accordance with this section, an assessment of the need for the provision by the authority of adequate and suitable housing accommodation for persons . . ..
It then goes on to describe who the authority have reason to require or are likely to require accommodation.
Subsection (2) reads:
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) a housing authority in making an assessment under this section shall have regard to the need for housing of persons who
(a) are homeless,
(b) are persons to whom section 13 applies,
(c) are living in accommodation that is unfit for human habitation or is materially unsuitable for their adequate housing,
(d) are living in overcrowded accommodation,
(e) are sharing accommodation with another person or persons and who, in the opinion of the housing authority, have a reasonable requirement for separate accommodation,
(f) are young persons leaving institutional care or without family accommodation,
(g) are in need of accommodation for medical or compassionate reasons,
(h) are elderly,
(i) are disabled or handicapped, or
(f) are, in the opinion of the housing authority, not reasonably able to meet the cost of the accommodation which they are occupying or to obtain suitable alternative accommodation.
Subsection (4) reads:
(a) before making an assessment under this section, a housing authority shall give one months' notice of their intention to do so to,
(b) any health board established under the Health Act, 1970, whose functional area includes or adjoins the functional area of the authority giving the notice, and
(c) such bodies as the authority sees fit including voluntary or non-profit making organisations engaged in the provision of housing accommodation in the functional area of the authority or other organisations whose purposes include the provision of accommodation, shelter or welfare.
I submit that, as members of local authorities which many of us are, we have a major input into the genesis of housing policy. It is the members who decide the policy and the letting priorities. It is the reserved function of management to decide the individuals who qualify under the various criteria laid down and who should get the houses at the end of the day. We can, in our policy decisions, include these people of 18 years of age or over coming out of institutional care who need this type of housing. It is something we should all take cognisance of.
There is a major tie up between the health boards and the local authorities on housing matters. Housing inspections and investigations are carried out by health inspectors and social workers who call to applicants for housing, day after day and week after week. Community welfare officers play a key role. They pay rent in some cases and rent subsidies in others; they pay mortgage assistance in some cases or mortgage subsidies in others. There is a major tie-up between the local authority situation, the needs of the people, their problems, and the dovetailing of the professionals in both the health board and in the local authoritiesvis-ï¿½-vis housing problems. Financial support from the health boards is available in a very important way in the housing area.
However, I am very much concerned about your desires to ensure that we enshrine something more firm into this legislation. If you feel it would be useful to repeat the 1988 Housing Act co-operation provision in this Bill I have no great difficulties in doing so. There are some minor technical defects in what is before us, so I would be prepared to bring forward an amendment to like effect on Report Stage if I can get your agreement.