Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (640)

Seán Crowe

Question:

754 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Health and Children if an evaluation has been done to examine if the Department and the health boards are living up to their responsibilities under the Child Care Act 1991. [1936/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The Child Care Act 1991 is kept under review by my Department. As the Deputy will be aware, the Child Care Act 1991 is comprehensive legislation, which obliges the health boards to provide a wide range of services, from the promotion of the welfare of children to the protection of children at risk, the taking of children into care, the provision of child care and family support services and the supervision and inspection of pre-school services and residential care services. The Act also places responsibilities on the Minister for Health and Children in respect of the making of regulations, the inspection of health board provided services and the provision of funding.

In meeting their statutory obligations, health boards develop and deliver, either directly or through arrangements with other agencies, a wide range of services designed to respond to the needs of children and families in their areas. Health boards commission or carry out a significant number of reviews and evaluations to assess how well these services are meeting the identified needs and boards respond to the outcome of these evaluations by reconfiguring existing services or developing new services. In addition, health boards, as part of their strategic planning, prioritise available resources taking into account allocation of funding versus service outcomes and the creation of a balance between prevention, child protection and through care.

Section 8 of the Act requires health boards to provide an annual report on the adequacy of child care and family support services in its area to the Minister for Health and Children. This assists the Department of Health and Children in reviewing services provided by, or on behalf of, the health boards under the Child Care Act 1991. As regards care proceedings, the Act provides for an appeal to the court to vary or discharge any court order made under the Act.

There are a number of initiatives at national level which are designed to ensure that health boards are supported, guided and monitored in meeting their statutory obligations under the Child Care Act 1991, and which,inter alia, fulfil the Minister's obligations under the Act. These include: regulations and standards developed under the Act in the area of residential care, foster care and pre-school services; the establishment of the social services inspectorate and the monitoring and inspection by the inspectorate of health board operated residential care services based on the legislation and standards, with the inspection of the implementation of foster care standards due to commence shortly; the review of regulations made under the Act with regard to pre-school services which is currently at an advanced stage; the allocation of funding; independent evaluation of the pilot phase of Department of Health and Children initiated projects such as the Springboard project and teen parents support programme in advance of mainstreaming; a review of family support services which has been established by the Department and is under way; the monitoring by the social services inspectorate of the implementation of Children First — National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children, which provides guidance on the identification and reporting of child abuse; the recent appointment of the Ombudsman for Children whose remit includes dealing with complaints and promoting the needs and interests of children; the national children's strategy which provides the means for listening to and acting more effectively for children; statistics on child care activity returned to the Department of Health and Children annually through the interim data set; performance indicators returned quarterly to the Department of Health and Children; and the monitoring of the health boards' child care service plans by the Department of Health and Children.

I am satisfied that the health boards and the Department of Health and Children, in supporting the Minister, are discharging their statutory responsibilities under the Act. I assure the Deputy that in conjunction with the health boards I will continue to ensure that the implementation of the range of services provided under the Child Care Act 1991 are appropriately monitored and evaluated.