I presume the Deputy is referring to a 24 hour social work service for children. The Government and the HSE remain committed to the development of a comprehensive needs-based service for children at risk. I personally chair regular meetings between officials from my Office and senior child welfare and protection managers in the HSE aimed at improving the provision of services to children at risk. A key component of these discussions has been the provision of out of hours care.
In this context, the HSE is now putting in place a standardised national system whereby Gardaí can access an appropriate place of safety for children found to be at risk out of hours under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. This service will conform with Child Care Regulations and with the National Foster Care Standards. The provision of this service aims to ensure that children presenting as ‘at risk' outside of normal working hours are provided with an appropriate emergency place of safety thereby reducing or eliminating social admissions of children in an acute hospital setting. Foster families are currently being recruited with a view to commencing the service on or before 1 June 2009.
In addition, and instead of developing a stand alone social work out of hours service, it has been agreed to develop alternative proposals based on a more integrated approach which builds on the HSE's existing out of hours services including GPs, acute hospital services and mental health services. This should provide a more effective and integrated service by using existing resources and strengthening the links between services such as mental health and social work to appropriately address incidents occurring outside usual working hours. The aim is to ensure that persons seeking personal social services outside normal working hours can be provided with appropriate advice, information, support and, in emergency situations, access to specialist staff, such as staff working in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention.