The task force on the establishment of the child and family support agency reported in July of this year. The work of the task force informed the development of detailed legislative proposals to Government, covering a range of areas including the function and services to be overseen by the agency, governance structures and implementation arrangements. Arising out of these proposals, the Government approved the heads of the child and family support agency Bill and has also agreed to the priority drafting of this Bill. As the Deputy is aware, the agency will encompass services which are currently the responsibility of three separate agencies, namely, the HSE, the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board. The necessary legislative and organisational preparations are being prioritised so that the agency can be established early in 2013. Drafting of the child and family support agency Bill is under way in line with the policy decisions of Government. This legislation will be published and debated by the Oireachtas at the earliest opportunity. I expect that legislation will be available in January. A precise target date for the establishment of the new agency will be set when consideration of the legislation is advanced.
While the legislative process is under way, all necessary organisational preparations are continuing in parallel. It is important that I emphasise this. They are being overseen by a high-level group chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and involving representatives of the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, the HSE and the incoming management team of the new agency. I pay tribute to the staff of my Department, including the Secretary General, Gordon Jeyes, and all those involved in this because they have been involved in painstaking work in respect of the budget, transisitional issues and the preparation for the new agency.
The agency will constitute one of the largest public agencies in the State with over 4,000 employees. It is the largest and most ambitious areas of public sector reform underway. The milestones already achieved are considerable. A dedicated management structure for child welfare and protection services has been established under the leadership of Gordon Jeyes, with a reduction in management units and reporting levels; a dedicated budget has been established and publicly reported upon to ensure budgetary transparency and accountability; there has been successful recruitment to five of the six top management posts with candidates now in place; and very significant progress has been made in addressing issues for staff by means of intensive engagement in an agreed industrial relations framework.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
From the outset I set a demanding timetable for the establishment of the new agency. It is important that the pace of change is maintained, while appreciating the nature of this large scale change requires much advance preparation and reliance on the best standards of public administration.
I am satisfied that very considerable progress has already been achieved in the reform of Ireland's child protection and welfare services. I am confident that the establishment of the agency will bring a dedicated focus to child protection, family support and other key children's services for the first time in the history of the State and will in time contribute to the transformation of what are essential services for families and communities.