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Child and Family Support Agency Establishment

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 18 December 2012

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Questions (64)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


64. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will outline the position in regard to the introduction of the necessary legislation to facilitate the establishment of the child and family support agency; when she expects to publish this legislation; the date from which she expects the new agency to be functioning under the aegis of her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56972/12]

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Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Children)

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.

The purpose of my question is not to trip up the Minister or her Department. I am anxious to see the new agency established as quickly as possible. The hope and expectation of all we have achieved in the course of this year rests largely on the made for purpose Child and Family Support Agency and the hope that it will be properly resourced to give effect to the people's wishes as expressed, especially in the recent referendum.

Is it not now appropriate that the timeline for implementation - an implementation plan - should be furnished before the House? I would commend this because all we have at the moment is the deferred expectation of the presentation of the legislation. We certainly had hoped it would have been presented before the end of this year. The Minister is indicating before the end of the coming month, but there is then a process of work that needs to be under way before we will see the new agency in situ under the aegis of the Department, which is what we are anxious to see. Would it be possible to present a timeline for implementation that would cover all of the key and relevant areas and the situation vis-à-vis the three agencies that are being brought together into the single agency as of the earliest point possible in 2013? Staffing will be the most critical issue. The Minister mentioned senior management appointments but we are all very anxious to know the level of support staff that will be in place, especially social workers.

The Deputy made a very reasonable point on having a timeline and it is being worked on by the high level group. The legislation to be introduced in January is important and the Office of the Attorney General has been doing a substantial amount of work on it. With more than 100 heads, the legislation is long and there is much detail in it. We will have a timeline. As the Deputy knows, there are short, medium and long-term issues with regard to the services in the agency. I hope the next time I speak in the House early in January that we will be in a position to look at a timeline. Effectively much of the work is being done with the high level group with regard to identifying staff who will come within the agency, informing these staff and dealing with various issues which arise inevitably in the course of such a major transition.

I thank all of the staff who have been involved because I know change can be difficult and it is a major transition to move from working within the HSE to a new child and family support agency. I also thank those involved in the industrial relations because clearly issues arise when one makes the type of changes we are making and undertakes such reform. They have been handled very effectively and diligently by all involved. I take the Deputy's point on the timeline and it will be essential to give clarity to all those to whom I referred.

I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the reasonableness of my request. The Minister will understand that in the absence of this information, people, be they political voices or from the non-governmental sector, will have real concerns and these will be fuelled by the absence of critical information. I commend to the Minister at the earliest possible time in the new year to furnish elected voices and the wider public with a clearly outlined timeline for the implementation. The legislation is just a part of all of this, but we want to see when we will get to the end line, which will be a new beginning.