Following a Government decision on the Heads of Bill in November last, work on the drafting of the legislation – the Child and Family Agency Bill – was advanced in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. The Child and Family Agency Bill was published on Friday 12 July, 2013 and progressed to Committee Stage on 22nd October, 2013.
The establishment of the Child and Family Agency is central to the Government's reform programme in respect of child and family services. From its establishment the Agency will have service responsibility for:
- Child welfare and protection services currently operated by the HSE including family support and alternative care services;
- Child and family-related services for which the HSE currently has responsibility including pre-school inspections and domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services;
- The Family Support Agency which currently operates as a separate body under the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and will be merged into the new Agency;
- The National Educational Welfare Board which also currently operates as a separate body under the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and will be merged into the new Agency;
- Community-based psychology services (this does not encompass psychologists operating within acute, disability, mental health or other specialist settings).
The Bill largely focuses on the technical task of bringing together the functions of the three “source” agencies (the HSE, the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board).
The Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency made recommendations on a range of other services relevant to children and families, including:
- public health nursing;
- speech and language therapy;
- child and adolescent mental health; and
- children's detention.
The practical implications of the scale of organisational change already outlined in the Bill are such as to require that consideration of these wider recommendations and, should it be considered appropriate, their implementation take place according to a less immediate timescale. This will allow for more careful review and consideration in conjunction with relevant Departments, principally the Department of Health.
A joint protocol for inter-agency working between the HSE and the Child and Family Agency, when established, has been prepared following extensive dialogue between Children and Family Services, Primary Care, Disability Services and Mental Health Services. The protocol aims to ensure a consistent national approach to service delivery where two or more services are involved in the same case. The protocol provides for local collaboration across care groups at local practitioner level with a mechanism for escalation to Area level and beyond if required. The Department and the Child and Family Agency will continue to advance such a collaborative approach in conjunction with the Department of Health and the HSE.