Direct provision centres and the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) are under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice & Equality, and his Department has responsibility for child protection in those centres. I understand that in the Direct Provision system, children are protected in a number of ways - primarily through RIA's child protection policy; its house rules; its requirements that all centre staff are Garda vetted.
There is a specific unit within RIA - the Child and Family Services Unit- whose role is to manage, deliver, co-ordinate, monitor and plan matters relating to child and family services for all asylum seekers residing in the direct provision system. This Unit also links, where necessary, directly with an Garda Síochána. I am advised that Direct Provision Centres are monitored three times a year, twice by the Department of Justice staff and once by an external company.
My Department is taking a lead role in the cross-sectoral implementation of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children . A Children First Implementation Inter-Departmental Group has been established involving all of the key Government Departments, including the Department of Justice and Equality, the Child and Family Agency, the HSE and An Garda Síochána. The purpose of the Group is to promote the importance of Children First compliance across Government and to ensure a consistent approach is adopted. The Group is also a forum where members can raise child protection issues of general concern, or with a cross departmental or cross sectoral dimension.
In July 2013 the Government approved the publication of Departmental Children First Sectoral Implementation Plans on the DCYA website. These Implementation Plans are high level documents setting out implementation requirements for each parent Department and for agencies under its aegis which have contact with children and young people. The Plans set out the mechanisms in place, or to be put in place, to support the continued implementation of Children First Guidance at sectoral level. They are for a period of one year, at which time they will be reviewed.
The next phase of the Interdepartmental Group’s work will focus on quality assurance mechanisms in relation to implementation and compliance, and the necessary preparations required for the forthcoming legislation putting elements of Children First on a statutory basis.
As regards the legislation, in July 2013, the Government approved the revised Heads and General Scheme of the Children First Bill, which will put elements of the Children First National Guidance on a statutory footing. Officials from my Department are continuing to liaise with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in relation to the drafting of the Bill, which is now at an advanced stage. It is anticipated that the draft Bill will be published in this Dáil session.
There has been correspondence between my Department and the CEO of the Child and Family Agency on direct provision, and this issue will be kept under review in the context of my overarching responsibility for child protection generally.