Thursday, 28 January 2016

Questions (2)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

2. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number, outcome and type of complaints made to the early years inspectorate of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, in each of the years 2013 to 2015 in tabular form. [3279/16]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Children)

I wish to ask the Minister how many complaints were made to the early years inspectorate of Tusla in 2013, 2014, and 2015. What was the outcome of those complaints? Could the Minister provide a breakdown of the complaints by category and nature?

The total number of complaints received by the early years inspectorate of Tusla has fallen from 361 in 2013 to 274 in 2014 and to 258 last year.

Information about the category of complaint is first available from 2015, and I am circulating details of these in a table following this reply. In brief, the table indicates that of all complaints received in 2015, 169 related to governance, 130 to safety, 79 to facilities and 150 to the health, welfare and development of the child. There is some overlap between these categories, with complaints sometimes being made under more than one heading. Eighty-three complaints were upheld, 45 were partially upheld, and 111 were not upheld.

The Child and Family Agency's early years inspectorate monitors and investigates complaints received by it in relation to early years services. The agency, with the support of my Department, is establishing a centralised national early years complaints office which will filter, categorise, risk-rate and prioritise complaints received for investigation. The data gathered by this office will inform registration decisions and the effective scheduling of inspections.

The revised child care regulations, which I hope to be in a position to publish shortly, will include a requirement for each early years service to maintain a complaints policy specifying the procedure to be followed by parents or guardians of children attending the service for the purpose of making complaints. The service provider will be required to retain a written record of each complaint received, including the outcome of the complaint, and this record will be open to inspection by an early years inspector. It is anticipated that this requirement will result in a speedier resolution of complaints locally, and reduce the burden on the agency's complaints office.

Number and breakdown of complaints received by Tusla in 2015

Issue of Complaint

Outcome of Complaint

Progress

Area

Number

Governance

Safety

Facilities

HWDC

Upheld

Partially Upheld

Not Upheld

Other

Complaints Open

Complaints Closed

DML

82

59

50

52

39

48

7

23

0

4

78

DNE

95

44

60

20

76

19

17

52

0

7

88

SOUTH

24

21

6

0

6

5

10

9

0

0

24

WEST

57

45

14

7

29

11

11

27

6

2

55

TOTAL

258

169

130

79

150

83

45

111

6

13

245

Note 1: The complaints data is divided into the Tusla regions, i.e. Dublin/Mid-Leinster, Dublin/North-East, South, and West.

Note 2: HWDC is an acronym for "health, welfare and development of the child."

Note 3: Complaints can be made under more than one heading, so the individual totals of the issues of complaint add up to more than 258.

If we look at similar models across the world, we can see evidence of good practice that could be potentially followed up here. In New Zealand, for example, complaints are published, with the aim of being transparent across the board. This is beneficial to the general public and to those linked with different services. While we have some databases, my understanding is that they are regional. I believe the Minister stated in his reply that it is the intention to create a national database, which is extremely important. It would allow complaints to be identified and addressed in a way that would be of benefit to all those involved. I wish to ask the Minister why annual reports are not currently published by Tusla as a matter of good practice. Does the Minister intend to compile a disclosure of complaints on an annual basis and open a confidential database that is accessible to the public? I understand that Tusla is still in the early stages of development as a semi-State body, but these measures seem obvious and necessary.

The complaints are being compiled, and it is intended that this will be done by a centralised complaints office, so that they can be filtered, categorised, risk-rated and prioritised for investigation. I have no issue with publishing the final lists and having transparency. It would require some internal discussions, I have no doubt, and some discussions with the sector. I believe knowledge is power, and parents need to be empowered to be sure that they are happy with whatever service their children might be getting. That is an issue I will address with my Department. I will be meeting with Tusla shortly and I will talk to them about that issue.

There are many complaints on an annual basis, and I am sure these complaints are fully assessed and dealt with in a proper manner. There do, however, seem to be some discrepancies when it comes to follow-up on outcomes that may be deemed unsatisfactory by the complainant. There appears to be no suitable or accessible procedure of appeals to follow for those with unsatisfactory outcomes. There have been examples in which outcomes of complaints were only partially upheld, or no outcome was stated whatsoever. There should be sufficient processes put in place so that cases such as these do not occur. I wish to ask the Minister what process is available to those who were not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation of the complaint. Does the Minister believe that process is satisfactory? Are there any plans to develop a clearly defined process to allow those with unsatisfactory outcomes the opportunity of a fair appeal?

Part 7(a) of the Child Care Act was amended by section 92 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. Under that Act, all service providers notified to the HSE prior to the commencement of the Act were deemed registered for a period of three years. Under the Act, the agency may attach conditions to a registration, or remove a provider from the register. The agency may choose to do this where it is satisfied that the provider is non-compliant with the regulations. When the agency proposes to do this, it must notify the provider in writing of its proposals to do so and the reasons for it. The provider may then make representations to the agency or appeal to the District Court. The agency may also prosecute a provider for contravening the regulations and, on conviction, the provider will be subject to a class A fine. The Act refers to regulations made under this part, and the delay in the preparation of revised regulations means that a substantive registration system has not yet been commenced by the agency. However, the Department's legal advice is that the existing child care regulations of 2006 continue to apply.

The Deputy's question vis-à-vis an appeals process is something that has not come to my notice up to this moment in terms of a structure being requested. However, it is something that I will look at, because there needs to be a right of appeal on both sides. I will finish by emphasising that the role of governance is to help providers and services provide a safe service, and in most instances, following interventions, practices change and services improve. The goal is to continue to have a safe service for children. However, in cases in which people are recalcitrant and refuse to come on board with a more modern, proper and safe approach, we have the sanctions in place to deal with them.

I take this opportunity to thank all of my constituents for giving me the opportunity to represent them here in our national Parliament over the last five years. It has been an honour and a privilege for me to represent them. I also wish to thank everybody here in Leinster House for all their support along the way. I wish the Members here continued happiness into the future.

Thank you, Deputy. Whatever future you intend pursuing after your life here, I wish you every success. It was always a pleasure working with you.

I would also like to wish Deputy McLellan all the best for the future. I hope everything works out well in the end for her. The best of luck to her.