Thursday, 22 February 2018

Questions (10)

Anne Rabbitte


10. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of her Department's implementation of the recommendations of a person's (details supplied) audit of the use of section 12; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8996/18]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Children)

I ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to provide an update on her Department's implementation of the recommendations of Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's audit of the use of section 12; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

 The report the Deputy refers to was published on 29 May 2017 and I worked with the report's author, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, to develop an action plan to address the key issues raised. I published the action plan on 28 June 2017 and since then I have had ongoing engagement with Dr. Shannon and Dr. Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, about the implementation of these actions. It is a key aspect of my work in respect of both Tusla and its co-operation with An Garda Síochána. I am happy to report that progress is being made across all 15 actions of the plan.

I will give Deputy Rabbitte some indications of that progress now. Significant progress has been made with the appointment of a dedicated, co-located national manager from Tusla to work with the Garda national child protection unit. This role will improve inter-agency working in difficult cases and will help to identify any blockages to co-operation at an early stage and agree solutions. As An Garda Síochána continues to roll out its local child protection offices, there will be further opportunities to co-locate staff and to monitor the effectiveness of this approach.

Closer joint working between Tusla and An Garda Síochána is also being progressed by the work of the national strategic liaison committee. That is the forum where senior managers in An Garda Síochána and Tusla work together on issues of mutual importance to their two organisations. Through this committee actions on cultural change, joint working, and information sharing are being progressed.

I am also currently progressing the co-location of services to children who have suffered sexual abuse. I have established an interdepartmental group with the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality, to identify and develop a bespoke Irish model for the provision of these services. This follows the examination I and my officials have made of international models of best practice in this type of service provision. While these actions do not arise directly from the audit report, the development of such a multi-agency approach will contain learning which can inform service development. We have progressed actions in a number of other ways in terms of that audit and I can refer to those later.

I look forward to hearing that in the Minister's supplementary replies. I am concerned about the roll out of the child protection offices and co-location. In her response I would like her to explain co-location in a little more detail. The issue is about out-of-hours services from Friday evening at 5 p.m. until all services kick in again on a Monday morning. Do social care workers have access to the files? We spent some time on an earlier question discussing the ICT system. How can social care workers access files? How can they communicate with other people to understand a family situation if it is a first-time referral and whether it is repeated? I do not believe the Garda currently has the resources, manpower or training to support the Tusla workers. In how many areas around the country has co-location been rolled out and what training is being provided to the Garda?

On the co-location issue about which the Deputy specifically asked, what I am describing is a process whereby we are moving towards a much more substantial model of social workers, gardaí and health care workers working together in the context of the same site. One issue is the development of procedures that enable that to happen. The focus is particularly on the child who has suffered some form of sexual or other significant abuse to reduce the trauma of her or his experience and telling the story of that and offering, as much as he or she can, an identification of what has happened and that professionals who need to hear that story are in a similar location and can work together in order to reduce that trauma for the child but also work more quickly to develop a plan to move him or her beyond those experiences. We are moving towards the development of a model which we will eventually decide on and roll out.

I look forward to that because I believe the model the Minister is talking about will provide a lot of protection for the children affected by such abuse. One of the issues identified in Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's report related to repeated incidents at weekends, once a month or every three months concerning alcohol addiction and violence within the home. In such cases, members of An Garda Síochána felt they had no option but to go into homes as there was no out-of-hours service and the only recourse was to put children aged three, five, seven, ten or 15 years of age into the back of a Garda car and take them to the local Garda station and mind them until the situation blew over. That part of the report is not as in-depth as the Minister outlined but that is the reality of what we are experiencing at the moment. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon highlighted the issue very well. It is the here and now I am talking about and how we are going to address that.

As Deputy Rabbitte identified, the out-of-hours services were an integral aspect of Dr. Shannon's report that required significant reform. This is an issue on which Tusla and An Garda Síochána are working together to identify reform in terms of streamlining the three existing national services. Out-of-hours services are available in four major cities and we want to augment that as we move forward so that there is a plan of action in relation to those issues.

It is interesting that Deputy Rabbitte has raised the issue in the context of the co-location model because when we make decisions on a new way of offering those services, probably in particular dedicated locations, the out-of-hours issue is integral to that as well and needs to be addressed.

With the co-operation of Members, I will try to fit in two questions before 12 noon. Deputy Durkan is next. He has 30 seconds to introduce his question.