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Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 1 May 2018

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Questions (28)

Denise Mitchell


28. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has spoken to the Minister for Health about delays in access to mental health and well-being supports for survivors who have engaged with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18726/18]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Children)

I am deeply conscious that giving testimony to a commission and revisiting difficult personal experiences will be distressing for many former residents. I know that some people may need to access various supports around this time. I also acknowledge that the Deputy has raised this issue recently and thank her for highlighting this important matter.

I have previously advised that any person affected by experiences connected to mother and baby homes may wish to contact the Health Service Executive, HSE, national counselling service which provides free professional, confidential counselling and psychotherapy services in all regions of the country. I have ensured relevant HSE contact details are available on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

With regard to the commission of investigation, it is important to recognise that the statutory commission is independent in the conduct of its investigations. I am aware that it does ask former residents attending as witnesses if they have access to supports and whether they would like information on available services. I understand that, if they so wish, this information is provided. The individual arrangements with witnesses are, of course, a matter for the commission and I have no role in that regard.

If the Deputy wishes to provide me with details of any specific case, I will be happy to raise them with the Minister for Health. Officials of my Department have been engaging with counterparts in the Department of Health on the issue of health and well-being supports. This is in the context of the establishment of the collaborative forum which I am in the process of setting up.

As the Deputy may be aware, I have embraced the concept of "nothing about us without us" which has emerged from my engagements to date with former residents. Former residents, rightly, want and deserve an input into the decisions which affect them and their families.

Health and well-being supports are one of the priority areas to be considered in the collaborative forum process. Participants in the forum will identify and prioritise actions and recommendations on issues of concern to them and their families. I have asked them to examine in particular the matter of health and well-being supports as a priority and come back to me with recommendations.

The Minister and we all know that the women are reliving traumatic events when they appear before the commission of investigation and should not be left for over a year before they gain access to counselling. Will the Minister discuss this with the HSE and the Minister for Health to reassure anyone who wants to gain access to a counselling service that she will not have to wait for one year or more?

If the Deputy has a specific cases she wants to bring to my attention, I will be happy to bring it to the Minister for Health, specifically as I understand the women may require counselling as a result of engaging with the commission and offering their testimony. Health and well-being supports are under discussion and consideration has been given to those who were resident in the institutions and would like to access such supports. This issue was discussed in the initial consultations, as well as in the consultations on what would be considered at the collaborative forum. I certainly want us to be able to offer these supports. Officials in the Departments have asked if that is the case and whether we want to decide on how they will be provided in a way that is most accessible to the women and in a manner that they will be able to access them when they need them.

I will forward some names to the Minister. Many women have been attending counselling services during the years at a cost to themselves. When they make their initial appointment, they find they must move from that counsellor. Many women who have developed a relationship with the counsellor they have attended for years have to move to a different one. Can some mechanism be put in place to ensure survivors will be able to stay with the counsellor they already have?

I thank the Deputy for raising that very specific practical issue. I know from personal experience that it is very important. That kind of issue has been and will continue to be considered in the context of how we can offer these supports once we have discussed the matter and decided we can do it.

The practical issues take time to sort out but they are important in order that all of the women about whom we are speaking can have access in a timely manner and in a way that would be most useful to them.